Money & Me: ‘I wish I had started saving in my early 20s’

Anna Skigin, founder of property management company Frank Porter, says the pandemic taught her to prioritise when it comes to spending

Anna Skigin, founder of Frank Porter, says she started budgeting and investing money in her late 20s. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National
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Anna Skigin is founder and chief executive of Frank Porter, a short-term property letting management company she launched following a holiday in Dubai in 2017.

It maximises returns for owners by renting properties via platforms such as Airbnb and now employs 100 people, including cleaning, maintenance and interior design divisions, with a branch in Russia.

Ms Skigin previously launched an Italian restaurant concept in London, worked in private banking with Rothschild in Switzerland and held a client advisory role at London auction houses Sotheby’s and Phillips.

Raised in Russia and Canada, Ms Skigin, 35, lives on Palm Jumeirah with her husband, a partner at Frank Porter.

How did money feature in your upbringing?

Until I was nine, I grew up in St Petersburg and then we moved to Toronto. We were well off, no worries about food on the table or how much university cost. I had one trajectory: you had to get a degree, do finance, work in a bank.

When communism fell, the 1990s were very turbulent. My father was a typical Russian businessman doing a lot of things … fashion, making jeans, restaurants, then buying property. He decided to move the family because it was dangerous in Russia at the time. My mother was trained as a pianist and became a home maker.

Did you inherit your father’s entrepreneurial spirit?

For sure. Russia was a very interesting situation. Imagine you’re in a totally communist country and then overnight, they say you can make money doing things.

You have to figure it out. It rubbed off hearing stories of his past, this idea of trying to make it on your own. That’s one of the reasons I decided to do my own business.

I’m a big believer that when I have kids, they work for money early to start understanding the value of things
Anna Skigin

What was your first experience working for money?

As a salesperson at a clothing store in Canada. I wanted to buy dresses, shoes, make-up. My father said: “You don’t need anything, you have everything.”

I was waiting to turn 16 so I could get a job to buy these frivolous things. I was going after school and weekends, for just $8 per hour, to earn my own money so that I didn’t have to ask my parents.

What monetary lesson did this teach you?

It’s important for kids to have a job to start equating how much things cost. You have to work a whole hour for $8 so you can buy coffee and a muffin. Your parents give you food and pay for your clothes, but when you start understanding how much time it takes a regular person to work to afford one thing, it puts things into perspective.

I’m a big believer that when I have kids, they work for money early to start understanding the value of things.

What brought you to the UAE?

I had just sold a restaurant business to my partners and was thinking about what to do next. We took a vacation and were at the Address Hotel in Dubai looking out on buildings around the Marina, prime real estate; it was Saturday in March, high season in Dubai, and there was nobody in those apartments.

A law was passed the year before that allowed short-term rentals. It seemed like a golden opportunity people were missing out on and I had a serendipitous moment: “We have to start a business.” You don’t get many opportunities like this in life, so we moved in September.

Do short-term lets generate higher returns?

In general, the income is much higher than long-term rentals. People are paying a premium to stay at properties that have furniture, everything connected. The best thing about short-term lets is the money, but also flexibility because owners do not have a contract with a tenant, you can get out of it whenever you want.

Some owners want to come back to Dubai for a vacation and their unit is generating money the rest of the year. With tourism being the biggest industry in Dubai, you’re making a lot. There’s huge growth in the market.

Do only prime addresses bring income?

When we came, just Dubai Marina, Downtown and Palm Jumeirah made the money. Slowly, we started getting more requests for new areas and we’re operating everywhere now.

It’s not just about Russians coming in on a private jet wanting a Palm villa, it’s also about a family coming and instead of a few days at a hotel, they can afford a two-bedroom apartment and spend money (saved) on activities in Dubai. People are staying longer.

What is your spending and saving outlook?

I used to be much more of a spender, especially when I was working in Geneva in banking, I didn’t care. My parents weren’t savers, they didn’t instil in me this idea that you need to be more frugal. So I wish that in my early 20s, when I was making really good money, that I was smart enough to save. Everyone has something to teach themselves at 20.

Now, I’m much more of a saver. Covid-19 changed my mentality a lot. It was a huge experience personally and in business to make us realise what’s important and what’s not.

How do you grow your wealth?

I have a non-aggressive portfolio. Having a good portfolio of properties in different places is the goal. I just bought an apartment in St Petersburg that’s being rented out short-term. I have an apartment in London and in Sweden and we have something in progress in Poland. Hopefully, these will pay off. I practise what I preach.

What is your philosophy towards money?

Money is freedom and a facilitator to do a lot of things. If you do not have money, your kids don’t have education. It’s vital for people to live the life they want. It gives you opportunity.

I view money as the great gift but up to a point … I don’t believe more money makes you more happy. That extra car doesn’t, the third house doesn’t. I have big respect for money.

Are you wise with money?

A lot of money will go to things to do with the business. I have a budget in mind that I spend per month and the rest is either saved or invested. This is something I probably started doing in my late 20s. Before that, it was just spend. Now, I understand it’s important. That’s being a responsible adult. With age, you get smarter with money.

What luxuries are important to you?

I’m not really a “things” person, I don’t care about clothes or bags. It’s more those moments with people, experiences and my home. Things in my house don’t have to be the most expensive but just last longer. That mentality of spending on quality as opposed to fluff.

Has the pandemic had an impact on your business?

It happened overnight … 85 per cent occupancy down to no one booking apartments. Everything that was non-essential to our core business went. We had to put half of our employees on unpaid leave (during lockdown).

Then a crazy thing happened, short-term accommodation became essential and stayed at 50 per cent to 60 per cent occupancy for a couple of months even though there were zero tourists.

In a way, it made the company stronger because we were able to fix problems, investigate what was working, what was not, in the slow period.

What are your future goals?

The long-term plan is to make Frank Porter an umbrella of many companies, in multiple cities and growing without my constant interference, so I can maybe focus on other things that interest me. Maybe that’s the retirement plan, although I would never be able to not do something.

Updated: October 28, 2021, 6:00 AM