Winners of large cash prizes do not throw caution to the wind

Not everyone chooses to live out their fantasies when they come into a financial windfall, instead opting for a slow and steady financial pace.
Shameer Khan won Dh5m in December 2010 with his Ford Edge in Dubai.
Shameer Khan won Dh5m in December 2010 with his Ford Edge in Dubai.

When Shameer Khan invested in Mashreq Millionaire in 2001, he never imagined he would recoup that investment 500 times over nearly 10 years later.

Mr Khan won Dh5 million in the prize-linked investment scheme in December 2010 from an initial deposit of just Dh10,000

With each savings certificate worth Dh1,000, his savings bought him 10 certificates and therefore 10 chances to win in Mashreq bank's weekly Dh1 million prize draw.

But as the years passed, Mr Khan forgot about the account - his entire savings from his first year of living in Dubai - even failing to notify the bank when he changed his telephone number,

"I considered cashing in the certificates a few times when I needed the money for something else," says Mr Khan, 35, who lives in Dubai with his wife, Shabana, 27, a housewife, and their two-year-old daughter.

His decision to leave his savings untouched paid off, when after a two-week delay to track him down due to his changed personal details, Mr Khan discovered he had won.

"For the next two months we were in a fairy tale. I couldn't make any decisions about what to do with the money because 100 things came to mind," says Mr Khan, an administration supervisor for a member of Dubai's royal family, adding that quitting his job and buying a Ferrari was not top of his agenda.

Winning big cash prizes is not uncommon in the UAE. The nation is awash with prize draws, raffles and prize-linked savings schemes that can see winners taking home anything from Dh50 to Dh10 million in cash. What the winners do with their booty varies from person to person but, surprisingly, not everyone chooses to live out their fantasies when they win.

"We all dream of what we would do if we won this or that - but the reality is very different," says Mr Khan. "Even though I was immensely happy, I decided not to do anything extravagant and took time to think instead. You realise this money isn't there just to be spent because then you will go back to square one."

Rupert Connor, a senior financial consultant for Acuma Wealth Management, agrees with Mr Khan's approach to his prize, saying he would never advise a client to quit work after winning a big sum.

"Dh1m or even US$1m [Dh3.67m] is a lot of money but it's not going to last you a lifetime. Yes, life is for living so people should treat themselves but they also need to be realistic and ensure they still have an income coming in. Unless they invest the money very wisely or are planning to be an entrepreneur and set up on their own, then they should stay at work."

While we all dream of giving it all up and retiring to a desert island, research indicates that taking a never-ending holiday after a win is largely a pipe dream.

According to a study from Bowling Green State University in Ohio on workers and the lottery, most winners keep working. Of those polled, 85 per cent choose to stay in the workplace with the higher the win determining the decision. Those winning more were less likely to continue working though the study found the average winnings of those who continued their career was $2.6 million.

Despite his new-found wealth, Mr Khan, says he is in no hurry to quit work.

"I am too young to settle down. I have a lot of years left where I can make more millions. I lead a decent life because my employer provides me with a car, accommodation and a good salary so my standard of living has not improved that much. My boss has supported me through everything for 10 years so I don't want to leave all of a sudden just because I've got some money."

To date, Mr Khan has not quit his job, changed his Ford Edge car, moved out of his two-bedroom apartment in Karama or taken that luxury trip to Europe and the US he has always dreamed of - though he is planning to go this year. He even still flies economy.

Instead he has invested carefully, bailing out his extended family in India, investing in a real-estate business in India that has already netted him a further Dh2 million in assets and in an advertising company in Dubai.

Not much has changed for Firas Al Khatib, a businessman who won Dh1m on the National Bonds in August 2009, either.

The 31-year-old from Jordan was in the process of setting up his own brokerage business, United Global Distribution, when he heard about his windfall.

But while Mr Al Khatib, who has lived in the UAE his entire life, describes his win as "nice", it did not alter his life financially because he was already a millionaire several times over.

"A million might seem a big amount to some but I pay Dh250,000 a year on rent on my six-bedroom villa so it's the equivalent of four years' rent. But if I won Dh1,000 tomorrow I'd still be happy because it's free and I didn't work for it," says Mr Al Khatib, who had Dh250,000 invested in the Sharia-compliant savings scheme when he won.

