Shalu Sharma currently works as an associate vice president at financial services company Continental Group.
Ms Sharma, from India, is a single parent in her mid-40s and lives in Discovery Gardens, Dubai. She’s been in the UAE since 2003.
Her son, 19, who she supports financially, is studying at the University of Bath in Britain.
Originally from Lucknow, Ms Sharma graduated in chemistry from Miranda House, Delhi, before completing her master’s in International Business from Delhi University.
She’s completed three levels of certification in insurance and advising from the Chartered Insurance Institute and has been a member of the Million Dollar Round Table for 11 years.
Ms Sharma says meticulous planning and upgrading her knowledge and skillset has helped her career growth.
When did you become a financial adviser?
I joined Continental 20 years ago. In 2002, I was working in bancassurance sales with ICICI Prudential in India on a monthly salary of 15,000 Indian rupees ($180) for a few months when my ex-husband got a job in Dubai.
When I joined my former husband in Dubai, it was natural to look for a job in the insurance industry. I got Continental’s number from the Yellow Pages, called them and was scheduled to meet the founder and managing director.
At the time, I wanted a salaried job and got into operations. However, after my separation and with the added responsibility of a child, I needed more flexibility and so, I moved to consultancy full-time in 2009.
That is the best decision I have ever taken. I have not looked back since then and love what I do. My role is very fulfilling and I feel good when I help my clients achieve their financial goals.
What was your first salary in Dubai?
At Continental, I started on $800 per month.
What is your salary now?
I earn a six-digit salary in dollars annually or between Dh250 and Dh300 an hour.
We set a target to achieve every year. Most advisers work on a mix of salary and commission. In my case, I work completely on commission, fees and bonuses.
If you have a high client retention rate, then you can plan your earnings in a better manner.
Do you save?
Of course. I do my own needs analysis and financial assessment regularly. It is very important to have your financial goals clearly written and have a road map to attain them. You will reach a goal only if it’s defined properly.
I saved consistently for my son’s education and he is now studying comfortably abroad. An emergency fund is also a top requirement.
I am now working on my “financially independent” fund and inheritance. I love my job and will never retire.
I mainly invest in long-term systematic investment plans in dollars and rupees. I have a short-term lump sum investment on a platform, which is a mix of mutual funds, stocks and properties in India, and gold.
Both my son and I also have guaranteed protection plans for life and critical illness.
I am a balanced risk taker and have a diversified investment portfolio.
Have you purchased a property?
I have properties in Goa and Bengaluru and land plots in India. I do not like investing too much in property from an investment point of view.
The assets are not liquid, difficult to sell in case of immediate needs and require a lot of effort to maintain.
Do you have any debt?
I do not have any debt. My credit cards are always paid before time for the full amount, so banks don’t make much out of me.
There’s nothing bad about taking debt if it is planned properly.
Have you ever inherited a sum of money?
I have not inherited money until now. I will be inheriting my father’s property eventually. However, I inherited a more important thing than money from my parents: the ability to handle my earnings effectively and save before I spend.
When I was at university, I was one of the few students who had money given by their parents for the full term rather than getting the money every month.
My parents had the confidence in me to allocate my expenses judiciously. I had my emergency fund, tuition fees, food and hostel fees, among other expenses, written down.
Today, I am proud to see my son doing the same.
Were you taught how to handle your finances as a child?
In our time, nobody attended a proper class that said: “Learn how to handle your finances.”
We learnt practically from our parents and other adults. They were our best teachers.
I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by highly educated, responsible elders from whom I learnt.
I have always been an organised person. Mishaps happen in life and they taught me to plan my finances more meticulously.
I listed down my financial objectives and mapped out how much I needed to earn and save. You can always back-calculate, but keep inflation in mind.
Today’s children do not follow blindly, they question your ways, which, I think, is a very good thing.
With such a mindset, it is important to have formal classes to learn about finances.
How do you budget your salary every month?
I have my budget on Excel with all my expenses and earnings. My financial objectives, such as education for my son, my “financially independent” fund, emergency fund and inheritance are clearly mentioned separately with expected achievement dates for each.
My assets are documented for my son’s reference and my will is in place. I keep updating my plans regularly.
I save about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of my earnings after taking care of my expenses. Most of the time, this is invested.
What are your major monthly expenses?
My rent, my son’s education, maid’s salary, grocery bills, credit card bills and utility bills.
Have you started saving for retirement?
Well, I am never going to retire as I love my work, but I have been working on the fund to help me in the later stages of my life when I will be working because I love to work, not because I need to work.
You should start saving as soon as you start earning. I plan to be financially independent in the next five years.
Do you have an emergency fund?
Yes. It has about six months’ worth of expenses.
What do you spend your disposable income on?
First, it is allocated towards my financial objectives and then, whatever I wish to spend on.
Do you earn passive income?
Yes, from dividends, rents and coupons.
Do you worry about money?
No. I plan but do not worry. The more you worry, the more it will slip out.
When you plan, you automatically save as you know your limits and thresholds.
It’s good to have some positive pressure because that motivates me to work and find my way.
What are your financial goals?
My long-term goals are my son’s education, his wedding, funds for my later years and my inheritance.
A short-term goal is to buy a property in the UAE in two to three years.
What is your idea of financial freedom?
When you are not forced to work because you need to pay your bills and other expenses.
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Updated: January 16, 2024, 9:19 AM