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Anna Vanessa Haotanto: Thinking long term and investing in the uninvestable

The COO & partner of ABZD Capital takes over on The Peak's Next Gen columns.

The Peak’s Next Gen personalities take over to share personal stories close to their hearts – get to know all nine of them here.

 

Recently, as I approach my mid-30s, I’ve encountered many friends who are afflicted with illnesses or life-threatening situations. This made me question my own mortality and purpose in life: “What am I doing this for? What impact am I leaving? Is the world a better place because of me?”

Finance and investments have always been my passions. Having grown up in a difficult financial situation, I’m a firm believer in education and how it empowers people. With proper financial access and education, any individual holds the power to create opportunities for themselves. This will have a positive net effect on the communities around them. A Unesco report estimated that if every student in low-income countries had basic reading skills when they left school, more than 170 million people would rise out of poverty.

I started my career in banking but quickly realised that I wasn’t making the impact I desired. The basic tenets of finance are to create profits and maximise value. But I personally believe that it’s not enough to make money. It is also our duty to help those who can’t help themselves, and to better society. We have to invest responsibly and focus on investing in the uninvestable.

(Related: Exploring alternative investments with The Peak & Next Gen Business Families)

What is “uninvestable”? We have to venture beyond the usual model and asset classes – public markets, real estate, hedge funds, commodities and venture capital – and look at the things professionals traditionally term as “unprofitable”. The world is changing rapidly and I fear that in our comfort zones, we are not progressing as quickly. Hence, we cannot afford to do things the way they have been done for the past decade.

When I started The New Savvy, Asia’s leading financial education portal for women, most people dismissed me because they felt that I was limiting myself by focusing only on women. Many advised me to make it as broad as possible, to ensure that we got more website views and hit metrics that investors focused on. Women in finance, to investors, is just not an investable asset class. To them, “women are just not interested in finance and usually leave it to the men to handle money”.

Still, I was adamant that women in finance was an undeserved market. Financial products didn’t appeal to women as they were technical and full of jargon. We did not connect to finance because it didn’t appeal to us emotionally. Five years on, The New Savvy has raised conversations on why it is critical that women educate themselves to become financially conscious. My team helped to ensure women who did not have access could learn about personal finances and be empowered to make smarter financial decisions in their lives.

Similarly, I noticed that in Singapore, there were 44 Michelin star restaurants in 2019 as compared to 22 in 2016. The average price of a Michelin-starred meal is over $200. There are many who would love to dine in a Michelin starred restaurant but the cost is just too prohibitive. How can we make a great dining experience accessible to the masses?

(Related: Meet Citroen’s first British, female CEO)

My partners and I started Gourmet Food Holdings (GFH), an investment firm focusing on opportunities in the global F&B industry. From my understanding, there is no investment company solely focused on the F&B space. If so, how would a budding F&B entrepreneur ever get access to strategic investors and operators that would invest in their business and help them grow? You can’t because none exist. GFH provides strategic growth capital to entrepreneurs who would otherwise not have access to any traditional source of financing to help them expand their business and scale globally.

More importantly, what I love about building an F&B investment platform is the impact we are making. It is a level playing field where your background or qualifications don’t matter. What matters are hard work and promoting those who have the heart to grow. My team is also consistently thinking about how to give back to the underprivileged by either training, hiring or donating to them. The ability to transform lives through our investments excites me. Another point of consideration is how F&B can bring about certain social narratives – especially those that help to reinforce good values in our society, like dining as a family.

As the next generation with the keys to growth for the next few decades, we enjoy unlimited options. The world is our playground but we must not take this privilege lightly. We are the trustees to carry the institutions of Singapore forward. If we don’t take up the responsibility, who will?

I encourage all of us to think long-term and venture into the unknown. To invest in the uninvestable and look beyond profitability. It is our duty to empower others through responsible investing, job creation and education. Let that guide your decision and legacy to the world.

(Related: Trina Liang, managing director of Templebridge Investments, on bridging social and gender gaps)