Money & Me: ‘I wanted to be financially independent from a very early age’

Clare Holburn-Archer, chief marketing officer at Cafu, was a spender in her 20s but her perception towards life changed after becoming a mother

Clare Portrait
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Clare Holburn-Archer is the chief marketing officer at Cafu, the region’s first on-demand fuel delivery service app. Born and raised in Britain, Ms Holburn-Archer moved to Dubai in 2001 when she joined the Emirates Group in the corporate communications department. Passionate about building brands and brand equity, Ms Holburn-Archer lives in Dubai with her four-year-old twins.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was born and brought up in the south of England. Both my parents worked. My father is a retired nuclear scientist and my mother was in HR. From a very early age, I remember watching how they worked very hard to save enough money to send both my sister and me to private school. I think that really instilled the value of money in me from an early age.

But in terms of their attitude towards money, I think it’s different to mine. They’re safe savers and very cautious. I had more of an appetite for risk at the start. But the biggest driver is that from a very early age, I always wanted to be financially independent.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

When I was around 14 to 15 years, I got pocket money but always wanted that bit more. So, I got a job as soon as it was legal in the UK. I got a paper round! Throughout the whole year, I went on my bicycle at 5am to deliver the newspaper. I think my first salary was about £9 (Dh42) a week. It was the first taste of being independent and being able to save for what I wanted.

While I was at university, I used to work on the weekends ... and I did a few internships. I completed my Bachelor of Arts in psychology, English literature and history of art, and my first proper job was in an ad agency in London. My first salary at the ad agency was £800 a month, and half of that went on rent.

What brought you to Dubai?

I came out to Dubai in 2001 when I joined Emirates. I always wanted to work abroad. I never really saw myself staying in the UK ... and the Middle East always interested me. I joined Emirates right at the beginning when digital was becoming a part of marketing. It was very, very early days.

What makes businesses successful in this post-pandemic era is the ability to change the dynamic, be innovative and to understand what customers want

I started in the corporate communications department as one of four people in the digital team. Over the course of almost 15 years, we grew it to over 70 people.

It was a lot of stakeholder management and trying to educate, both within and externally, to put money into digital. We went from five or six websites to 143 in 13 languages. So, it was a huge undertaking.

Now, the corporate communications department is like a mini United Nations ... it’s like a cultural melting pot, and I think that’s what keeps people here so long.

Clare Portrait
Ms Holburn-Archer says her best financial decision was to buy a property in London in 1998. She has also purchased an investment property in Dubai. Photo: Courtesy Clare Holburn-Archer 

How did Covid-19 affect business at Cafu?

During the stay-at-home restrictions, people were travelling less and driving less. So, we did see a drop in consumption, but interestingly saw a 70 per cent increase in new users. While overall people were driving less, we found that people were trying us more because we’re a contactless service. It’s even more relevant in the time of Covid-19.

We also took steps to understand how we could innovate and adapt to what’s going to be the new normal. That’s why we made a very bold move to change to free delivery. It’s a huge business decision. We recognised the need of our customers – people were looking even more tightly at what they were spending. Our petrol is the same price as at the petrol station, so there’s no reason to ever queue up again.

We found that on average, people spend 10 minutes filling up at a petrol station. One of our core propositions is to give back to people the time they spend queuing at the petrol station to instead spend with their loved ones or do what they’d much rather be doing.

Are you a spender or a saver?

In my 20s, I was a spender. When I moved to Dubai, I started planning for my future. I spent money on experiences and travelled a lot. Now, I’m a mother of four-year-old twins. So, I’ve got many years of school fees to pay. Your perception on life changes when you become a parent and you have to plan for the future. I’m more of a saver than a spender now.

What’s been your best investment so far?

My first big decision financially was to put some roots down in London. I have a property in London and it’s been rented out every single month since the day I bought it in 1998. I had to convince my parents to lend me half of the deposit for the house. I have an investment property in Dubai too.

What has been your most treasured purchase?

I had a bright red Peugeot 205 in London. It was the second car I owned, and it was my dream car those days. It was a disastrous purchase because it was very old and it cost way more to upkeep than it probably should have, but it didn’t matter. I treasured it as it gave me the freedom to go places.

I don't follow markets that closely. I trust my financial adviser and go with my gut

Has Covid-19 affected your personal finance strategy and personal spending?

Everybody’s wallets are tighter and I’m no exception to that. There’s less going out and less travel. I think there’s a natural curve anyway, as your life is kind of reduced into a smaller sphere. It’s really important to take stock. I met my financial adviser quickly, we looked at the portfolio and made a few adjustments.

What luxuries are important to you?

Time ... trying to find those moments where I can be fully present with my kids and enjoy life even through these difficult times. So, I think it’s trying to find a work-life balance and carve up those moments within the day.

Do you have a particular philosophy on money?

I tend not to think about money too much. I’m more about what it can provide for me in terms of freedom and just not have to worry about it. I don’t follow markets that closely. I trust my financial adviser and go with my gut. I have quite a moderate risk profile.

Has the UAE influenced your outlook towards money?

I think you have more opportunities in Dubai. Obviously, because it’s tax free, you have potentially more money and more expendable income. I was able to save and purchase a property here and make some sound financial decisions.

Any financial regrets or financial advice for your younger self?

I think it’s always good to start saving early even if it’s just a tiny amount a month. But, I have no regrets in life. I’ve lived every day to the maximum. If you can have a passion, follow it and don’t live with regrets.

What are the financial values you would pass on to your children?

I’ve already tried to drill into them that they have to work hard to be allowed certain things. I will try to make them work jobs around the house. Obviously, they’re a bit young for that now but they’ll be asked to tidy their own rooms and wash the car. They have actually washed the car a couple of times. I think they found it more of a game than a chore.

They have to understand early the value of hard work. As a mother, my role is to impart that understanding.