Breaking the personal finance taboo
...and why I'm going to write about personal finances.
Growing up in the UK in the 90s, we had made it through the tough transition from a manufacturing to service industry focus in the 80s, the longest recession since the great depression in the early 90s and entered into the era of ‘New Labour’ a more politically central and economically friendly version of the British Labour party.
Labour introduced the national minimum wage, transitioned interest rate control from politicians to the national bank, and achieved a strong unemployment rate which helped create a wave of optimistic young professionals with expendable income and upward mobility which my family and I benefited from.
Although we had our recently improved economic status, there wasn’t much financial education in my family and no official family line on finance management or instructions for setting yourself up for success in the future. Below are the insights I gleaned directly or indirectly from family members about finances:
Grandma - Spend half of what you earn, save the other half.
Mum - Get on the ‘property ladder’.
Dad - Share what you have with the people around you. My dad grew up in an Irish family of 13 siblings so this was a necessity as much as a philosophy.
Cousins Uncle - Climb the corporate ladder - he made his fortune working for American Express.
Uncles - Start your own business. Observed them both making their fortunes.
My first real job was working at American Express, the most immediate advice I could put into place from the above. It was the best workplace education I could receive and accelerated my understanding of how generational businesses are built and run - leaving after 5 years I still had little to no understanding of retirement planning (despite their generous plan), investment strategy (despite working at a financial company through the financial crisis) or broadly how to build wealth. Up until this point, there were two ways to become wealthy in my eyes: inherit money or get (extremely) lucky in entrepreneurship.
Joining a ‘Silicon Valley’ startup, Optimizely was the first time I met people my age who were genuinely educated on, and actively engaged in, the stock market, tax planning, and retirement strategy - including a co-founder of what would later become Robinhood. I believe the combination of high aptitude, curiosity, and educational background these companies attract/seek combined with the forcing functions of receiving stock and being paid well enough to care about tax optimization and the environment of transparency and candor which broke down the taboos of discussing personal finances perfectly the stage set to rapidly learn from some of the most highly financially engaged and relatable people on the planet.
I’ve since spent almost 10 years in this environment joining another ‘unicorn’ after Optimizely, Amplitude, and most recently joining a venture capital firm - GGV Capital. The learning through osmosis working in this environment, and being curious, has allowed me to significantly change my own personal financial situation. I want to ‘send the elevator back down’ by sharing these learnings for anyone who is also curious and want to better their situation.
There are a number of amazing benefits this unstructured syllabus provided me outside of simply accumulating more wealth:
Having more financial control is a huge stress killer - kind of a no brainer I guess.
Researching company financials for personal investment allowed me to develop business acumen which made executive conversations at work very comfortable.
Being able to earn an income through other means than traditional work makes work a choice - you appreciate work so much more when you have the choice.
To those who have grown up in families or friend groups with strong financial fundamentals some of this is going to seem really obvious, it might even if you haven’t, but these very simple lightbulb moments have fundamentally transformed my life for the better and I hope to send the elevator back down for others.