It was on the morning of the August Bank Holiday, 2015 that Steven Leof woke up with a fully-formed business plan in his head for a brand-new, cutting-edge business. What, he thought, if you could offer university alumni groups a package of deals for their alumni so when they were asked to contribute, they could be given something back?
It wasn’t long before Steven’s “light bulb moment” became a reality: a free, members-only buying club offering group discounts to university alumni and students, their family and friends. With this concept, university alumni departments had a revolutionary and transformative way to increase their gifts and legacies.
He named his company Alumni Union – students join the Students’ Union at university and Alumni Union when they graduate – and brought to the business a transatlantic sensibility (an American by birth, naturalised British, Steven is a graduate of the London Business School and has worked in the UK for twenty five years). His background in corporate and business development and skills gained running the UK alumni group of his alma mater, Washington University in St Louis and a family insurance group, also proved invaluable.
So far, so businesslike − except Steven wasn’t just motivated by what access to alumni of the UK’s hundreds of higher education institutions would bring him personally. With the recent decrease in state funding and the resulting need for bottom-up fundraising, he knew that universities needed that extra tool in their toolbox, something Alumni Union was in a unique position to provide.
His pioneering vision for Alumni Union was this: alumni, happy to be offered something tangible by the universities where they studied when they were approached for help, would then give more readily and more generously. More funds raised would mean more scholarships and bursaries for young people who would otherwise struggle to attend university.
This was something Steven had seen first-hand as trustee of an educational charity, where first his head and then his heart had been engaged as he became a passionate believer in the power of education to change lives. And, after getting married and having two sons, Steven wanted to mark his personal investment in his adopted country, part of which was choosing to educate his boys here.
As for which benefits to offer his members first, the simple answer was health insurance, one of his most pressing and personal issues following his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis several years earlier. She was now, fortunately, in remission – but Steven, an entrepreneur paying for his family’s coverage, was acutely aware that their premiums were increasing significantly every year and was eager to find a way to bring them down.
By setting up Alumni Union as an affinity group, Steven achieved his goal of providing members with discounted insurance premiums. Then, realising he could help improve not only their health but also their financial wellbeing, Steven added other, carefully-curated products to the Financial Services, Legal Services and Travel & Leisure portfolios.
As it looks to the future, Alumni Union will continue to add benefits – including those specifically for recent graduates as well as for those who are middle-aged and older – bringing more value to its members and helping universities further engage with their alumni.
As a benefits aggregator, the bigger Alumni Union grows, the better the discounts for members. And with that potential for success will grow the potential gift of education for deserving young people, the “virtuous circle” that Steven always intended.
Steven Leof, Co-Founder & CEO