Money talks: It says, “goodbye.” But the million-dollar question is, where does your money go and how can you achieve your financial freedom?
One of the greatest hard lessons I’ve learned from Mr. Robert Ochieng is that you are only poor when you want more than what you have. He adds that the trouble with most people is that their earning capacity does not match their yearning capacity. Take a moment and let that sink in.
The interview I had with the well-spoken CEO of Abojani Investment was an insightful one. Mr. Robert Ochieng is an IT graduate and financial guru. His perspective on matters of financial freedom, careers, financial planning, retirement, financial goals, and much more will leave you with more than just one light bulb moment above your head. Read on and experience it yourself.
What’s your typical day like as the CEO of Abojani?
My typical day starts in the morning with a check-up on social media platforms to ensure everything is going on well. Social media is keen for us. We always assume that we are the silent member in a family at the dinner table. Because of that, we always want to connect with Kenyans and East Africans in a relatable way in their day-to-day lives.
We like engagement. So when I go online, I want to see what questions people are asking because that's how we build our brand by trying to speak to the minds of professionals and entrepreneurs. I also check to make sure that the programs we are running are okay. If there are any changes or any developments, we ensure that it is something that we are working together on.
How did the career change from IT to financial services come about? You’ve had a remarkable career; tell us about it briefly.
I would say that I am actually an IT guy. The way I started is quite interesting. In high school, I did computer studies. At first, it was very difficult for me. I used to do very well in theory, but I didn’t do so well when it came to practicals. I would get like three or five out of thirty. It just didn't go well for me, and I had to drop it in from two.
After clearing high school, I went on to do computer packages. Again I didn’t get anything. This motivated me to find a way to learn how computers work. My dad had a friend who started a computer college where I continued learning. So when I went to campus at JKUAT, I changed from what would have been mechanical engineering to computer technology.
I did my internship at the Communications Authority of Kenya, formerly known as CCK. After completing the internship at CAK, I knocked on the doors of Software Technologies Limited in Gigiri. Here I met Peter Kideka, who was the implementation manager. He taught me all I needed to know about Oracle systems. It is a specialized field that deals with database systems, like enterprise resource planning systems, mostly for big organizations. After graduation, I entered the employment sector, where I worked with organizations whose systems were based on Oracle.
In 2012 while I was at Equity bank, they implemented a system that deals with trading at the Nairobi Securities Exchange. They put me as the technical lead, and I got interested in how shares work. I was thrilled by how people made money at the stock market rally. I remember investing in an Equity bank stock, which doubled within one year. I later sold everything and used that to pay for my MBA school fees to major in finance.
In 2015, we created a Facebook group known as Young Nairobi Stock Exchange investor. It was a crowdsourcing platform where people came to ask questions about the money market, personal finance, and capital markets. The page grew and had 85,000 people, giving birth to Abojani in November 2018.
That’s my story of how I moved from just being in IT and now having the marriage between finance and technology. The true definition of fintech.
So talking about money, people have different definitions of what financial freedom means. What does it mean to you?
That's quite interesting because I usually ask people what money means to them in our class. For me, money is a tool that helps us achieve our goals and live the life we desire. It is a means to an end, and we need to make the connection between money and life goals. Money is meant to help us achieve those life goals, whether short-term or long-term. That way, you’ll have the freedom to do what you want when you want without any restrictions.
You’ve mentored more than 5000 people about matters of finance, which is an incredible feat if you ask me; what are some of the things you’ve learned about people that make them their own financial prisoners?
For most people, money is just an afterthought. People school all the way to Ph.D. level without ever learning about money. We find ourselves deep into the daily activities at work, looking for promotions, and having people reporting to us. Activities that we might think are the most important in life, yet we forget to learn about money. Most people don’t realize that careers or businesses are just a means to an end. You can lose your job, or your business can collapse at any given moment.
However, if you are financially stable, you can make a career change confidently, knowing you can cater to your basic needs. Through our programs, people realize the importance of making connections with money.
What misconceptions do people have about building wealth?
Most people don’t realize that when it comes to money, you are the only person who should please yourself. No one else. Even when you go to a doctor, they'll always ask questions about yourself. No one else has that information; therefore, they cant speak on your behalf. The same happens with money.
Sadly, we often tend to try and please other people. We do this by wanting to live in specific posh places, eat at lavish restaurants or have luxury cars to be seen. It is important to realize that everyone will be on their own during an emergency or during retirement.
No single person in this world is guaranteed to take care of our financial needs. So the moment you realize that you can achieve your goals using the money you have, you will live a more fulfilled life, rather than when you're trying to please other people.
