Meet the founder empowering women across Asia to achieve financial literacy
nna Vanessa Haotanto, founder and CEO of The New Savvy, has a clear vision: empowering women to achieve financial happiness. Anna believes that this involves making finance more relatable to women by sharing stories of financial failures and successes, including her own.
The New Savvy is Asia's leading financial, investments and career platform for women. The site delivers high-quality content through education, media, and conferences, and engages its community through an e-learning platform, personal finance planning app and e-commerce store.
Its founder, Anna Vanessa Haotanto, is one of the pioneer heads of the Singapore FinTech Association and the Women in FinTech and Partnership Committee. She is also the president of the Singapore Management University Women Alumni and regularly teaches and mentors on financial literacy, prudence and smart investing.
Anna created The New Savvy after realizing the supportive potential her own success in finance and investing could have in the form of storytelling and media engagement. As a founder, Anna’s pet causes are financial literacy, finance education for women, and helping underprivileged people through entrepreneurship.
Anna spoke to Startup Guide about the journey that led to her becoming a passionate thought leader in finance, education and the empowerment of women.
How and when did you first know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I had wanted to launch The New Savvy since 2010. I couldn’t ignore the desire to do this. I’ve always wanted to help people, and finance is the best way I know how to.
Women and children are my pet causes. I’m passionate about financial literacy and how it can transform lives. This feeds my soul, and the rewards are incalculable.
How would you describe The New Savvy?
I have always envisioned The New Savvy as a financial site that uses simplified, relevant language to help women make smarter financial decisions.
We cover thirty-five topics ranging from investment vehicles, savings, buying property, marriage, fashion and health. We want to make money fun and promote better financial habits among women. We focus on having original content that is engaging and relevant.
I was very sure that we didn’t need to be another financial site; I wanted The New Savvy to be relatable to women, so they wouldn’t be intimidated by finance.
We have worked with many financial institutions and organizations, namely, Fast Company, Singapore Exchange, MayBank Securities, and others. We are content partners with Yahoo!, AsiaOne and CPF.
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We are also organizing our first large-scale conference called the Future is Female. It’s a female-focused financial literacy platform in partnership with the Singapore Exchange. The speakers for the conference include senior representatives from several financial institutions, venture capitalists, and successful women entrepreneurs.
What inspired you to found a resource for women in finance and female founders, and can you describe that journey?
There are two major inspirations for founding The New Savvy. Firstly, due to my family’s financial situation, I have always been fascinated with the intricacies behind how money works. I understood that I had to take care of myself and my family, and that realization sparked my wealth-building path.
I wanted The New Savvy to be relatable to women, so they wouldn’t be intimidated by finance.
The idea of making my money work harder for me really fascinated me, and I felt that was a way out from living paycheck to paycheck and feeling very stressed every month. I learned financial management skills, picked up economic ideas, and started investing when I was twenty-one, and managed to build a comfortable portfolio for myself.
Secondly, when I was in junior college, I did some volunteer work and noticed how many women were stuck in unhappy situations as they were not working or gaining any earning capabilities. That motivated me to protect myself financially and to prevent myself from being in similar situations. If proper financial knowledge and planning worked for me, it could work for many women too.
Can you describe some of your early struggles as an entrepreneur and how you overcame them?
In the beginning, I struggled a lot. My background was in pure 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 couldn’t be ignored.
When I shared the idea with people, most of them dismissed me, thinking that it would just be another blog. Or they thought that I was limiting myself by focusing only on women.
Also, I was coming from a finance background with good earning power, so it was difficult to make the change and become an entrepreneur. I was giving up a good five-figure income and some people told me not to be naive and to stick with a real job. That affected my morale. For a long time, I wondered if I was just impetuous or silly. Should I just continue earning money in banking? I also wasn’t trained for this.
The idea of making my money work harder for me really fascinated me, and I felt that was a way out from living paycheck to paycheck.
It was an uphill struggle for me. I ended up working till 4 AM every day. I did everything from scratch myself. Most of my close friends were concerned and told me not to overwork. I think I made every mistake that could have been made. But that’s life, isn’t it? You falter, but you pick yourself up.
What has kept you motivated in developing The New Savvy?
As a woman, I wanted to know how smart financial management could impact my life and how relevant it is to my needs. I wanted something I could relate to, something that could inspire and motivate me. That’s what The New Savvy has been for many women.
I’ve met many strangers at different events who told me that they read and love it. Most women I know always tell me that they know financial knowledge is important and they have wanted to learn, so when they discover The New Savvy, they are more motivated to be in charge of their finances.
All of this feedback and sharing is precious and motivating to me, especially when I am thinking of giving up! I hope to keep empowering women financially.
What do you wish you had known before becoming a founder and CEO? Are there things you wish you could have done differently?
I wish I’d had a clearer focus and direction on what I wanted to achieve. I’ve learned to focus on important objectives instead of glorified achievements and to not compare myself to others. I wish I had known better to provide value, focus on user needs, and that a good product is useless if you don’t have users.
I could have asked myself the questions, “How do I get the word out? How do I market to ensure that more women are aware my product exists?”
Also, I’ve learned to spend less than you’ve originally budgeted because you always need more money.
There are definitely a lot of things I would like to redo. I wouldn’t have done it alongside a full-time job. I would have founded earlier. And, finally, I would have trusted myself more.
What advice would you give to founders, entrepreneurs and innovators who are trying to start businesses?
Starting a business is extremely hard work. Ninety percent or more of startups fail. You have to put 120 percent into your business. Even then, you might fail.
When things get tough, and you are on the verge of failing, passion might not be enough. I think what is more important is to combine the passion with a systematic process to ensure that your idea is executed well.
Sometimes, you also have to depend on timing and luck. Also, remember to focus on women!
How do you feel about founding and working in Singapore?
There are definitely advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include recent support from the government and corporations, the stable business environment, and that Singapore is structured and efficient. Singapore is a pleasant and easy place to start a business.
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On the flip side, I find that Singapore still lacks an entrepreneurial environment and spirit, because we are very comfortable. Singapore is also a small market compared to other Asian cities.
I personally feel that we have to learn to embrace failure more. There is still a stigma to failure here, and maybe that’s stopping people from stepping out into the entrepreneurial world.
Actually, I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between Asian or Western entrepreneurship. For me, it’s more about cultural and market needs. For example, the US, China, and Indonesia are big, domestically driven markets whereas Singapore is a smaller market. Each country is different. Each has different needs, different products, and different cultures. This is a big challenge for us.
I think the biggest difference for me is I personally feel that we have to learn to embrace failure more. There is still a stigma to failure here, and maybe that’s stopping people from stepping out into the entrepreneurial world.
What are a few key things people can do to improve their financial literacy?
Empower yourself financially through education and knowledge. Don’t be afraid, don’t invest blindly, and never put your future or finances in someone else’s hands.
Always spend less than what you earn. It sounds very simple, but most of us tend to forget this.
Prioritize to save and invest your money early on in your career, especially while you have high earning capabilities. The earlier you do this, the better you enjoy the power of compounding. And if you lack discipline, try automating your savings. Focus on building an emergency fund. Make sure you have at least six months of savings for unforeseen circumstances.
Focus on healthcare and insurance. Make sure you are prepared for medical expenses and hospital bills. Get yourself covered as early as possible, especially when buying accident, retirement and life insurances.
You also need to know your investment objectives, ideal risk rewards, risk tolerance and time horizon. As long as you have the adequate information and are well informed, I think you can look at any assets as investments. I believe in value investing.
This interview was originally published in Startup Guide Singapore in March 2019.
Main photo: Eszter tandel