Following the Magic Markets episode of last week where the Finance Ghost and I outlined some of our more current thoughts on markets (Magic Markets – Ep18: Investment Journeys – Moe Knows), I have fielded some questions on when and where I started my own journey in investments.

Its an interesting question and I applaud those readers who posed it simply because, the defacto assumption that one is a finance professional ignores the fact that we all started somewhere. So this post will be a lot less cerebral and a little more introspective and help you get to ‘Know Moe’.

A small boy in a small town

I grew up in a small town called Roodepoort on the West Rand of Gauteng, the ‘business’ province of South Africa. My family migrated from India to South Africa sometime in the late 1800’s as merchants and were among the first families of ‘Indian’ descent to settle on the West Rand. Over the years, they evolved from simple vendors of fresh goods to store owners. As a child, my grandfather told me about the first property he bought in a township called ‘Newclare’ for which he paid a few hundred pounds (SA was still a Union back then).

Properties also had to be held in the name of a nominee, given that people of colour could not own properties in Apartheid South Africa (many were subsequently expropriated). Notwithstanding the challenges, the entrepreneurial spirit of my forefathers bore through and they continued to attempt to make a life despite the hurdles.

Hearing these stories from my grandad when I was little instilled a sense of hard work triumphing and the ability to lift a family from one social rung to the next through steady and sustainable wealth creation. It was no surprise to family members that my favourite board game as a child was Monopoly.

Coming of Age

With this passion for money and finance, it was no wonder that I was a strange teenager poring over the back pages of the business section of the newspapers where stock prices and mutual funds (unit trusts) were listed. I spent some time trying to figure out the column of numbers and which funds were doing better than others… Moe needed to Know.

Upon turning 16, my parents benevolently asked me what I wanted for this milestone birthday and I precociously said that I wanted them to buy me R2000.00 worth of a particular fund I had my eye on. After raising a few eyebrows, mainly because R2000.00 was a lot of money back then, I was told that I would get something more realistic. This did not deter me, in fact it fueled me further. Make no mistake, my parents were well intentioned, but they were dealing with a handful in me at the time.

My parents had long instilled a solid work ethic in me. While my needs were always taken care of, I did not get an allowance.  I was told that if I wanted to pursue these ideas (and buy some of the fanciful things on my list over and above the investment), that upon turning 16 (the legal age to commence work in SA at the time), that I should find casual employment for my weekends and holidays. I remember my first job in retail paid around R8.50/ hour with a little extra on Sundays.

It was going to be a long slog to get to the R2000, but I started. I needed to. I also took the liberty of saving some of my earliest earnings and co-opting my kind mother into making ‘fudge’ and other treats which I would be able to sell to my friends at school. I committed to reimburse her for her ingredients and time (I doubt I ever really did, sorry mom) but armed with my entrepreneurial endeavours and working on weekends, I initiated by first investment into a unit trust a few months later.

By the time I was leaving school and going to university, I was a lot more interested in spending money than earning it. I continued to work as a casual worker in a number of gigs and continued adding to the kitty, but university and the student lifestyle can be expensive and I found myself periodically drawing down on my investments to enjoy some of my varsity years. It wasn’t all fun and games though as the family needed me to put my new found financial acumen to good use. As such, I also started managing some properties for family, which provided me with a different skill set in terms of ‘physical investment’ rather than merely financial markets.

I was offered a lucrative sales job but would have had to leave my studies, so I turned it down and hunkered on. I majored in Information Systems and later in Economics. After stomaching some losses during the dot com era, I eventually sold it all down and began investing directly.

University had allowed me to channel my childhood passions for business and finance into a formal education and upon leaving university, I managed to get a place in the graduate program at one of the large banks in SA. This was just the start of the journey to take theory and my own experience and see it at work in the real world.

The Real World beckons

From there on, it was a corporate jig to move from graduate programme to the private client business of said bank where I spent around 2 years. Then a few steps on up into the investment banking space and the rest is history. I also followed through and obtained my CFA charter around 2008, just prior to the financial crisis. We soldiered on and after serving as the Head of Strategic Research for Global Markets, I moved on to the Head of Macro research at a large pension fund. I have enjoyed exposure to researching and trading all asset classes ranging from equities and fixed income, to FX, property and small businesses. Now, I manage my own and family money and consult to corporates, corporate treasuries and an assortment of IFA’s and asset managers – if you want to know more, email me at .

My career has given me the privilege to live my passion for markets and each step along the way has allowed me to grow and learn and become who I am today. I maintain many the skill sets I learnt along the way and have managed to put them to good use for my own portfolio as well as for my clients. I continue to learn, to evolve because investing is not a destination but a lifelong journey.

Not everyone is as fortunate and life is always a combination of skill, hard work and also a lot of luck, but someone once told me that luck is just being prepared for the right opportunities as they arise.

The world has come a long way from a kid needing to trawl through the business pages of the newspaper, scribbling notes and doing research. Today, with technology at our finger tips, information is readily available and the world of finance is truly being democratized. Retail traders are now able to learn and trade many instruments and assets which were previously the exclusive domain of asset managers and investment banks.

In this vein, I would like to say, empower yourself. Educate yourself and commence your own investment journey. It is never too early or too late… and truly that the journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single step.

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