Interview with Fern Gray on Finance and Philantropy

11th March 2024

Welcome back to the Top 100 Most Influential interview series brought to you by 2&20, where we delve into the minds shaping the alternative investment industry. After a brief hiatus, we’re thrilled to return with a new season of insightful dialogues, starting with a figure who's making a significant impact off the trading floor. We are delighted to present our conversation with Fern Gray who has been the UK Coordinator for global alternative investment industry charity Help For Children for 10 years, raising money to combat child abuse and fund programmes that help those who have already been affected. Fern shares her experiences, challenges and insights, as we continue to shine a light on the key players and thought leaders within the alternative investment industry, we hope this conversation provides valuable insights and a deeper understanding of the evolving landscape.

If you could have dinner with any historical figure in your industry, who would it be, and what would you discuss?

Choosing a historical figure for a dinner conversation within my industry, Robert Fleming stands out as a monumental figure whose insights and experiences would be invaluable. As the Scottish financier and philanthropist behind the founding of the merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co., his strategies and innovations in modern banking have left a lasting impact. I would love to discuss with him everything, starting from his early realisation that if you spread your risk across a wide range of investments and place them in a trust, you've got a much safer prospect, to his expansion into Asia as Jardine Fleming, an investment bank dominant in the years I was based in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, I'd delve into his personal influences, especially the impact he had on his grandson, Ian Fleming, the creator of the iconic James Bond series. It's fascinating to ponder the interplay of financial acumen and creative storytelling within the same family lineage.

Reflecting on his humble beginnings as a jute manufacturer in Dundee after leaving school at 13, Robert Fleming's journey to becoming one of the most influential figures in banking is nothing short of remarkable. His life's work culminated in the sale of his bank for £5 billion in 2000, a testament to his lasting legacy. I'm curious about his perspectives on this monumental transaction and how it aligns with his original vision for the bank.

Can you share a personal tradition or ritual that holds special meaning for you?

One tradition that holds a special place in my heart is my annual chilli jam making spree every Christmas. This activity transcends mere culinary practice; it's a festive ritual that embodies the spirit of giving and communal joy. The chilli jam becomes a cherished gift for friends and family, enhancing their holiday meals and cheeseboards with a touch of homemade warmth. Moreover, it plays a pivotal role in my daughter's school festive fayre, earning me the affectionate title of the 'chilli jam mum.'

This tradition is more than a hobby; it's a link to my familial past, a skill lovingly passed down from my mother. Together, we would transform any surplus of fruits or vegetables into a variety of preserves—chutneys, jams, jellies, and pickles. Over time, this evolved to include chilli jam and kimchi, diversifying our culinary repertoire. However, the essence of this practice remains unchanged. Each batch I prepare is infused with memories of my mother and grandmother, serving as a tangible connection to them.

Looking forward, what are your main goals or ambitions for the next five years?

Over the next five years, my primary ambition is to elevate Help For Children UK to a £1 million charity. I will pursue this ambitious goal by establishing long-term partnerships within the alternative investment sector and creating new income streams beyond traditional fundraising events. This goal is ambitious yet attainable, thanks to the support of my GEMS team—Giving, Events, Marketing, Sponsors, and Sales. They are a dedicated, passionate and like-minded small group of industry volunteers, all recognised within the Top 100 of the 2&20, that have come together to create a forum to develop a comprehensive strategic plan outlining specific objectives and explore alternative revenue sources in addition to fundraising events. Our team includes HFC board directors and experts in finance communications and marketing, each bringing invaluable expertise and commitment to our cause. With this collective effort, I am confident in our ability to achieve and even exceed our ambitious goals, ensuring a brighter future for the children we serve.

Can you discuss a project or initiative you're particularly proud of?

