Money & Me: ‘Working through two financial crises has turned me into a saver’

Anuscha Iqbal of Spotii says her priority is putting aside enough money for her children’s education

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , July 19 – 2020 :- Anuscha Iqbal, chief executive, Spotii at her villa in the Victory Heights in Dubai Sports City in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Business. Story by Deepthi Nair
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Anuscha Iqbal is the chief executive of Spotii, a buy-now-pay-later platform that went live in April and offers deferred payment schemes on online and offline purchases for UAE shoppers. Ms Iqbal, from Pakistan, worked as an investment banking analyst in New York before arriving in the UAE in 2007 to work as an analyst with a private equity firm. Ms Iqbal, 37, lives in Victory Heights, Dubai, with her husband and two children.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude to finance?

Savings are very important to my husband and me. A large part of that was influenced by my upbringing. Growing up in Pakistan, my parents were business owners. I saw them go through good and rough times where finances were a problem. That stuck with me. If I can save for a rainy day, I do. We budget to make sure we have a certain amount of spend but we are always building on our savings. All of that is then put into some sort of liquid, low-yielding, fixed-income investment. At the start of my career, I also saw the 2008-09 financial crisis. There was so much uncertainty. Having witnessed that volatility twice in my life, I have now made savings a big component of how I manage my budget.

I am always looking for a good deal and trying not to overstretch myself

How much were you paid in your first job? 

When I was in university in Philadelphia, I had two to three odd jobs. I rotated between being a teaching assistant, manning the library desk and attending the game room. The pay for the library job was around $7 (Dh25.7) to $8 an hour. It was more than enough for a good meal back in college.

What brought you to the UAE?

Living in the US was very far from Pakistan. I wanted to be closer to home. The UAE offers that cultural affinity. When I arrived here in 2007, there were phenomenal opportunities for career growth as well. As time evolved, we settled here and the UAE is our home now.

What has been your best investment so far?

In 2009, when local bonds were tracking down quite significantly, I bought distressed real estate debt. Given the property market’s relevance to the economy, I knew the state would step in at some point to support these businesses and the bonds would rally. I bought them for a very significant discount. They rallied later and I held on to them for four years. It involved reading the overall situation, understanding consumer sentiment and having a long-term view.

What is your most cherished purchase?

Our current home. We bought it in 2014 and have a lot of memories here. I cherish it more from a sentimental perspective. From an investment perspective, it has not been the best purchase given where real estate prices are today.

What luxuries are important to you?

The ability to travel is important to me. I like new experiences and taking my children to see different parts of the world so that they are exposed to different cultures.

Are you a saver or a spender?

I am definitely a saver. I am always looking for a good deal and trying not to overstretch myself.

How has the pandemic affected your personal financial strategy?

When you are launching a business, you know no income is going to come in for a long time. While we were previously a double-income household, we are a single-income family now. My husband is a director at JP Morgan. Even pre-Covid, the fact that we were about to launch a business meant that we had to manage our finances better. Then Covid-19 struck and that brought on a wave of uncertainty. We were closely monitoring our budgets to see where we could cut our spending, if needed.

What led you to launch Spotii?

It was a host of factors. I had a personal desire to build a business and do something different. There was also the belief in the business model that we would be adding value to the UAE’s e-commerce ecosystem. It was at an inflection point, sort of where the US was 20 years ago. There was a big shift happening. The prospect of challenging myself to build something and grow it was both exciting and scary. There was the big fear of 'what if you fail' and I had to push that thought away. I have a good partner, my brother Ziyaad Ahmed, who is also the co-founder of Spotii. I wouldn’t have gone ahead with Spotii if I didn’t have his support.

Does Spotii's buy-now-pay-later concept encourage consumers to purchase items they cannot afford?

No, Spotii is about responsible spending. We want people to look to Spotii as a way to budget their money.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , July 19 – 2020 :- Anuscha Iqbal, chief executive, Spotii at her villa in the Victory Heights in Dubai Sports City in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Business. Story by Deepthi Nair

How has Covid-19 affected your business?

It’s hard to find a silver lining in such a market. But the acceleration to online in the UAE market has been good for our business. From a consumer perspective, we had first-time users shopping online and who are likely to continue doing so after the pandemic. We have a lot of merchants who weren’t so focused on being online earlier who have now accelerated their digital strategy. From a business perspective, Covid-19 has helped grow our company faster than originally planned.

How are you saving for your retirement?

Our first priority is to create a fund with enough money for our children’s education. We want to create a buffer not just for their schooling in the UAE but also for college. We haven’t honestly been thinking about retirement per se. Both of us are still quite young and have several years ahead of us. I will turn 38 this year. Once we get the children sorted, then we will figure ourselves out.

Do you have any financial regrets?

I have had a few bad investments. Both my husband and I share the same values in terms of making sure that we save appropriately. That has given us peace of mind that if anything goes wrong, we have a fallback option.

What financial advice would you give your younger self?

So many things. There were probably a lot of opportunities that I did not capitalise on. I would tell my younger self to not be too scared to take a few risks with my investment strategies. It’s easier to say that in hindsight. Ten years on, I know the impact of the financial crisis on my personal finances. Sitting in 2008, if I were to tell myself to take more risks, I would have said: ‘hell no’.