Tuesday June 10 2014

Think through your financial decisions

Coins of different denominations stacked together. Most people tend

Coins of different denominations stacked together. Most people tend to be impatient; relying on flawed information when making financial decisions and procrastinate about making the necessary changes regarding how to handle their finances. Photo by Rachel Mabala 


My eldest daughter is a candidate this year as we say in Uganda. She will be sitting her final Preparatory School exams this month. As a responsible parent, I have done everything it takes to ensure she gets good grades. I have used every approach in the book to get her to pass and to boost her morale.

I tried positive affirmation; you are a champion, you are bright, you have what it takes to succeed and all that feel good motivational stuff. When that did not appear to get her to step up and be serious I resorted to bullying, lecturing and blasting her about not being hungry for success.

Over the last 18 months, I have asked myself who is actually sitting for these exams; many times it has felt like I am the one preparing for these exams.

Seeing how much time and energy both physical and emotional that I have invested in this “You Must Pass Your Exams project” I can’t help wondering if I am half as diligent when it comes to my finances. Do I leave no stone unturned when it comes to attaining my financial goals?

A while back I was watching an interview by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. These two gentlemen were taking questions from a group of students on a wide range of topics. The insights shared on this programme were very enlightening and nothing discussed was rocket science. The two billionaires shared advice that you and I can apply in our day-to- day decision making.

Later on as I meditated and “digested” what had been discussed, I could not help feeling unsettled about two aspects of this programme.

First was the timing of the show, this programme was aired between 11:00pm and 12: 00am on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. Secondly, it was on a channel that is unlikely to be watched by the people that need it the most.

Who wants to be up late on a Saturday night watching a programme on life, money and wealth creation aired on some unknown not- so- cool TV channel? Then I recalled my numerous lectures to my daughter about going the extra mile and doing whatever it takes to achieve one’s goals. I really need to practice what I preach.

Anyway, one of the insights shared by these two gentlemen was about the broader definition of success and how this is measured.

It was clear from their advice that success is “who not what”. They spent a considerable amount of time talking about who you need to become to be successful and attain your goals in life.
I must confess I was more interested in what Warren Buffett had to say as I am fascinated by the subject of wealth creation. Buffett explained how he makes his investment decisions, how he thinks and what principles guide him when he is choosing companies to invest in.

He reads a lot, invests a considerable amount of time every day perusing financial reports and reading about developments in the financial markets. Who he is or has become over the years is an integral part of his success. He is disciplined, calm, thoughtful, patient and thinks long-term.

The problem
In many ways I behave like my daughter; she wants great exam grades but dislikes the sheer amount of time that she has had to invest to attain this goal.
The majority of us want financial prosperity yet lack the tenacity, patience and will power to go the extra mile and do the work that goes into wealth creation. We tend to be impatient; relying on flawed information when making financial decisions and procrastinate about making the necessary changes regarding how we handle our finances.

This mediocre attitude causes many of us (amateur investors) to have a “herd” mentality that makes us lose money unnecessarily. When it comes to investing our hard earned money, we rely on someone else to do the research and due diligence, then go full throttle with their recommendations.

Does anyone remember the 2008 Safaricom IPO where many Ugandan investors lost money? Most people never bothered to do their homework and relied on stories about how “people” had made millions from participating in the Stanbic Uganda IPO 18 months before that.
Generally, amateur investors enter investments blindly and exit them blindly. They lose money at the entry point and lose even more money when exiting.

One of Warren Buffet‘s signature statements about he and his business partner is “We are fearful when others are bold and bold when others are fearful.” The only way he has been able to accomplish this is because he does his homework, thinks long-term and keeps a clear head.

The writer is Standard Chartered Bank’s head of financial markets in East Africa.