Finance lessons from the boss

Krista Garcia
Finance lessons from the boss
Riena Pama, president of Sun Life’s Asset Management Company, Inc. shares key lessons on preparing for a brighter life

MANILA, Philippines – Like most people, leaders of big companies also worry about their retirement years.

Just ask Riena Pama, who is the current President and Director of Sun Life’s Asset Management Company, Inc. (SLAMCI). 

Riena’s three boys are still in school, but even now, she and her husband are already taking steps to ensure their financial independence in the future.

“You can’t expect your kids to be supporting you by then,” the 51-year-old says. For example, many Filipinos struggle with providing for their own parents, while caring for their own families at the same time. Upon retirement, they have no savings, and in turn rely on their children. A vicious cycle ensues.

Fortunately, it was never the case in Riena’s household. Growing up, she learned the value of hard work from her parents and grandparents. Her own parents were financially independent. Today, Riena’s own funds are focused on investing for the future and her children’s remaining education. 

Riena is not content to just coast through her career. She worked hard – and still does. One can never tell what will happen in the future but she’s not afraid of it. Just like a lot of people, she started with a small salary until she reached the financial freedom that she enjoys now. 

What do leaders like Riena do differently? It’s not about the number of zeroes on the paycheck. Money will always run out, regardless of the amount. It’s not about how much they had, but what they did with it.

In Riena’s case, she was able to gain 4 important lessons about finance early on in her life.

1. Financial literacy should be learned at home

Riena already learned about the value of earning money from her parents and grandparents.

When she was 6, the nuns called her mom to her school because she was selling candy to her classmates. “I don’t even remember that. I probably gained it from my surroundings,” she shares. During summer breaks, she had watched her Lola make transactions in the furniture and beauty salons that she owned, and she mimicked what she saw. 

Riena with her grandma on an overseas trip

Growing up, Riena also traveled to many countries with her business-minded Lola. She would always get a small allowance, which she had to budget over several days. “What she was doing, I observed,” Riena says. “Every time I would like to buy something, my Lola keeps reminding me, ‘If you spend all of that, wala na. Are you sure you want that?’

“Our grandparents who survived the war – they learned to hoard everything,” Riena says. “But now, why is everyone spending? We live in a consumption driven society… the youth now, with instant gratification, are getting influenced by that. You don’t have a lot of financial literacy subjects in school. It’s expected to be taught at home. Then after that, financial institutions should also encourage that [investing] behavior.”

2. Surround yourself with the right people

Prior to joining SLAMCI, Riena was a banker for 20 years. On the job, she gained valuable knowledge about interest rates, the money market, and investing. She also learned the value of “paying yourself first” from her former bosses.

Her mentors taught her to maximize the affordable investment plans that were a company benefit in the bank. They told her, “If you have money in your pay slip, you’re just going to spend it. But what are you going to spend it on?”

Riena invested in properties, stocks and commercial papers years ago, and now, her resources are enough to send her eldest son to school abroad, without compromising their lifestyle and short-term goals.

3. Take risks and learn from your mistakes

One of Riena’s first investments with was a condominium unit that she financed with her husband. By the time the unit was turned over to them, she had a family of three kids, and the two-bedroom property was too small for them. “That was not really a very good investment,” she admits. “But it became forced savings for us. We held on it to it, we rented it out, and it’s a good thing that we were able to sell it.”

Riena was able to use the profit to fund the down payment for their current home. Now, she is more careful with her decisions, and her concept of investing has expanded beyond real estate. She shares this mindset with her husband as well. “We have communication, we have an agreement on what we want to do – where to invest and spend. We talk about major purchases, but each one has his or her own freedom to spend on minor stuff,” she says.

4. She dreams not just for her family, but also for others

As president, Riena is passionate about empowering the very people she works with. “We encourage our employees to invest. How can we sell to the public if our own employees are not 100 percent invested in mutual funds?” 

For example, a Sun Life employee, just like anybody else, can already invest in mutual funds for as low as P5000. There are also special plans available if that amount isn’t manageable. Riena hopes to extend the same kind of flexibility to Sun Life’s clients as well.

“It’s a young industry… [We’re] only 15 years old. You don’t know what kind of model is really going to work here. And it’s like a new frontier for us. People are also learning, nobody knows what’s the right formula yet in terms of distribution. So it’s really challenging for all,” Riena says. She wants to make investing more accessible and convenient. Aside from its current pool of financial advisors and bank partners, SLAMCI is actively working with banks for more payment gateways and is also looking at alternative distribution channels.

Riena is driven by the challenge to educate more people on how to secure their future better. She believes that with the recent upturns in the Philippines’ economic standing, the time is ripe for Filipinos to learn to invest properly. “You hear about all these scams all the time and it’s really sad. It’s somebody’s life savings and they get blinded by those get-rich-quick schemes,” she says.

She cites the media and how the public is bombarded by advertisements that promote spending and scoring bargains and deals. Yet there are few messages that highlight, for example, an “investment bargain” that you can start doing in your 30s even with just a small amount, which will earn more for you in comparison with starting on your 40s with a bigger amount. She wants more people to understand and appreciate that scenario.

Her vision for the future? To fully cultivate “an investment culture among Filipinos.” –

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