With your vast experience as a financial advisor, how can someone with a relatively low salary have financial freedom and how much do you need to start investing?
The whole idea is to ensure that you are the driver of your personal-finance vehicle. When it comes to investing, start where you are, and start with what you have. We have SACCOs, saving platforms, money market funds, where you can just start with Ksh 1,000. It may look little, but if you invest it, at the end of the year, it becomes Ksh 12,000; at the end of five years, it’ll grow to become Ksh 60,000 plus interest.
When you have that connection with money, not only does it make you a self-driven person, but it also buys you some more days in the future where you won’t need to work. It is also important to invest in your mental capital and social capital. Learning new skills and networking with people who will introduce you to new opportunities will go a long way in increasing your value. Over time, you will be able to earn more and save more.
Why is financial planning important, and why is it essential to have financial goals and financial freedom?
Life has cycles. There are those goals we have in common such as retirement. On the other hand, we have personal goals that are unique to each of us. For example, buying a piece of land for building purposes, buying a car, starting a business, or even retiring as early as forty.
As I mentioned earlier, money is the tool that will help us achieve most of these goals. As such, it is essential to make the connection between our finances through financial planning.
Well put. To anyone on a journey to their financial freedom, what are some of the golden rules for financial freedom?
Financial freedom is a journey. When people talk of financial freedom, they think that they're going to win a big jackpot or something will happen out of the blues and have all the money they need in this world.
You can only achieve financial freedom when you can regularly pay your recurring expenses. To achieve that, you have to have these financial pillars:
Mindset - Ensure that you have the right mindset. Personal financial success hinges on developing a money mindset that guides your actions, thoughts, and emotions. However, your mindset is not enough because if you are good at saving and don’t understand the financial market, you are likely to fall into the trap of salespeople.
Skillset - Having the right skillsets will allow you to understand the financial markets and apply them in your unique situation.
Toolset - Finally is the toolset where you go to and open the actual investment accounts: a CBS account for investing in stocks and shares with investment banks or stockbrokers or the CDS accounts with CBK for investing in treasury bills and bonds.
Taking action will make the difference; Open an investment account, get started, and keep learning because the money market is a very dynamic industry.
You mentioned investments and something came to my mind. I know out there, a lot of people are struggling with debt. So how can someone manage their debt? What's the best way to go about it?
Ensure that your debt to income ratio is not more than 25% when it comes to debt.
The debt to income ratio is the amount that you use to pay off your debt monthly against your net income. If you are in a situation where you have exceeded the 25%, there is always room for improvement.
Find ways of aggressively paying the loans or consolidating them. For instance, if you have small loans, you can take a bigger one to clear the smaller ones to manage one loan. If you happen to get a bonus or unexpected income, throw it in your debt portfolio to reduce it. Another way is to negotiate with the financial services players to increase the payment duration.
Debts can bring your personal finance empire down. However, there's no one fit size that would work. You need to be creative in how to handle them. I have seen people with more than six pieces of land consolidate them and pay off their debt. They later invested the rest of the money in infrastructure bonds.
Looking back at your 21-year-old self, what financial advice would you give yourself?
Make a connection between finances and my goals. Set aside a part of my regular or irregular income and be consistent. I would also tell myself to learn more about the financial markets.
You mentioned something about the NSE; tell us your relationship with them.
Our partnership with the Nairobi Securities Exchange is based on increasing and amplifying financial education for ordinary Kenyans. We started in May 2021. The whole idea is to ensure that chamas (who need financial education), groups, and even corporates who want their staff to be taken through financial wellness, increase their productivity and help their staff live their fulfilled and desirable lives.
We believe that there is a gap whereby not all of us know about money or finances. According to statistics, only 17% of people in Kenya have who achieved their retirement age are currently able to live off their pension. Because of that, we all need to look at investing at the personal and family level. Abojani and NSE are here to help each Kenyan who is willing to learn about the financial market.
That’s interesting. Where do you teach people about the stock markets?
At the NSE, there are different products. We have the stock market where you can buy and sell shares of listed companies such as KCB or Equity. We also have treasury bonds trading in the secondary market, real investment trusts, derivatives, and exchange-traded funds. We have an opportunity here in Kenya to take advantage of some of the brands whose products we use daily. There are a lot of products at the NSE that you can take advantage of.
February is known as the season of love, what does a CEO treat their better half to?
I read a book by Garry Chapman, known as five love languages. It emphasizes the importance of knowing the love language of your better half. In my case, my wife’s love language is quality time. She likes it when I spend time with her, so that is what I’ll do on that day and of course, get her a gift of her choice.