Money & Me: ‘Covid-19 taught me to live in the moment but maintain a balance’

Ramzi Khleif, general manager of StashAway Mena, says investing is the only way to achieve your personal finance goals

Ramzi Khleif, general manager of StashAway Mena, says investors should not be completely risk-averse.  Pawan Singh / The National
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Ramzi Khleif is general manager of digital wealth management platform StashAway Mena. He was previously head of corporate at ride hailing and delivery company Careem. Prior to that, he worked for a strategy consulting company, a boutique investment bank and in private equity.

Mr Khleif, 36, lives with his wife and two young daughters in Dubai Hills Estate.

What was your exposure to money during childhood?

I’m Lebanese Canadian, but was born in Jordan. My father was an executive with Pepsi, then Nestle, so we moved around a lot. I have lived in eight different countries and been back here the past seven years.

We were relatively comfortable. My parents weren’t super strict, but we weren’t spoilt either. We had an allowance, almost like a reward scheme. The better we did in school, the more we were able to get. It was a good motivator. We never really discussed it (money) explicitly, it was more through lessons and values.

When my brother and I wanted a PlayStation PS1, it became us working together … to save our allowances to buy it quicker. It was a good lesson; to understand the concept of saving, how much time it took but at the same time collaborating.

Did that inform your adult life?

I always enjoyed numbers, the maths of things, so gravitated towards that going into university. These kind of experiences in my younger days made me a bit more disciplined in the long run, prompting me to always think about saving. If I want to buy something, I need to plan.

That mindset was ingrained and throughout university, it was always: ‘This is how much I have for the month, how much can I spend, these are things I have to spend on – and whatever I have left, do I want to go out with friends or travel?’

I used to keep an Excel tracker of how much I was spending every month and on what, so I could see whether what I was doing made sense.

Money is a necessity, there’s no way round it. The more you have, the more you can do things you enjoy without having to worry about taking away from other things
Ramzi Khleif

Was there an early earning experience?

During high school summers (in Dubai), I spent a few weeks working with my dad, helping in the office, running numbers, Excel analysis, for which I’d earn a nominal amount. That helped me understand how hard you have to work to earn your salary.

What is your spending and saving attitude?

I’ve always been more a saver than a spender. At the same time, you need to enjoy life; you’re not just working to work, you’re working to enjoy, to give back, to secure your future.

You have goals in mind, but you also need to reward yourself in a way that still makes sense and allows you to achieve those goals.

Has that adjusted with parenthood?

The future becomes a lot more important. Providing for your children has a lot of fixed costs. It makes you think you need to plan ahead more and be more disciplined than you used to be or would like to be.

Once my kids are old enough to start school … I know I need to manage my lifestyle from now because it’s much more difficult to downgrade your lifestyle or spend significantly less to make up for these other things.

How do you grow your money?

Predominantly StashAway now. The main reason is that passive, long-term, risk-based approach. I’m more risk-averse. We also invested in property, our home. I’m investing in the markets through different instruments and have a little cryptocurrency.

You need to take some risks that make sense for you and for your portfolio. You shouldn’t be completely risk-averse, otherwise you’re never going to be able to build as fast as you’d like.

What financial lessons have you learned?

I got caught up in cryptocurrency early. I bought at the last peak and everything crashed. The online platforms I was using were super expensive, it wasn’t easy to take your money out.

It wasn’t a super expensive lesson, but it tells you the power of not wanting to miss out and being caught in the hype of things, to maybe do stuff you don’t know enough about just because other people are getting great returns.

Because something works for one person, it doesn’t mean it works for everybody else. For every Apple or Tesla, there’s a hundred other ones which are not going to pan out.

I’m not going to work in a job that pays super well but compromise on my health and relationships just to have all this money, which I’m then not going to be able to enjoy as much
Ramzi Khleif

Is it important to be well-informed?

You don’t really learn in school about personal finance and investing. People learn from each other, their parents – and all of them, for the most part, never really had a formal financial education or upbringing to guide them to make the right decisions. A lot of it ends up being self-taught and some lessons can end up being expensive.

For me, continuous education is important. The philosophy of StashAway is tied to my personal belief; educating and guiding people to understand the value of investing, different options for investing, how to assess their risk profile and what they should and should not be doing.

A lot of content we do, like webinars, is educational. We go to companies to give their employees financial wellness engagement. This is a complimentary service.

What has been your best investment?

Education. It doesn’t need to be getting a fancy degree or going to university, it can be taking an online course, reading a book, a webinar – using those opportunities to advance in smaller chunks. These help you out in the long run.

What do you enjoy spending on?

Experiences that you remember as opposed to buying something.

My honeymoon or the trip we did for our proposal, how we celebrated my father’s 60th birthday, a morning hot air balloon ride, my cousin’s wedding in Cape Town …

If I look back at my time here, what stands out is not the house or car that I drove, it’s more the experiences. I’m significantly less tied to physical property or its sentimental value.

What is your philosophy towards money?

Money is a necessity, there’s no way round it. The more you have, the more you can do things you enjoy without having to worry about taking away from other things.

At the same time, I’m not going to work in a job that pays super well but compromise on my health and relationships just to have all this money, which I’m then not going to be able to enjoy as much. It’s balance. You should try to do something you enjoy that still meets your needs.

I want to do something fulfilling and still make a decent amount because I would rather retire sooner than later, do things I enjoy more without having to worry about a pay cheque or financing. What Covid-19 taught us is that you don’t know what the future has in store, so you need to live in the moment and enjoy, but within that balance.

Has the pandemic impacted how people look at money?

It has. We’ve seen a lot more interest and appetite for investing during this period. I think it opened the eyes of a lot of people and allowed them to re-prioritise.

Saving is one thing but it’s only part of the equation; saving in itself is not going to get you to where you need to be. Investing in a smart way, that’s cost-effective and that meets your needs, is the trick to being able to achieve your goals.

Updated: July 15, 2021, 8:00 AM