One of the initiatives I hold closest to my heart unfolded in the lead-up to and during the 2023 Paras10 TAB event, a testament to determination and solidarity within the alternative investment community for Help For Children (HFC) UK. The call to action at the 2022 HFC charity ball by John Gunn, affectionately known as Captain Backpack, ignited a remarkable response. Initially, around 20 of us pledged to join him in this daunting challenge—tackling 10 miles with a 16kg backpack, symbolizing the weight of a small child, all in support of HFC. Our ranks swelled to 50 in the weeks that followed, a clear display of our community's commitment and spirit.

However, with just 4 weeks to go, the MOD's announcement of the Paras' deployment threw our plans into disarray. The event in Colchester was cancelled, yet the Paras' motto, Utrinque Paratus (Ready for Anything), inspired us not to see this as an end but as a challenge to overcome. We rallied to find an alternative venue, ensuring the months of training and sacrifice were not in vain and, more crucially, that our donors' and sponsors' contributions could still support our fundraising goals. This adaptability and perseverance culminated in raising an impressive £150,000 for HFC's grantees.

Understanding the unique circumstances of that year and recognizing our community's teamwork and competitive drive, we've decided to channel this energy into a new challenge. Instead of repeating the gruelling physical task, we are organizing a Tough Mudder event in May. This new venture, while different in nature, builds on the same principles of camaraderie and resilience that defined our experience with the Paras10 TAB. It's a fresh opportunity to unite our community for a common cause, and yes, places are still available.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing your industry today?

As a non-profit organisation that is founded, connected, supported, and reliant on the finance sector, it may not seem like an obvious choice for an individual to support in a stereotypical sense. However, when it comes to organising a fundraising event, the costs of production and event sector have increased by over 25% in the last two years. This increase has put a strain on margins, which has had an impact on our grant funding as a charity.

Moreover, the cause at the heart of our mission—combating child abuse—remains a relatively unspoken issue. It's a troubling reality that, in the UK, animal welfare organisations often receive more support than children's charities. Securing funding is a perennial challenge for charities. In recent years, the charity space has been increasingly overcrowded with so many worthy causes needing financial support to plug hole dire situations created by wars, natural disasters, climate change and a global pandemic. The latter specifically increased the statistics of child abuse as hidden children became invisible from social, education and other support services normally around them.

Finally, with companies having to tighten budgets and select fewer events to attend in a crowded event calendar, there is a degree of pressure to deliver a high-appeal experience while balancing expenses and charity profit. The annual charity HFC ball in London is a well-supported and attended evening as it meets the criteria for the guest, celebrates the generosity of the alternative investment community, and hopefully raises much-needed funds for our grantees.

Imagine you're writing a book about the future of your sector. What would be the title and the central theme?

“Pay It Forward”. The central theme of this work would be the future of the finance sector, where responsibility is not just a choice but a CSR and ESG mandate. At its core lies the principle of giving back by supporting charitable causes. In this future, employers and an opt-in employee construct alike contribute to a collective philanthropy fund, which is managed alongside other main departments, reflecting a fundamental shift in the industry's values and priorities. Employee engagement and empowerment will highlight the role of employees as active participants in the philanthropic and decision-making process related to charitable giving, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to the company's broader social mission. In essence, a grant-selecting process model similar to HFC funding small or large high impact evidence-based projects. A page-turner chapter of the book will be ‘Tax Benefits’, which will provide a ‘business head’ over a ‘giving heart’ reason to incorporate a philanthropic construct into their organisations.

About Help For Children


Help For Children, a global foundation with 10 locations worldwide, was founded and is sustained by the Alternative Investment industry with the sole mission to prevent and treat child abuse. Since inception in 1998, HFC has invested more than USD $61 million in grants that protect and heal children. Help For Children (UK) was established in 2006 and started grantmaking in 2007. Funds raised in each HFC location are granted out locally within that community, creating a local impact and a global footprint. Since its inception, HFC (UK) has invested more than GBP 2 million to HFC (UK) grantees. Worldwide, 40 million children are subjected to abuse each year and together we are making the world a safer place for children and their families.

Find out more on the HFC website: