(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Anna Haotanto is the CEO of The New Savvy. She is part of the founding committee of the Singapore FinTech Association and heads the Women In FinTech and Partnership Committee. Anna is the President of the Singapore Management University Women Alumni. Anna invests and sits on the board of a few startups.
Her story is featured on Millionaire Minds on Channel NewsAsia. She is the host for Channel NewsAsia for Challenge Tomorrow, a FinTech documentary. She was also awarded “Her Times Youth Award” at the Rising50 Women Empowerment Gala, organized by the Indonesian Embassy of Singapore, Founder of the Year for ASEAN Rice Bowl Startup Awards and, the Women Empowerment Award by the Asian Business & Social Forum.
What makes you do what you do?
There are a few reasons for launching The New Savvy. I could not ignore the desire to do this. I wanted to do it since 2010. It was an itch that could not be ignored.
I have always wanted to help people and finance is the best way I know how to do so. Women and children are my pet causes.
I am passionate about financial literacy and how it can transform lives. This feeds my soul, and the rewards are probably intangible, I am happier than before.
There are 2 major inspirations for The New Savvy:
First, due to my family financial situation, I have always been fascinated with the intricacies behind the working of money. I understood that I have to take care of myself and my family and that realization sparked off my wealth-building path. The idea of making my money work harder for me really fascinated me, and I felt that was a way out for me from living pay cheque to pay cheque and feeling very stressed every month.
As a result, I started learning to invest by reading Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham while in Junior College. I also read a lot of other finance books.
I am lucky to have the opportunity to study and work in Finance. I learned financial management skills, picked up economic ideas and started investing since I was 21. While I am no expert, I am familiar with financial products and managed to build a comfortable portfolio for myself.
Second, when I was in Hwa Chong Junior College, I did some volunteer work and noticed how many women were stuck in unhappy situations or marriages as they were not working or have any earning capabilities. That motivated me always to protect myself financially and to prevent myself from being in similar situations.
If proper financial knowledge and planning worked for me, it would work for many women too – which was why I started The New Savvy.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
In the beginning, I struggled a lot. My background was purely in Finance and Banking. I was clueless about developing a website, producing content, digital marketing, and publishing. But I knew it was something I wanted to do and HAD to do. It was a desire that could not be ignored any longer.
I did everything from scratch myself. I looked around for website developers and researched on websites. I learned about how websites are arranged and how they worked. I did a short market survey on what is lacking regarding women financial education and what women will like to learn more.
I took up a Digital Marketing course and learned how to utilize tools like Google Analytics, Search console and understood the terms.
We focused on having original content that is engaging, fun and relevant. I was very sure that we didn’t want to be another financial site which teaches you to make 20x in a week. I wanted The New Savvy to be relatable to women, so they won’t be intimidated by Finance.
We have also produced our own Retirement and Mortgage calculators that are fun and easy to use.
There were a few difficulties:
One, when I shared the idea with people, most of them dismissed me thinking that it is just another blog. Or, they think that I am limiting myself by focusing only on women. Many told me not to make it as broad to ensure that we get more website hits.
Second, coming from a finance background with very decent earning power, it is difficult to turn into an entrepreneur. I was giving up a good five-figure income and some people told me not to be naïve and “get a real job”. That affected my morale.
For a long time, I was wondering if I was just impetuous or silly. Should I just continue earning money and be in banking? There is societal pressure, especially when you do not know what is going to happen, and I am doing this mostly to help other women.
Third, I was not trained for this. It was an uphill struggle for me. I ended up working until 4 am every day. Most of my close ones were concerned and told me not to overwork. I think I made every mistake that should not be made. But that is life, isn’t it? You falter, but you pick yourself up.
Last, a good product is useless if there are no users. How do I get the word out? How do I market TheNewSavvy.com to ensure that more women are aware that my product exists?
Most importantly, this difficulty had been in my mind non-stop since I embarked on this journey – How do I make women more interested in financial literacy?
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
Over the years, my female friends have approached me to share with them on how to invest, how to open a securities account, which loan makes sense, the difference between a bond and a bond fund. Truth be told, even as someone trained in Finance, I do not want to read yet another stock picks or technical analysis.
As a woman, I want to know how smart financial management can impact my life and how relevant it is to my needs. I want something I can relate to, something that can inspire and motivate me.
That is what The New Savvy has been to many women. I have met many strangers at different events who told me that they read and LOVE The New Savvy. Many women wrote to me, sharing with me their lives and financial situations. Most women I knew always tell me that they know financial knowledge is important and they have wanted to learn but kept procrastinating. So when they know about The New Savvy, they are more motivated to be in charge of their finances.
The other day I was giving a talk, and a lady said “The New Savvy is exactly what I am looking for. My dad is retrenched, my mom is sick, and my family is in a dire financial situation. I need to learn how to be better at my finances.”
I literally teared in front of her.
Every feedback and sharing is precious to me as they are my motivation when I am thinking of giving up. I hope to keep empowering women financially.
Most Finance or Women media are either; News or aggregator sites, Female publication or magazines – which cover men, sex, fashion, makeup and very little on career and finance – or, Blogs that teach you how to be rich – which I personally don’t like.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I think I have been very lucky. I have a lot of mentors who have taught me. They teach me about life, work, finance, and money. When I have a problem in business, I ask my advisors who will give me valuable advice. Whenever I need help, I approach them. If I have a question about investments, I ask my mentor in fund management.
I think it is important to seek out people, experts, and even friends and learn from them every day.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Three things; Flexibility – We can be anything we want! All ideas are good ideas, Focus – Pay attention to the needs and wants of users, and Fun – Have lots of fun and enjoy ourselves.
We focus on deadlines, not a fixed schedule or timing at work. I do not micromanage or set a specific timing. I trust in my team completely. I expect discipline in handing up work. I expect my team to produce excellent work each and every time. I want them to put up 110% in everything they do.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
First of all, today’s leaders must make a personal commitment to increase women’s presence in decision-making – not just in their numbers, but in their contributions. There are many ways to do this – quotas and numerical targets for women’s participation; training and mentorship to boost women’s confidence and capacity; private-sector engagement matching public-sector initiatives. Countries will find their own ways, if the will is there.
Employers must ensure equal hiring, payment and promotion policies; support to balance work-life conditions, and give women the opportunity to lead. Managers must learn to welcome women’s input and contribution.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
To me, my role is to ensure that I do my job well and to produce consistent and quality work, each and every time.
I always believe that we should let our work speak for itself and let its quality demand respect.
You are given the opportunity to influence decision-making and to be the bridge between your peers and the older generations. You can also learn from both the younger employees – how nimble and forward-thinking they are. You also learn from the earlier generations – how hard they worked and tap on their experiences.
Advice for others?
Have resilience and grit to keep going when the world crashes. Always be humble and be willing to learn. Receive criticisms openly, constantly improve and pivot.
Don’t dwell on unconstructive thoughts or wallow in self-pity. Exercise often and take care of yourself. Be kind and have lots of fun!
If you’d like to get in touch with Anna Haotanto, please feel free to reach her at [email protected]
THENEWSAVVY.COM – Asia’s leading financial, investments and career platform for women. Their vision is to empower 100 million women to achieve financial happiness by delivering high-quality content through education, media, and conferences. Engaging the community through an e-learning platform, personal finance planning app, and e-commerce store. They have communities in Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
The New Savvy has 200,000 monthly page views, 60,000 email subscribers and has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Business Insider, Reuters, Channel News Asia, R29, Fast Company, The Straits Times, Yahoo, The Peak… among other