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Financial advice can save lives

Comment
By Meera Ravi


Many expats who take their own life do so because of the burden of financial loans. The recent case of a Nepali man who committed suicide last week after apparently running up huge debts is just one example.

Regardless of whether they come as CEOs or labourers, most expatriates come to the GCC in search of better economic conditions. I know of one old-timer who came as a delivery man for a corner store in the ‘seventies and is today a business tycoon. Yet another well-known businessman used to drive taxis in London to make ends meet and returned to Bahrain to take over his brother’s fledgling business. Today he is one of the richest men in the world and owns a big slice of the UK hospitality business!

Cautionary tales of failure get washed away in the dazzle of the few successes. The pity is that economic caution and prudence is considered a private matter and even social workers do not want to get into long-term engagement of what is seen as a deeply personal issue.

“Who are we to tell a rising manager star that it is imprudent to buy a BMW with a fat bank loan or go for a Platinum credit card?” is the attitude. Banks will not thank you for such advice to customers and neither will the car dealers. In the larger scheme of things, they are happy to repossess the car if the loan instalments falter or let the law take its course to get back the credit card money owed. A financier I know has rescued many a young high-stepper by clearing the Bahrain dinar loan – in return for prime family property being written in his favour back home. Thus do dreams of fiscal security come crashing for many families of Gulf expats.

Why I started this column by underscoring the financial trauma faced by professionals and the well-to-do is to emphasise that it is not only labourers, domestic workers and office boys who falter and lose their way financially. We are all vulnerable to fiscal imprudence and debt. Even people engaged in professional financial management for companies can ignore warning signs in their personal finance front.

Some years ago, I interviewed a well-known social activist K.V. Shamsudheen, the chairman-founder of the NGO Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust. His volunteer work focussed mainly on teaching Indian expats, especially at the lower employment level, the skills needed to manage their money. He said that these men and women fell through the system’s fissures because most banks and exchange houses did not address such issues with this group even though there are seminars, books and podcasts aplenty to let wealthy customers know how to earn more through prudent investment.

India topped the remittance table in 2016, having received $62.7 billion from its global diaspora (World Bank report). At the lower level, much of the remittances are used to run households and are not really savings. Thus, Gulf workers returning home permanently face the double whammy of often being in the wrong end of the employability age spectrum and also without a savings cushion for the future.

The old-fashioned savings ethic needs to be revived and taught to expats of all countries – especially those who have not had exposure to such financial freedom before.

Alongside suicide and depression helplines, we should encourage financial savings advise – that could save many lives too.

Maybe exchange houses and banks who benefit most from this business should step in and make this their non-profit community engagement priority?

meeraresponse@gmail.com

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