Guardian woman: Samke Mhlongo
From her divorce to losing her home and car, and having to figure out how to make ends meet on a budget that was a fraction of what she was used to, Samke Mhlongo has definitely overcome a lot on her road to financial independence.
In this LLA interview, Samke, who has become South Africa’s most-sought-after financial coach, takes us on her journey to becoming the wealth coach that she is today. Be inspired by her story of grit, determination and triumph!
First of all, can we just say that we LOVE your name; it has a peculiar sound, what does it mean?
Thank you so much. The name Samke (pronounced Some-Care) is short for Sam’kelisiweSiph’esihle, meaning we have received a beautiful gift.
So what does Samke do, and why is it important?
I am often asked that question and honestly, it is one that I sometimes find difficult to answer. In summary, I promote financial literacy on various platforms.
I do this as a financial wellness consultant via face-to-face consultations with individuals on their personal and business matters; as a media commentator on television and radio; as a writer of various articles and my children’s entrepreneurship workbook; on stage as an MC, panel moderator and keynote speaker; and finally, in the classroom as a training facilitator. I refer to myself as a Wealth Coach as this term encapsulates the various roles I hold.
What I do as a Wealth Coach is important as financial literacy, which is the ability to understand financial concepts, increase financial sophistication, which is the ability to make sound financial decisions.
Financial sophistication in turn fosters financial inclusion, which is the taking up and usage of one or more financial products, and this is widely accepted as a key driver for increased economic participation that will result in poverty alleviation.
Financial inclusion is also recognised as an enabler of many of the UN 2030 SDG goals.
You are referred to by CNBC Africa as a “personal finance goddess”; how did your career in personal finance begin?
My career in personal finance started in 2010 when I joined Investec Specialist Bank as a private banker. I quickly rose within the organisation to be one of the top performing bankers in the team. I stayed with Investec for seven years before leaving to pursue my entrepreneurial activities. I still maintain a very close relationship with the bank and its executives.
Did any part of your upbringing influence your attitude towards money?
Oh yes, absolutely! I was raised by my grandmother who became the breadwinner of our home after my grandfather fell ill. I saw her as a matriarch who made all the big-ticket financial decisions in our home, in consultation with my grandfather of course! As a result, I have an expectation that all women are to be afforded the same decision-making powers that my grandmother had, regardless of whether or not they are the breadwinners in their home.
We understand you didn’t just wake up and become a financial expert, have you dealt with any major finance setback? And how did you scale through?
Yes! My divorce at the end of 2014. I lost my home and my car and had to figure out how to make it to the end of the month on a household budget that was a fraction of what I was used to. This had me asking how other people were coping and put me directly on the path to becoming the Wealth Coach you know today.
How I managed to pull through that difficult time was by using my story to help others avoid finding themselves in the same situation.
Little did I know that public speaking is highly lucrative and pretty soon my coping mechanism was generating the same income as my full-time employment.
What is your definition of financial independence? And how do you think the African millennial can reach that point of independence?
My definition of financial independence is simple – guaranteed freedom of choice. I believe the African millennial can reach this point by guaranteeing a steady flow of income that can withstand changing political regimes; economic fluctuations; and the changing income-generating ability of the individual in question.
What are your thoughts on the importance of women in wealth creation?
It’s very simple. We cannot possibly start talking women and wealth creation whilst there are still areas in some countries such as Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria where a woman is not allowed to own land.
What is the worst money mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?
The worst money mistake I made was paying a former service provider six months in advance without first scrutinizing the contract or testing their work. A lot of money was lost with that transaction, but I learned to slow down and do the necessary due diligence on a service provider before appointing them and handing over my money!
What tools/resources would you recommend for the woman who wants to get her finances in order?
A good financial advisor, a good lawyer, a good psychologist, and a good pair of black shoes!
What is the best financial advice you’ve received?
“If you carry on at this rate, you’ll be broke in three months!” Those are the words given to me by my personal Wealth Manager Musi Skosana after constantly withdrawing money from my investment in the early days of my entrepreneurship journey.
That one sentence was very sobering and put me on track to start really analysing my lifestyle and generating additional income streams. Six months later he was the one receiving phone calls from me to advise that I have made additional deposits into the investment.
Do you have any women you look up to?
Plenty. My grandmother Joyce Mseleku. At 78, she has recently been promoted to principal of the Nursing College she teaches at – imagine! I also look up to Mam’ Judy Dlamini – Chair Mbekani Investment Holdings (South Africa), Aunty Evelyn Oputu – Executive: Bank of Industry (Nigeria) and my dada Valentine Njoroge – Sex writer and feminist (Kenya).
If you were to choose between buying a landed property and buying shares/stocks, which would you choose?
I would choose to buy shares over landed property for the following reasons: A diversified South African share portfolio on average returns higher yields than landed property (assuming it is in an established area); the cost of holding and trading shares is lower than the cost of holding property; it is easier to dispose of unwanted shares than of unwanted property.
What are some common beliefs about money that are not exactly true in your opinion?
It is commonly believed that the ability to make money is the key to wealth. I believe it is the ability to keep and grow money that determines one’s financial outcome.
Apart from the finance guru we know, what other sides are there to Samke? For example, what are your other interests? How do you unwind?
I always find it difficult to answer this question because my current career path actually started off as a hobby. What I do now for a living, is how I used to unwind when I was still in fulltime employment. My whole life feels like one big “unwinding”!
One of my favourite quotes is “Build a life you don’t need a vacation from” by Rob Hill Snr. It captures the essence of my life right now.
So, to answer your question, I unwind by perfecting my craft. Reading up on finance-related matters, going through social media to see how I can improve my pages and looking out for new opportunities for growth. Does that make me a nerd? Eek!
What advice would you give to women who want to toe the same career path as you?
I would give those women the following three pieces of advice.
Start with Why
Start by asking WHY you are considering this career path. Is it for the glamour or status and recognition? Does it seem like a fool-option and,
Is your heart in it?
A career in personal finance is possible if you have a penchant for numbers. A successful career in personal finance is possible if you have a heart for people and caring genuinely about their financial wellbeing.
Do it your way
One of the biggest contributors to my (relative) success in this industry is the unique approach I have adopted to finance. The truth is that I do not say anything new, or profound, or industry-shaking. Oh no.
The magic lies in the “how”. It’s how I say it, using everyday language, adding hashtags, keeping it topical and trendy, and speaking in the language of my target market. If I had stuck to the script and conducted myself like all other finance professionals, I wouldn’t be where I am today.