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Anna Vanessa Haotanto

You might have seen her headlining the infocommercial for Lifetime Asia: “What does a boss look like?” with over 1.6 million views. She has been featured on CNBC, Forbes, The Straits Times, Reuters Money, Business Insider, The Peak Magazine etc. She was also nominated and selected for FORTUNE Most Powerful Women conference in 2017, 2016 (Asia) and 2015 (San Francisco, Next Gen). Meet SMU alumna and President of the SMU Women Alumni Group, Anna Vanessa Haotanto, as she shares the joys and challenges in her entrepreneurial journey and the founding of The New Savvy, a venture aimed at helping women become more financially savvy.

How did your passion in personal finance, investments, financial prudence, wealth management etc. come about?

First, due to my family financial situation, I have always been fascinated with the intricacies behind the working of money.  I understood that I have to take care of myself and my family and that realization sparked off my wealth-building path. The idea of making my money work harder for me really fascinated me, and I felt that was a way out for me from living pay cheque to pay cheque and feeling very stressed every month.

As a result, I started learning to invest by reading Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham while in Junior College. I also read a lot of other finance books.

I am lucky to have the opportunity to study and work in Finance. I learnt financial management skills, picked up economic ideas and started investing since I was 21. While I am no expert, I am familiar with financial products and managed to build a comfortable portfolio for myself.

After experiencing the financial crisis and seeing how my family struggled, I started learning Finance and fell in love with it. I wanted to work in the financial industry as I was very passionate about it. I was lucky to have the opportunities to work across different verticals in Financial industry

If proper financial knowledge and planning worked for me,  it would work for many women too - which was why I started The New Savvy.

 

Share with us your SMU experiences - what was most memorable about your education at SMU? How did your experience outside the classroom prepared you for the working world?

I only came to Singapore when I was 10 but there are a few things I’ve learnt. In Singapore, meritocracy enables you to level up as long as you put in the hard work. You can change your situation and fate if you work hard and focus on what you want.  

While my grades were better than average, I was never the most studious student. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in SMU. I picked up life skills that are really useful even till today. I also enjoyed the interaction, group work and presentations that are essential experiences for the workplace today.
Studying in SMU had also widen my perspective and broaden my views. I was empowered to pursue any thing I want if I have the determination to complete it. We were given the proper academic theories, technical knowledge and most importantly, the EQ and social skills to survive in the corporate jungle.

Being in SMU means being with the best and learning from the best professors, faculty and fellow students. This community motivates me to thrive for the best and a lot of my ex-classmates are now my business partners and counterparts.

SMU had provided me with infrastructure, systems and network to help me to overreach my goals and ambitions to succeed. I am not content to just do be satisfactory but to excel in everything I do.

 

Photo credit: Singapore Computer society

What was the inspiration behind the New Savvy? Tell us more about this website and your company.

THENEWSAVVY.COM is an online platform that focuses financial and career issues for women in Asia. Despite advancing in our career and earning more, women lack confidence in financial matters. 41% do not invest or manage their money. There is a lack of media outlets that engages women financially.

The New Savvy uses simplified, relevant language to help women make smarter decisions. We cover 35 topics ranging from investments vehicles, savings, buying property, marriage, fashion and health. We want to make money fun and promote better financial habits among women.

Over the years, my female friends have approached me to share with them on how to invest, how to open a securities account, which loan makes sense, the difference between a bond and a bond fund. Truth be told, even as someone trained in Finance, I don’t want to read yet another stock picks or technical analysis.

As a woman, I want to know how smart financial management can impact my life and how relevant it is to my needs. I want something I can relate to, something that can inspire and motivate me.

That’s what The New Savvy has been to many women. I’ve met many strangers at different events who told me that they read and LOVE The New Savvy. Many women wrote to me, sharing with me their lives and financial situations. Most women I knew always tell me that they know financial knowledge is important and they have wanted to learn but kept procrastinating. So when they know about The New Savvy, they are more motivated to be in charge of their finances.

Every of this feedback and sharing is precious to me as they are my motivation when I am thinking of giving up. I hope to keep empowering women financially.

 

You spent 10 years in the financial sector. Share with us your career journey. What were some of the challenges faced when you decided to be an entrepreneur? How did you overcome these challenges to get to where you are?

There were a few difficulties when I first started The New Savvy as an entrepreneur:

One, when I shared the idea with people, most of them dismissed me thinking that it’s just another blog. Or, they think that I am limiting myself by focusing only on women. Many told me not to make it as broad to ensure that we get more website hits.

Second, coming from a finance background with very decent earning power, it’s difficult to turn into an entrepreneur. I was giving up a good five-figure income and some people told me not to be naïve and “get a real job”. That affected my morale.

For a long time, I was wondering if I am just impetuous or silly. Should I just continue earning money and be in banking? There’s a societal pressure, especially when you don’t know what’s going to happen and I am doing this mostly to help other women.

Third, I wasn’t trained for this. It was an uphill struggle for me. I ended up working till 4 am every day. Most of my close ones were concerned and told me not to overwork. I think I made every mistake that shouldn’t be made. But that’s life, isn’t it? You falter, but you pick yourself up.

Last, a good product is useless if there are no users. How do I get the word out? How do I market TheNewSavvy.com to ensure that more women are aware that my product exists?

Most importantly, this difficulty had been in my mind non-stop since I embarked on this journey - How do I make women more interested in financial literacy?

