Investor Journeys—Jacinta Gulasekharam

Jacinta Gulasekharam is a young entrepreneur living in Wellington. She’s a co-founder of Dignity—a social enterprise that provides ‘buy one, give one’ sanitary items to workplaces, and donates the equivalent to local students who can’t afford them.

We chatted to Jacinta about her first-time investing story, talking about money in the workplace, and why it’s important for young women to invest.

What was your first investment?

I first saw Sharesies on Twitter, when Liam Malone posted about it. I used to work at a software company, so I’m really interested in what software can do for people. I never really saw investing as something I’d do until I had a house or was earning a whole lot more, so it was exciting to see that Sharesies was opening up a whole new world for me.

My first investment was in the NZ Top 50. I have an economics and public policy degree, so I enjoyed analysing the trends in each fund—looking at which funds had the most return over the last 6 months and 12 months, for example. So I started with the one fund and then every fortnight kept putting in a little bit more. To begin with, I just wanted to see how it worked. When I started seeing returns, I thought “I might just stick at it!”

What would you do differently, if anything?

At one stage, I panicked and took some money out. My returns were going down, I was on holiday, and I was like “Oh, I’ll just use my Sharesies money!”, but now I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d left it in there as a nest egg, and not seen it as an extra savings account. Because for a while, I was treating it like another savings account, when I know now that it’s actually an investment. You need to keep it growing, you need to keep it consistent, and you need to ride out the lows even though you might worry that you’ve lost some money—just trust that the markets are going to grow!

What do you like about investing?

You’re getting returns on your money, and often it is more than you can get in a low interest savings account at a bank—so it makes financial sense. But beyond that, I feel like I’m learning! Each time I go on Sharesies, I learn a little bit more about finance and feel more comfortable with the whole conversation.

This is totally new to me though. Before I started investing, I thought I had to wait until I had, I don’t know, $5,000 or $20,000 lying around. It was something that felt very much out of reach. My family and friends don’t talk about money very much. The only person I knew who was investing had $60,000 and was doing it with a group of friends. He used all the terminology, and I just had no idea what was going on. It felt very exclusive.

Investing for the first time felt really empowering, especially as a young woman and a young professional. Now I’m like “Oh wow, this is on my phone, I’m on the bus looking at my investments, I can do all these automatic payments”—Sharesies has made it really easy and accessible. And now I’m having those conversations with my friends, empowering them to invest as well. That’s been really cool because you get to talk about it and learn together. Share Club was great, because it made me think “Maybe I shouldn’t have panicked and sold? Maybe I should’ve just ridden out the roller coaster?” So it feels like there are a lot of learning opportunities.

What has it been like talking about investing at work?

At my old work, there were a bunch of us who invested through Sharesies. We were all young people in our 20s, but we had different amounts invested—from $20 to $10,000. Initially, I held back a little bit, like “Oh I know he’s got a lot more in his account than I do.”, but eventually the amount of money we had stopped feeling relevant. We were all having the same conversation; “Did you see what happened in the share market today? How’s your Asia Pacific fund going? Are you going to diversify your funds?”

It was really cool to have this group of diverse young people talking about finance in an open way. It became a weekly conversation. And talking about it normalised investing—it made me feel like it’s okay to talk about money. We’d all go to our screens, have a look, and compare. Our returns would be different of course, so the people in our group who were more experienced would break down why they’d be different...break down the technical terms a bit. We’d look at the different funds, laugh if things weren’t going great. It became more about learning, and less about “Oh, you don’t have as much money as I have.” It made it really fun.

Investing has traditionally been skewed towards men. Why do you think it’s important for more women to invest?

In New Zealand there’s this general attitude that you don’t look at your student loan balance or think about the money that’s going out of your account. But I think it’s really important for women to have financial control, financial understanding, and independence. Having that security and knowledge is so important for your career and your own wellbeing. As a young woman, I feel like I’m part of a movement...and not just as an observer! I’m learning and having access to more opportunities. I’d encourage other young women to join as well, because it’s not something we’ve typically been invited into or had the confidence to join. But now we can—and Sharesies has been great at allowing for that.

What tips would you give to everyday New Zealanders who might not think investing is for them?

Invest $20, watch it for a month, learn, and have a think. Only put in what you can afford to lose, then just build from there. If your return goes down, maybe read about it and look into it—but also think about the longer term projection! It’s not just about what’s happening this week or this day. You have to be ready to ride the rollercoaster.

For a while, I was just in one fund, and then I went to a couple more. So I’m definitely learning as I go. When there was the big dip in the share market last year, I had a bunch of questions in my head—and then I read some of the informational pieces on the Sharesies blog and it made it really easy for me to understand, “Okay, this is why I’m thinking or behaving this way. What should I rationally do?”

Best piece of advice you’ve given or been given about investing?

Just start! With Sharesies, the barriers are so low, so you don’t really have much to lose. Read the Sharesies blogs, learn from other peoples’ experiences. I think you’re only losing out by not starting today—and even more the more you delay it. Try it out, and you might get addicted to it...but investing isn’t a bad thing to be addicted to!