Wisdom from math experts: Best and worst money moves in 2020

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Dec 28 2020 09:18 AM | Updated as of Dec 28 2020 09:19 AM

MANILA - Can’t wait for 2020 to be over?

You’re not alone as the year has caused grief to people of all ages, and from all walks of life. Many sum it up as a year of loss – from lost jobs, to lost homes, to lost loved ones.

But there are some who do not see 2020 as a complete write-off. Maybe it’s their wisdom in numbers that helped, as they fit the definition of Math ‘nerds’. It could be their professions – past and present – that gave them access to sound money advice. Or it could simply be their discipline in handling their finances.

Read below for their sound money decisions, money moves they regret, and how 2020 made them rediscover the joy in giving back to others.

Diwa Guinigundo, former Deputy Governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas

A career central banker for 41 years, Diwa Guinigundo graduated valedictorian of his AB Economics class at the University of the Philippines. He also earned a masters in Economics from the London School of Economics. During his four decades of service with the BSP, he handled monetary policy, treasury operations, loans and credit, asset management, currency management, regional operations and international operations. He currently serves as a member of the Advisory Panel of the Institute for Financial Economics of Singapore Management University, a member of the Board of Advisers of the non-government International Care Ministries, and senior pastor of the Fullness of Christ International Ministries.

While no one could have predicted a global pandemic and the impact on the economic markets around the world, Guinigundo’s investments years before his retirement allowed him to ride the market ups and downs in 2020.

“Even before I retired from the BSP in July 2019, I already had some modest exposure in real estate. From my accumulated savings over the years, I invested in properties within Metro Manila and key summer places. Their market values have risen quite substantially in the last five years,” shares Guinigundo.

He also collected paintings of new artists and national artists. “I had some exposure in government and corporate bonds and I also invested a modest amount in stocks. I also embraced estate planning,” he adds.

His best money move in 2020? “I consider keeping myself very liquid my best move in 2020.” With his storehouse of economic knowledge, it would have been so easy to take advantage of the depressed market and adjust his exposure. He also shared that he kept a careful stance in exploring a business opportunity in the franchise food business. “Had we been more aggressive, we would have joined the other would-be businessmen in insolvency,” says Guinigundo.

And this is why when asked for money regrets this year, he could not come up with any.

2020 may have meant lost opportunities for many, but Guinigundo is grateful in more ways than one. “My two sons managed to finish their master of laws at Georgetown in Washington, DC in the midst of the pandemic partly through Zoom classes and examinations. Both of them graduated with honors. I believe they are one of the best investments I ever did.” 

At a time when many people understandably held on to their money, Guinigundo decided to make more meaningful investments. “With other believers in our local city church, we pooled our resources in building a six-story Sanctuary on a piece of land in Mandaluyong.”

During the onset of the lockdown in March, and until the release of support from Government, they started giving ‘ayuda’ to Church members who could not afford to move around and work. 

“In our Church, we grant academic scholarships to bright but financially challenged young people. We believe no one should be denied of good education for financial reason.” This most sound investment has produced engineers, accountants and educators. “In turn, we now expect them to duplicate what the Church did for them so that the initial ripples could grow into more waves,” he explains.

Janice Lao, Environmental Scientist and Development Economist

It’s hard to believe that Janice Lao as a child ‘feared’ Math. Now an internationally multi-awarded environmental scientist and economist working with businesses so they can be a force for good for the world, she has clearly overcome that fear and has become passionate at promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to encourage creative and critical thinking among kids.

At 30, she developed the initial mathematical and economic modelling that was the basis for international aviation’s carbon-neutral growth strategy. She graduated from the University of Oxford under a full academic scholarship. 

Looking back at 2020, Lao was grateful that she has been “saving for a rainy day for so long and when the rainy days happened I had enough savings and cash in the bank.”

She started saving heavily after she married. “My husband is very frugal and instead of being annoyed by it, I found it a good challenge. I was inspired because he paid for our wedding all on his own without having to ask from his parents. And that was because he saved money. So that’s how it started for me,” Lao recalls.

She adds: “We’ve been married for nearly 15 years and we usually aim to save at least 20% of our salary and then invest it. I wanted peace of mind not wanting to be in debt. It takes a lot of discipline and also not wanting to keep up with the people around you. My advice is to remember what matters to you. Buying the new phone or the new dress won’t buy you happiness.” 

Even with all these smart moves, Lao also has some regrets. “If I only knew that I didn't need so much work clothes, work shoes, makeup and jewelry I could have saved all that money instead.”

While 2021 may see life and work return to normal, Lao still cautions others about shopping. “I don’t think you should buy any too soon, but if you have to, buy high quality and the basics, not trendy so you can use it for a long time and it’s also sustainable!”

And when Lao had to do some shopping in 2020, she made a conscious decision to support a small business, a social enterprise or a business that had good practices. “I wanted my purchases to show the kind of world I want to live in. I bought a lot from Rags 2 Riches and Anthill Fabric. All my holidays gifts are from social enterprises like them.”

Melvin Esteban, CFP, FLMI, AFSI, RFP, RFC, CWA, CFC

All those letters after his name should prove that Melvin Esteban can hold his own in a class of Math ‘nerds’. After two decades of experience working with leading local and multinational companies in the financial services industry, Esteban started his own company, weLEAD Advisory, offering training to wealth managers and financial planning services to consumers.

He earned a BS degree in Mathematics with minors in operations research, actuarial sciences, C programming and physics from the University of the Philippines, and completed his post-graduate studies at the College of Financial Planning in Colorado, USA. He also completed Managing Family Corporations for Succession Planning at the Asian Institute of Management, and most recently, earned his post baccalaureate at the De La Salle University on Workplace Learning & Development with Distinction.

Esteban was also blindsided by the global pandemic of 2020. “I never thought that it will be this bad for the market and the economy. At first, I thought it would be something similar to the SARS outbreak years ago in Hong Kong,” he relates.

“I think my best move was when I had to cut my losses as soon as the market began to crash. We are often taught to "stay the course" but if I did that, I would have experienced a much bigger loss. I re-aligned my portfolio as well as that of my clients’ to the bond market. Later on we diversified to equities, mainly in Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG),” he explains.

While Esteban quickly moved to minimize losses for himself and for his clients, he could have acted earlier but he confessed that he “was too confident that China and the rest of the world could control and contain the virus.”

And while there is no such thing as downtime in financial planning and portfolio allocation, Esteban used his platform and audience to offer the voice of reason. “We dedicated a lot of our talks to help as much as we can. We decided to help our community instead.”

And if you need more motivation from a Math nerd to give and become a blessing to others, here’s one from Mr. Albert Einstein himself: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

Next week, watch this space to read about their money advice for 2021. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.