Money & Me: Dubai research firm chief has a good head for figures

After being a committed saver during her twenties, entrepreneur Ketaki Sharma is learning to relax and spend more.

Ketaki Sharma’s investments in agriculture commodities made good returns. Satish Kumar / The National
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Ketaki Sharma is the founder and chief executive of Algorithm Research, a research and consulting firm focused on India and the Mena region. Before starting her venture, the 31-year-old Indian worked as an economist with multinationals such as Nom­ura Securities and Standard & Poor’s. Ms Sharma, who moved to Dubai in 2011 is married and mother to a three-year-old daughter.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My parents taught me to be prudent with money. I learnt to spend what remained after putting aside some money for a rainy day. I do not think we were too different from the other families we knew; being thrifty was a way of life for most people back then. No wonder India’s savings to GDP ratio is over 30 per cent – compare that to 18 per cent in the US and 12 per cent in the UK.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

A decade ago I was paid around Dh800 as a summer intern at a water research organisation. They paid for my food, travel and provided for my stay, so I was able to save and even buy some presents for my family with my first salary. It felt like an achievement as back then most non-MBA students usually interned for free. It wasn’t common to get paid for your summer job.

Are you a spender or saver?

Until recently, I was a saver. Throughout my 20s, I diligently put aside a significant part of my salary every month. This helped me buy my first house at the age of 26 and the second one in Dubai when I was 29. Maybe I was overcautious but it did not feel like it back then. In school, we were taught about the power of compounding and how starting early on, even in a small way, can significantly alter the bigger picture. I took all those maths lessons quite seri­ously. However, on turning 30, I re-evaluated my beliefs and realised that a less risk-averse attitude could help me live better.

Where do you save?

Equity markets, agricultural commodities, metals, real estate and good old fixed deposits.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

I used to prefer cash and did not even own a credit card. Then my husband explained how the benefits of using a credit card outweighed its costs. In this part of the world, with all the reward points and benefits, it makes sense, plus you pay exactly Dh10.80 and not Dh11 when required – not a fil more, not a fil less.

What has been your best investment?

Some investments in agriculture commodities recently gave me really good returns.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Invest a small proportion of your savings every month into the equity markets – it usually pays in the medium term.

Do you have a plan for the future?

I don’t have long-term plans ever – like Keynes said in the long run, we are all dead. For the short to medium term, I have two goals; a) to build Algorithm Research into a leading Mena and India focus research firm; and b) buy a bigger property in Dubai to live in.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

I’d probably use most of it as down payment to buy a house in Dubai and go on a long holiday.

What would you raid your savings account for?

Education and health.