By A. Type
As explained in part one of this series, my first million was made the same way I made my first thousand, via hard work and saving, with a dose of good luck.
I had no particular idea or competitive advantage, beyond perhaps a work and savings ethic some others didn't have.
So, in my early thirties I was a millionaire and easily richer than my other friends.
The problem was, I didn't feel rich and had begun to have much higher financial targets in mind. This is a slippery slope and is fraught with danger, but that's another story. However, if getting rich is what you want, ambition is the fastest slope of all.
I was getting very well paid and thought I would continue on the same track.
Then I received a very wise piece of advice from my boss. He recommended I get overseas ASAP, preferably to New York or London, where 'the crumbs for a hard working Kiwi would really be a feast vs anything you could make at home. Your accent will work for you too'. God bless him, he almost bought my ticket to get me to go, hoping I would return. I did, eventually.
I got on a plane with no job, but youth, ambition and a reasonable work ethic.
I landed a job in London working as the junior gopher/salesperson on a bond trading bank for a Swiss bank. I started getting coffees for the BSD's, writing market summaries for mass distribution and listening to how it was all done.
What they don't tell you about financial markets is that there is inevitably high turnover, for many reasons - burn out, downsizing, re-sizing, 'right' sizing, promotions, postings etc.
It's a young persons game and they churn through people. Actually I find it amusing, as I firmly believe that the finance industry, with so many clever people, manages itself very poorly. It never really plans for the future, only the now.
Anyway, the upside of that was that doing a good job and waiting for turnover meant you were promoted quickly. Within 4 years I was the head of the desk. Being in sales also meant I had the best client relationships, as four years is an eternity in financial product sales and you rapidly become the reliable old timer to your clients.
A good salary helps
The other secret about financial services, although better known now, is how well paid it is. The industry makes nothing, but provides services that allow it to take the tiniest of slices off the biggest pots of money. It adds up, believe me, and my salary and bonus, which was £80,000, grew by 50% every year. You do the maths.
The other piece of luck was the value of the New Zealand dollar. It was very low, historically low in fact, and I could get NZ$3.50 for every Pound. In London it was all Cool Britannia and David Beckham, in NZ all doom and gloom. It just didn't feel right to me and, anyway, I knew I would go home.
So, I made some of the luckiest decisions ever ie. save like crazy, switch it all into NZD and buy the most expensive property I could afford. I ended up buying the worst (big) house in the most expensive street, and rented it.
In those four years my net worth went up by an average of $500,000 a year. Remember, this was on a salary and bonus, with almost no risk. I worked very hard, with huge hours, but it was fun at the time and didn't feel like hard work.
I've heard that for fund managers getting the currency and asset class investment decisions right are key. I'm a living example of that.
I spent eight years overseas, getting posted to Switzerland and then New York. And while the NZD strengthened, it was always a lucrative gig. I enjoyed the work, got to see the world and, in my opinion, had a distinct advantage being a Kiwi.
Basically, you were novel for most people and were never pigeonholed into a cultural or racial stereotype. I have to thank Peter Jackson too, as Lord of the Rings made all things Kiwi cool, including bond salespeople.
Up until then the All Blacks was all anyone ever knew about us and no one I met had ever been to NZ. We had kids and my partner enjoyed it too. Life was sweet. I'm embarrassed to say what I eventually ended up getting paid, but its amazing how in that environment envy one gets such a distorted idea of their worth. When you trade billions, millions doesn't seem so much. Weird, but true....
So we came back to New Zealand and I decided to retire, leaving my partners career to take precedence, which it still does.
Tips for others?
- if you work in financial services, get overseas when young. The world is fun, lucrative and Kiwis have a real competitive advantage with their easy going, non hierarchical, hard working style. We are the dream employees for many. People tell you this here and it's hard to believe, but is really is true.
- buy the most expensive property you can afford, as soon as you can. Mortgages are the cheapest form of leverage and housing is the best proof against inflation. Actually, leveraged property is the best investment when there's inflation. Property rarely goes down in value and, provided you can service a mortgage, who cares about short term market movements? In a place like Auckland, the demographics are heavily stacked in favour of owning property long term.
- focus on doing what you do very well. The returns are always outsized at the top, and you get to the top via focus and hard work.
- if you want to be rich (and that's a big 'if'), don't do for money what others do for love. Very few people are in sales and finance for love, that's why it pays so well.
In part three, A. Type will share their distilled wisdom and reflect on the wider lessons of chasing wealth.