No one has a monopoly on good ideas

She actually stumbled into the world of strategic investment advising and financial psychology.  Having left her role as a regional marketing director to look after two toddlers, she came across friends, in their mid-thirties, facing personal financial problems. This was around the time of 9/11 and SARS.  Many reached out to her and after a while her husband said, “Have you ever thought of doing this for a living?”.

From there it was truly the financial psychology that became a passion for Andrea Kennedy.  She believes that anyone can be an investment adviser and the industry does attract a lot of salespeople.  By helping people understand their financial narrative, one can create tremendous confidence in people to become investors in their own right.

Andrea Kennedy shares her story with AsiaBizToday and also highlights why it is critical for women to be well versed in money matters. 

What are the activities that you undertake?

I do three primary activities:  a) I act as a financial planner b) a financial therapist and c) an investment advisor.  These are distinctly different activities and some clients need all three.

I try to give my clients flexibility around how to use my services so that I am able to provide service across a large band of networth.  From people just getting started to UHNW investors.

What was your trigger and motivation to get into this?

My trigger to develop an entirely new set of skills within a very old school industry came about because the way finance is practiced does not meet the needs of most investors.  Most people want empowerment.  Most people want to ask questions and understand why they think the way they do about money, whereas most advisers or bankers just are collecting clients and commissions.  I see myself as someone who graduates clients, not collect them.

What have been your experiences in this leadership position?

I lead by doing what the rest of an industry has not done, cannot do well and can’t be bothered with.  I listen to my clients and put their interests first by acting as a fiduciary.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?

Positive feedback.  My YOY revenue has grown 100% the last 5 years.

Have you faced specific challenges because of being a woman?

Women in finance are treated as Geisha to draw in clients.  Not as strategic thinkers.  That’s why I work for myself. I understand global money flows better than most of my contemporaries and I have clients across the world.  I do not limit myself and that alone allows me to stand out and when you stand out and have something to say, people tend to look past your gender / age etc.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?

From anyone that understands, you have to be different and offer a unique value proposition in order to create long term success.  I find inspiration from every age group and many nationalities.  No one has a corner on good ideas.

What’s your proudest moment so far?

On a personal note, I’m most proud of my children and what resourceful adults they have become.  They are truly amazing to me.  On a professional note, building a business when others laughed it off.  

How would you define success?

Finding a way to get paid to do that which you love the most.  It could be dog walking, painting houses or building a billion-dollar business.  Size does not matter, but rather the spirit of your success.

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?

  • Develop a service that is needed, not just one that you personally would like. Rather one that there is obvious demand for and it’s not being met.  Women have HUGE opportunities because many services are really developed with men in mind.  
  • NEVER work for free.  EVER.  And raise prices consistent with inflation.  Women really miss on this one and give away products and services and get in a spiral of freebies from which they don’t recover.

Connecting the dots in children’s education

After completing her graduation from The London School of Economics (LSE) and becoming an award-winning journalist, she was quite content in the calling that she had found. 

However, the birth of her daughter changed the status quo. Wanting her daughter to access the best of education she struggled to find a school that confirmed to all her requirements. And soon she realized that she was not alone in this struggle.

Pakistan has 28 million children in school and after seven years of learning more than half of them are still at a second-grade level in math and reading. In a sense the education system is broken. 

With a determination to change this scenario, along with her best friend and business partner Lina she converted her parents’ garage into a small experimental lab for learning workshops. The journey from that garage into the head office that they occupy today has been a humbling one and she believes that they still have a long way to go. 

Maheen Bashir, Co-Founder & CEO at Dot & Line based in Karachi, Pakistan shares her story in this exclusive chat with AsiaBizToday.

Your motivation to get into this

Even back in the garage we had a vision. We wanted to spark curiosity in children to connect information in textbooks to the wider world outside of those pages and bring something truly world-class to our doorstep. We began with math. Our workshops took flight, and with that, our message to the Pakistani parents reimagining education. 

The activities that you undertake 

Dot and Line is an ed-tech start-up that builds scalable learning centers. Our USP is our learning programs that were put together by some of the brightest minds in the country. Our agents of change are highly educated women. Using technology, our teacher training modules and our learning programs these women set-up Dot and Line level learning spaces in their homes. They become teachers and micro-entrepreneurs in their communities and start to earn! Technology is the binding force that brings accountability and transparency to the network across the different cities. 

Your experiences in this leadership position

I’ve had a steep learning curve. We went from a three-person company to a team of twenty. Over the years we continue to evolve, but so far I can say as a leader our experiences have shaped the values that govern the culture at Dot and Line. We seek courageous team mates and leaders, who speak honestly and are not afraid to ask for help; our devotion is to our customers as well as our team mates as we think creatively of ways to optimize and get better at what we do every day. We prioritize skillful listening so everybody in our company is heard and valued. I can say for myself and for other leaders at Dot and Line that we are ambitious in our vision, values, performance and character.

