Every week Tanya Rolfe sits down with her two children, aged five and seven, and presents them with their pocket money and three jars. They must divide their S$5 between them. One is a savings jar where the money is put towards a bigger ticket item. One is a spending jar—this money can be used immediately, as the kids please. The third is for investments, and Rolfe takes anything that goes in this jar and puts it on the stock market on their behalf, checking on it with them each week to see how it’s faring.
This is the first step on a financial literacy journey that many will not have taken, and is one that came late for Rolfe too. “I was ill-equipped through formal education; I had none of those life skills,” says Rolfe. “If I look at my children now, they have more financial literacy and education already than I had by the time I was 20, and I think that will make a huge difference to their lives.”
Awareness of the importance of financial education—and its lacking in traditional curriculums—is growing. It’s something that Rolfe, who is based in Singapore, and co-founders Christine Yu and Nicole Denholder, who are in Hong Kong, want to address, particularly with regard to women, through their financial education platform Sophia.
Today there are more women in the workforce than ever before, earning more money and accumulating more wealth at the fastest rate yet, but many are lacking in financial knowledge and confidence and don’t know what to do with their money. The three co-founders of Sophia, all seasoned entrepreneurs, are on a mission to get women talking and learning about money and investing. We asked each of them about the lightbulb moment that illuminated the need for greater female financial literacy.
Women are interested and engaged, but there is a knowledge gap – Tanya Rolfe
“I was running Her Capital, a venture capital firm in Singapore for female entrepreneurs across Asia, and I was going out raising the fund, and I realised that I wasn’t talking to any women. There were very few women that wanted to invest. And I was scratching my head thinking, ‘Where are all the women?’. Because there’s a lot of money held by women. We are the majority population, and we are holding around a third of the world’s wealth, and wealth accumulation is increasing at the fastest rate in the world in Asia. What are these women doing with their money?
"I started talking to my professional girlfriends in Singapore and I realised these ladies were what would be termed accredited investors—medium to high earners, highly educated and in professional careers, and yet they were doing nothing with their money and shying away from the topic. I often found that my girlfriends didn’t even engage me about my work. I think it was because they thought, ‘Oh, it’s finance—it’s either boring or complicated’. And it’s neither of those things!
"So, I decided to run a session to take women through the steps—what is a startup, what is angel investment, what is venture capital and how does it work, and why does it matter to us as women that women entrepreneurs are not receiving capital? And I did that—I ran a workshop and 450 women signed up. And it was, ‘Eureka! I’ve got it!’ Women want to do these things. They are interested and engaged, but there is a knowledge gap. How do we plug that knowledge gap? It’s education."