In the beginning, I struggled a lot. My background was pure Finance and Banking. I was clueless on developing a website, producing content, digital marketing, and publishing. But I knew it was something I wanted to do and HAD to do. It was a desire that couldn’t be ignored any longer.

I did everything from scratch myself. I looked around for website developers and researched on websites. I learnt about how websites are arranged and how they worked. I did a short market survey on what is lacking regarding women financial education and what women will like to learn more. Additionally,I took up a Digital Marketing course and learnt how to utilise tools like Google Analytics, Search console and understood the terms.

Till today, I am constantly learning in a humble manner while working towards my passion. I try to stay positive against all odds and trust myself for every decision I make for the company.

 

With so many activities on your plate, how do you balance work, volunteerism and your personal life? 

Badly… and by failing a lot and failing fast!

What helped me was the fact that I was focused. I knew what I wanted to achieve and what I wanted to reach. I had a definite goal and I worked backwards on how I can reach it.

A lot of goals, especially financially, will be daunting at first. The trick is to always divide it into smaller milestones. Have a step by step plan. Make sure you are on track. Be conscientious and accountable. But remember to also have fun and celebrate your wins.

I think you have the power to control your thoughts. You can have a good day or a bad day. What you can control is how you feel towards it. How you react to it. I tell myself, never to focus on negativity. The moment you focus on all the bad things, you lose power. Focus on your goals and dreams. Good support system – want to make them proud.

However, when im sad or stressed, I try to exercise. I run and box. Exercise helps to loosen you up. The release of endorphins makes you happier. And it’s good for you physically. The better you take care of your body, the further you can go.

 

Photo credit: Singapore Computer Society

You have been featured on CNBC, Forbes, The Straits Times, Reuters Money, Business Insider, The Peak Magazine etc. and you headline the infocommercial for Lifetime Asia: What does a boss look like? with over 1.6 Million views. You were also nominated and selected for FORTUNE Most Powerful Women conference in 2017, 2016 (Asia) and 2015 (San Francisco, Next Gen), how does all these make you feel? Did your education in SMU play a role in your success? Has it done anything to groom your character and values - which aspects?

I only came to Singapore when I was 10 but there are a few things I’ve learnt. In Singapore, meritocracy enables you to level up as long as you put in the hard work. You can change your situation and fate if you work hard and focus on what you want.

While my grades were better than average, I was never the most studious student. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in SMU. I was taught real life skills that has serve me well today. I enjoyed the interaction, group work, presentations that are critical to the workplace today.

Studying in SMU had also widen my perspective and broaded my views. I was empowered to pursue any thing I want, if I am focused enough. We were given the proper academic theories, technical knowledge and most importantly, the EQ and social skills to survive the working world.

Being in SMU means being with the best and learning from the best professors, faculty and fellow students have made me want to overreach. A lot of my past classmates are now my business partners and counterparts.

SMU had provided me with infrastructure, systems and network to help me to overreach my goals and ambitions to succeed. I am not content to just do be satisfactory but to excel in everything I do.

 

You are a role model for many women out there. What do you think are the challenges women leaders face? What advice would you give to the generation of women behind you?

A lot of female bosses are perceived to be ‘aggressive, bitchy, cold and emotional’. I empathise with it. Most women feel that to get a seat on the table, or to get to the top, you have to be masculine and “be one of the boys” as that’s the widely accepted norm. As for being emotional, is that a bad thing? Being in tune with your feelings can mean that you are an empathetic leader.

I think society is slowly embracing different kind of leadership styles. Stereotypes are harder to ignore if they create systemic bias.

To address stereotypes, we need to ask ourselves 2 critical questions:

  • What are the stereotypes?
  • Why do they exist?

As a leader, I don’t focus on my gender or if I am a female. To me, my role is to ensure that I do my job well and to produce consistent and quality work, each and every time.

I always believe that we should let our work speak for itself and let its quality demand respect.

 

 

The SMU Women Alumni Group was officially launched last year and early this year, the SMU women  alumni had been active with events since then. There will be a Women’s Summit happening in May this year. Tell us more about the summit, its objectives and what alumni can expect from the event.

SMUWA was launched with the mission of providing a platform for the voices and interests of its female graduate community, and in doing so, support and further the role of women as leaders and active members of society.

The summit will build on the good work the steering committee has started on engaging our growing community by exploring issues pertinent to women, particularly in the areas of personal development, family matters, financial literacy, and career advancement. We will take the opportunity to gather inspiring voices and stories on how our fellow women alumni have taken the lead in their respective fields to get to where they are today.

There will be a series of panel discussions with esteemed alumni who each have a story to tell and our participants. The panelists will share their experiences on living life, true to their authentic self and on their own terms.

We hope to build a strong support network for our fellow women graduates and allow us to inspire our community to grow and empower each other through a shared connection. Alumni members attending this event can expect ya meaningful exchange of experiences and views on life, love, family and friendship within our community.

 

What advice would you give to SMU students embarking on their student journey at SMU?

Have resilience and grit to keep going when the world crashes. Always be humble and be willing to learn. Receive criticisms openly, constantly improve and learn transferable skills.

Don’t dwell on unconstructive thoughts or wallow in self-pity. Exercise often and take care of yourself. Be kind and have lots of fun! ;)

 

 

Bio: https://thenewsavvy.com/anna-haotanto/

LinkedIn:  https://sg.linkedin.com/in/annahaotanto

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/annahaotanto/

Last updated on 17 Apr 2017 .