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In the Behind the Advice series, we ask advisors about their relationship with money from a young age, lessons learned over the years, and how their experiences influence the advice they give clients today.
Ryan Chin, a certified financial planner (CFP) with Peridot Financial Solutions Corp. at Sun Life Financial Investment Services (Canada) Inc. in Hamilton, talks about growing up in Barbados, being vision impaired and how investing in an MBA changed his career path:
Describe your first money lesson.
I was born in Guyana and grew up in Barbados with a single mother who worked two jobs to help keep me and my brother fed and clothed. While Barbados is a wonderful, tropical vacation destination, living there is different. It’s a developing country and can be a hard place to make ends meet. I learned early in life that you need to work really hard to get ahead, and there was little room for financial waste. We lived a very minimal lifestyle, often going without things we wanted and needed.
How did this influence your relationship with money?
I was always reticent to spend money. I still am. I’m a big bargain hunter. While attending university in Ontario, I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and Kraft Dinner. About two or three days a week, my friends and I would study and eat at a Chinese buffet. The owners would allow us to sit there from when it opened at 11 a.m. until the dinner service started at around 3:30 p.m. We didn’t gorge ourselves and never caused a ruckus, but that would be our main meal for the day. I found ways like this to stretch my dollars.
What’s your biggest money mistake, and what did you learn from it?
About 20 years ago, I lent $3,500 to a friend. It was money I was saving to put new flooring in my home, but he was having some financial difficulties, and I wanted to help him out. Unfortunately, he never paid me back, and we’re no longer friends. I chalked it up as a life lesson. I should’ve also put the transaction in writing. It’s unfortunate how it turned out.
What decision around money and investing made the greatest impact on your life?
Getting my MBA. It was a big investment of time and money. Looking back, it was worth it, but it wasn’t obvious at first. A few weeks after I graduated, I got restructured out of my full-time job, and it took me a few months to find my next position. I mistakenly thought that since I had an MBA, it would be easy to find another job. However, it didn’t happen as quickly as I had hoped. I think part of it was because of my vision impairment. I was diagnosed with macular degeneration at age eight. Maybe some potential employers didn’t know how to deal with someone like me. It worked out in the end, and I’ve been with Sun Life for more than seven years. The folks here have been doing their best to adapt their approach to be more inclusive for someone with vision loss. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but they’re trying. It takes effort on both sides to help find a path forward.
What is the hardest piece of financial advice for you to follow?
Because of my upbringing in Barbados, I have a hard time spending money. I also probably work too much. My wife would agree with this. I’m trying to better balance my work and personal life and spending money on things we enjoy. There comes a time in life when you need to treat yourself and enjoy the fruits of your labour. I’m working on it.
What did you want to be before becoming an advisor?
My mother was the manager of a hotel and then a resort back in Barbados. I thought that was a glamorous career. Early in my career, I worked at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s Lake Joe in Muskoka, managing a 48-room facility on a lakefront. Back then, I would have been happy to do that forever. I enjoyed the customer service part of the job and helping bring joy to people’s lives. I also studied recreation and leisure in college and was on Canada’s Paralympic national swim team, so the job was a good match. However, getting an MBA changed my outlook on what else I could do and how to grow my professional self. It exposed me to many more opportunities. Being a CFP is a great fit for me.
What advice do you have for others who want to be an advisor?
Being an advisor is a lifestyle. Not only do you need technical skills, but also people skills. Good ones have no problem sharing who they are and where they come from. It’s your life experiences that sustain your relationships with clients.
This interview has been edited and condensed.