Last month, we had the privilege to participate in the Future is Female Conference and meet Natalie Pringle, Hong Kong Ambassador of the The New Savvy. The New Savvy is Asia's leading financial and investments platform for women with the mission to empower women to make smarter and better informed financial and career decisions.
The conference was a great success and we were excited to get to know Natalie a little better and gain a few insights and tips on smart saving and investing.
Tell us a bit more about the New Savvy, how did you get involved?
I got involved with The New Savvy last year after I read about The Future is Female conference on Instagram. The conference was a real turning point for me as I realised that this was something that I had needed so much. It was a safe environment to discuss and learn about personal finance management. Having always worked hard to earn promotions and pay rises in my career up until that point, I realised that it was actually only half of the story in being financially independent. Although many women are doing incredible things professionally, if we do not have the tools and understanding to manage the money we are earning then we will always be at a disadvantage.
I realised that there must be other women in a similar position who were looking for guidance on how to use their money better and this is when I decided to bring The New Savvy to Hong Kong.
We launched in Hong Kong in January 2018, Philippines in May and will launch in Bangalore in November. It is really exciting to share our mission with so many women who are engaged and motivated to have a better relationship with their money.
What tips would you give to female entrepreneurs starting their business here in Hong Kong?
First of all, to think it through and be sure that there is a market for what you are looking to offer. Then get started. Even if it means continuing to work in your day job at the same time, the only way you can truly know if something will work is by trying it. It is much safer to test the water whilst you are still employed and have a regular income rather than removing the safety blanket and then being exposed financially.
Once you have tested your idea and get a feel for what will work, then make the move and be aware that you will never be able to prepare for all eventualities. Part of being an entrepreneur is just finding solutions to the unexpected issues you may experience but with time you build a network that you can call upon, resilience to handle setbacks and an understanding of how best to manage any situation you encounter.
How can we better manage our finances, especially as an entrepreneur or freelancer starting out. Or what are some of the best ways to save when you are self-employed?
Continue to work in your day job is a great way to protect yourself whilst also starting a new business idea. This way there will still be a regular income and you can concentrate on putting savings aside ready for when you do make that jump.
When you have left the security of being employed, it is important to live below your means and understand what this actually looks like now that your circumstances have changed. Whilst you may feel that you are cutting back and making sacrifices, it is likely to go further than that. You may not be able to pay yourself a salary to begin with so really understanding and, more importantly, accepting your new budget is crucial.
Starting a new company is hard and there will be some tough times ahead. If you couple that with having to live off ramen for the first year, it makes for a rather depressing existence.
Be mindful that you will still want to do the things you enjoy but communicate with your friends so that you can find things to do within your budget. Instead of eating out, invite friends for a ‘potluck’ dinner at home. Instead of going to that pricey cocktail bar, enjoy BYOB by the harbour front or on the beach.
Holding all of your meetings outside at coffee shops can get expensive. If you are working from a co-working space, most of them offer free flow, tea, coffee and soft drinks so invite your guests to your office space instead. If you are a member of one of the larger groups then you can usually use any of their locations so you can always find somewhere which is convenient for your guest.
Also, be selective about the the events that you go to. Networking and sharing information about your new business is undoubtedly helpful. You should, however, budget the amount you spend on attending seminars and networking events each week as this can quickly add up and the ROI is not easy to quantify. Your time budget is also important because any time that you spend running around to events is time that you could be spending servicing clients you have already acquired and working on your product. Rather than being at something every night, limit yourself to a couple of nights a week. Once you have grown and have a team who can help you with the workload then it will be easier for you to make this a bigger priority which is shared out between you all.
And how can we begin to make investments when we don't have much income?
When looking at investing, you can still get started, even if it is just a small amount. The most important thing to consider before you invest in anything however, is whether you have an emergency fund saved. This should be around 6 months of living expenses ring fenced in a separate account which can comfortably support your lifestyle should you stop working.
Once you know that you have this set aside then you can consider investing, starting out at a low level with ETFs or even REITs if you have an interest in the property market but don’t have the deposit to buy a physical property.
As a financially savvy female entrepreneur, what has been your experience with the financial system here In Hong Kong?
It has been varied, but not an entirely positive experience. As a consumer it is quite clear to see that the interests of the large banks are not focused on serving the “average person in the street”. One needs to be very mindful of costs associated with holding an account as some banks impose minimum amounts that you must hold with them. When borrowing, of course credit card charges are often very high compared to other forms of lending so customers need to be super aware of what they are being offered.
Over the last four years since arriving in Hong Kong I have seen it become much harder to open accounts and that is particularly true for small businesses. Banks still have a difficult understanding the requirements of startups and there are a lot of barriers involved in the account opening process. Not to mention the length of time it takes to actually have a functioning account set up. It can be anywhere between 3-6 months depending on your company structure.
This is where solutions like Neat are making a huge difference and bridging the gap for ordinary consumers and SMEs who are looking for an efficient and open solution.
We know you are a Neat customer, how attracted you to use it in the first place?
I love finding out about new ways to help people manage their personal finances and was initially curious about Neat and the potential benefits. Once I started to enroll and use the account I found that when it comes to things like the e-KYC and also spending tracking through the app, the ways that Neat can help people are incredibly far reaching.
For those who do not have access to traditional banking services, this really bridges the gap. It also saves people from the extortionate fees and potential debts which come with taking out a credit card.
The Neat card can be used in the same way, both in-store and online but within pre-set limits. I really think it’s great for Hong Kong to have this kind of service, catching up with the US and UK. I have also signed up for an account for my start-up company. Instead of taking months to set up like the traditional banks, the account was ready to use in under a week. It really is a game changer.
To finalize, what are 3 concrete actions we can take today that will help us achieve better financial independence?
- Be honest with yourself and keep it simple. Knowing in black and white what your current income and outgoings are, what debts you have (as well as the cost of that debt) and how long you could actually manage if there was a change in your circumstances is the first step in taking control of your finances. Take out a notebook and pen and get that stuff written down.
- Set a budget every month and stick to it. You should be budgeting for the important things like savings, healthcare and investments, not just your rent, food and travel costs. This way you can be sure that you have already accounted for these things in case of an emergency.
- Set yourself a concrete goal. It could be saving enough for your emergency fund, buying a car or learning a new skill. Once you know how much that will cost, you can work backwards and figure out how much you can save every month to reach that goal. Knowing the number of months it will take you and also factoring this in to your monthly budget will really help you to stay focused and keep on track when other temptations come along. Stick a post-it note in your wallet to remind you of that amazing trip or car you will buy to stop you being sidetracked by the occasional splurge on Starbucks or dinner out.