Important factors that keep you going

It is definitely the incredible women of Dot and Line. The women who have built this company with me, my partner Lina, our COO Fariha and all our formidable managers and colleagues. There are also the incredible women, Dot and Line teacher partners. These highly educated women who were previously mathematicians; software engineers; doctors; bankers; but are also wives, caretakers and mothers. As a mother of two, their struggle resonates with me and it is a privilege to be able to grow this company with them and bring quality education to the children of Pakistan.

Obstacles or challenges because of being a woman

We are still a young company and have faced so many challenges none of which I would be able to attribute to being a woman if I’m honest. 

Your proudest moment so far

Hmm, that is a tough one but this would be a good chance to highlight one particular project we did. Dot and Line was chosen to curate The Children’s section in the National History Museum in Lahore, Pakistan more than a year ago. Seeing our ideas come to life and be open to thousands of children to see fills me with gratitude. Our vision was for children to celebrate Pakistan through immersive exhibits that spark the senses and inspire. 

Your definition of success

Well, we are ambitious for Dot and Line. In the next two to three years we want to grow our learning centers to 4,000 and reach close to 40,000 students. The aim is to reach half a million students of Pakistan and help them realize their full potential.

 Your advice to other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women

Don’t be afraid to dream BIG and go after it. You will fall, fail, get up and try again! But in hindsight the string of memories you make by taking risks in your life will actually be the moments you treasure the most. 

Car dealers now need to go digital

It’s a tough time for traditionally run businesses. For car dealerships especially, car sales in Singapore have been decreasing moderately over the past few years, a trend that is influenced by a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour. 

Many young adults in Singapore grew up during a time of rapid digitalisation, which significantly democratised access to information. With varied sources of information on hand, customers today can better make informed decisions on their purchases and who they buy it from. This is most visible in the retail sector which is facing huge challenges in overcoming rising competition from overseas and online rivals.

The auto market faces a more difficult task due to the nature of the goods involved. Unlike other segments like e-commerce and FMCG, automotive customers are buying big ticket items that come with heavy financial commitments, so they’d naturally be more discerning when making a purchase.

To distinguish themselves in today’s market, car dealers will need to first focus on customer experience. They need to get with the times and leverage on the digital tools available out there to create one that’s seamless and qualitative.

Expanding inventories and helping them grow digitally

One way for dealers to draw in more customers is to ensure that they have an inventory of cars that people want to buy.

I’ve worked with car dealers for many years and, from my experience, keeping inventories well-stocked – while also obtaining financing via auto loans – is their biggest obstacle. This isn’t only the case for their business expansion, but for even just keeping themselves afloat when faced with cash flow issues.

Many dealerships struggle with finding the right mix of new and used inventories, especially the latter as it depreciates more rapidly. On top of that, getting the right financing options from banks when buying cars from other dealers can be very difficult. The approval process can be burdensome and lengthy, and it can make a big impact on their business, as every second wasted means a car’s value is being depreciated or intended purchase being lost to other interested buyers.

It’s true that the financial services sector is undergoing a digital transformation but we’re mostly seeing this in more consumerist areas such as e-wallets and cashless payments. The B2B segment hasn’t really kept pace. This is especially for used car dealers who can truly benefit from using technology that improves access to capital, while relieving worries about stocking cars to instead focus on the people driving them. 

Fortunately, more industry players are warming up to the idea of a digital stock financing solution that’s tailored specifically to dealerships. At its core, this tech solution helps dealers manage existing financial commitments i.e. vehicles currently under financing and overall cash flow availability. This is done by aggregating the range of lenders and helping dealers make informed decisions on the financing options available.

However, there are more specialised platforms. These are ones that go beyond helping dealers source the best financing to also helping them to source and fund new and used vehicles on both physical and digital auctions. One example would be what’s provided in the UK by Secure Trust Bank’s V12 Vehicle Finance digital facility.

Reduce paperwork; spend more time with customers

No matter what business you’re in, keeping your back-end running tends to take a big chunk of your daily operation’s time – especially if most of your documentation is still in paper form. 

A study by the International Data Corporation found that over 20 percent of employee productivity losses were caused by paper-based documentation issues that businesses go through. If you’re a car dealer, wouldn’t the time spent on paperwork be better allocated to customer-facing areas instead?