"We have a saying that money breeds money and when you have money you have the option of diversifying and taking up opportunities when they arise," adds Mr Al Khatib, who gave five per cent of his winnings to a friend who was with him when he found out he had netted the big prize. "In my culture, if you get good news and there is someone beside you, you have to give a percentage of it - it's good luck."

The rest of the money was invested into his new business - something he says eased the financial worry of setting up on his own.

"It made going into business worth the risk because I was not just jeopardising my own money. I was starting in the middle of a crisis so it was a relief that most of the start-up expenses were covered without me putting any effort in. The money covered the start-up and fit-out costs and I kept the rest in the business account to keep my running expenses ahead for the next year to two years."

While the businessman has not invested anymore into National Bonds, choosing instead to keep his savings in his business account, he has encouraged his three sisters and one brother to invest.

"People always have this scepticism towards raffles," he says. "They think it's a set-up and that nobody ever wins but since I won many people I know have invested just because they know me. It becomes contagious."

But Mr Al Khatib stresses that he would only invest in a prize-linked scheme rather than a pure raffle because he believes it is important to focus on the original investment and not on the chance of winning a prize.

"A raffle is like gambling, it's not investing. It comes down to pure luck and there is no return whereas National Bonds is like a fixed-deposit account. You get returns and there is the chance of prizes but essentially it is a low-risk savings scheme."

While both Mr Khan and Mr Al Khatib invested in prize-linked savings schemes that guaranteed their deposits, not everyone takes such a measured approach to winning prize draws.

For Marc Khoury, 61, a consultant in the fast-moving consumer goods industry, winning $1m twice on the Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire was part of a carefully thought out investment strategy.

The Canadian-Lebanese who lived in the UAE from 2000 until June last year and is considering returning to the Emirates soon, has bought between two to five tickets in every draw since the raffle launched in 2000 - winning his first $1m in March 2004 and his second in October 2009.

With each ticket costing Dh1,000 and only 5,000 tickets sold for each draw, Mr Khoury made a sizeable investment of Dh246,000 to land his double windfall.

"I could have won nothing though that would have been disappointing - but I just kept going. Before my first win I had already spent Dh76,000 without any return."

Mr Khoury's investment strategy may work for him, but it's certainly not something a financial consultant would advise for their client.

"To include something that may or may not happen as part of your financial planning is ludicrous," says Mr Connor.

"I liken winning a big lottery prize to dropping a coin down a sink and the coin going through the system, coming back into circulation and ending up back in you pocket - that would be someone's chance of winning. But you have to be in it to win it so if you have a good income, it might make sense to take part."

Mr Khoury did win and he won twice, which begs the question why do it in the first place when, unlike a savings scheme such as National Bonds, there is no return on the investment?

"There is an element of fun and odds of one in 5,000 are very good plus I believe in continuity in anything you do," he says. "I have been a client since it first started and it seems that continuity pays but maybe you can just call it luck. I must have done something right in my life. It's better than a pension because we have our pension already and we have our savings and this comes as a top up.

"I know of people that have bought lottery tickets for 30 years and they never won anything but it's paid me back. And I am still buying the tickets. I received the last two a couple of days ago."

Like Mr Khan and Mr Al Khatib. Mr Khoury also spent his winnings wisely.

"$1m is always welcome and helps a great deal but we didn't go trigger happy because we had what we needed already," says Mr Khoury who currently divides his time between a home in Cyprus and a flat in Beirut with his wife Nibal, 53, a jewellery designer.

Instead Mr Khoury spent the money on his two children, a daughter aged 30 and a son, aged 22, as well as giving to charity.

"We always had a decent living and we still have the same - we didn't change a thing," he adds.

So if winning a big prize in the UAE made such little difference to the daily lives of these three winners, what does it change?

"The biggest thing was my sense of security," says Mr Khan. "Before I was concerned about the future and saving - I'd think 'well I'll earn this much money this year and will spend it like this', whereas now I feel more secure. I know I have a backup so I am more comfortable doing things as I have more options.

"There's also a difference in the way people react to me now - maybe that's what money does. At work, people who didn't even smile at me before now come over and are very friendly, so it's true - money makes you more powerful."

Published: January 14, 2012 04:00 AM


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