Internally, dealers digitising their paperwork lessens their need to monitor their stock turnaround manually, to organise documents in rows of filing cabinets and of course, the tediousness of sifting through them manually and It also helps remove unnecessary clutter and reduce the risk of missing documentation. Additionally, their business could save costs as they won’t need to spend so much time and money on managing papers. Their cash flow issues are also resolved as they could take advantage of immediate funds transfers vs the traditional cheques issuance method. 

Digitising the Loans Origination Process

Digitisation can also benefit dealers when dealing with customers, especially those opting to finance their cars. Typically, the loan origination process is lengthy due to its reliance on physical documentation. Although much of the information is captured by computers linked to a dealer management system, the details captured would then be printed, faxed or enveloped before being sent to the lender via post. The paper trail ends up being long and adds to the complexity of the process and raises the risks of error.

In contrast, a digital loan origination management system would allow for a more direct digital capture of applicant information via scanners or mobile devices. The information would then be digitally combined and sent to the lender securely for processing. 

This alternative helps to counter the usual gripes consumers tend to have when spending too much time at dealerships to finance transactions. Indeed, a report by Cox noted that more than half of the time spent at dealerships during the purchase process is on negotiating or doing paperwork, which resulted in significant customer dissatisfaction over the time taken..  

Giving what customers really want

We now live in a digital first environment; one in which technology is catalysing efforts to overcome long standing physical hurdles in businesses that now must operate in a customer-first environment. 

Dealers now need to do what they can to cut down on inefficiencies that have been holding their businesses back. By going digital, they can save time and improve operational productivity to give their customers a more valuable experience.

Helen Neo is CEO and Co-founder of Genie Financial Services

Context Not Content in Bits and Bytes

This pandemic is forcing us to rethink the way we work and live. I hope we rethink the way we tell our stories.

Today, social platforms are inundated with Lenin’s words on change – there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. Despite knowing that change is the only constant in our lives, we are terrified of it. However, stories of human grit overcoming the challenges past and present give us the confidence and the resolve to not only navigate these changing times but also emerge stronger. “This too shall pass” is not just a phrase, rather a reminder of the human spirit.

Long before we discovered the binary code, stories were motivating individual behaviour, inspiring community action and storing information for posterity. As we progressed so did our stories and their levels of immediacy, impact and integrity. But all progress comes at a price. As the fault lines that were faintly visible start to stare at us, our individual response to this crisis will decide the future of our collective experiences.

What you see is all there is

We need to be vigilant while we sit safely huddled in our homes interacting with the outside world through stories that coming streaming in bits and bytes through the ubiquitous digital platforms. Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow explained a cognitive bias – what you see is all there is. He says that we normally make our judgements and impressions according to the information available to us. And today what is available is immediate, gargantuan and polarized – a cognitive nightmare.

The signs of this evolving context have been around for decades but became visible during the financial crisis of 2008. As the Gig Economy flourished and powered ahead so did the digital platforms, thus providing a much-needed impetus to a new breed of storytellers. In a bid to stay relevant, enterprises of all kinds and sizes eager to engage with and influence their audiences flocked to these platforms and the storytellers.

Of course, the engagement often implied that the most available and not the most creative or the most impactful stories prevailed. Earning the trust of the audience was easy given that the narratives were not judged on merits rather evaluated on volumes which was driven by the dollars backing these narratives. Our minds are hardwired for stories and the ones that capture our attention are the ones that are always there in front of us. What you see is all there is.

Rethinking Stories

As the world comes to grips with this pandemic and prepares to open for business, uncertainty prevails. A storyteller knows the power of uncertainty way too well. It is the time when the audience is vulnerable to the creative imagination of the storyteller; a point when the story either leap frogs into hearts or gets entangled in the mesh of our minds.

The digital platforms have not only blurred the lines between various forms of narratives and transformed the characters into a unit of measure but also purged storytelling of its creative process that powered imagination. What remains is propaganda which is delivered with relative ease given the digital context and a narrative that dangerously stokes nationalistic rhetoric and a fear of the unknown.

This pandemic has forced us to rethink the way we work and live by impacting our ability to produce, consume and share resources. I don’t know what lies ahead when it comes to storytelling, but I do know that our minds don’t need the facts laced by misleading data nor do our hearts need to be exposed to the truths of only a certain section of the society. The context of the stories today favours those with power, money and knowledge to influence our behaviour individually and our progress collectively.

As Albert Einstein said – imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. We need to reclaim our imagination to not only ensure economic progress but also a balanced world. We have to rethink our stories if we want to change the context.

Hemant Bohra is a storyteller, entrepreneur and an author turned male ally. He is the Founder of Fortuna PR, a mid-sized public relations firm in India and CXOLife, an initiative that shares work-life balance practices of CXOs. Recently, Hemant moved to Paris to work with companies eager to explore storytelling as a strategic tool.