Blog — Wealth Wednesdays
Who is Susan Lam?
Patchwork Collective: Tell us a little bit about yourself! What do you do currently?
Susan Lam: Hi Patchwork - I’m Susan! I identify as She/Her, I am a first-generation Asian-Canadian, born and raised in downtown Toronto. I currently work at Meridian Credit Union and have been in financial sales and service for over 4 years – even working in digital and online banking for a bit. I am so happy to be a part of Patchwork and starting this blog and series because I want to make banking easy to digest and understand, to remove the stigma, and just because I’m not in a suit and tie, doesn’t mean I don’t know my stuff!
PW: How did you get interested in finance?
SL: I think finance has always been something of interest, but I never really understood it cause it seemed terrifying. I grew up in a low-income household, never really had money when I was growing up, and during my teenage/working years, was never really good with money either! I had debts on debts, would spend recklessly and max out my one credit card too! I just didn’t know anything about money really.
Up until I started working in financial services, I had very basic knowledge of banking, investments and credit. Once I started working in financial sales, I finally realized the importance of finances and how it ties to my idea of financial wellness. I started understanding all the products and services offered, benefits created by the government and the language of money! As I started learning more about finances (and getting my own finances in order),
I wanted to share that knowledge with my friends and family because I was getting good at it. If I went through all the ups and downs with money, surely other people experienced a similar journey. If I could help in any way - especially for younger generations - then I felt compelled to.
PW: What are some challenges you face in the field of finance?
SL: I work in a male-dominated industry and a “big bank” dominated city. The big banks have a monopoly over people’s minds when they decide where to bank because they are everywhere. Chances are you usually bank where your parents bank. I work at a credit union
– we are still a financial institution, but we are a membership-based institution focusing on relationship building, understanding needs before profit and more community driven in their social causes. I don’t oppose big banks! I just think people are too focused on banking for convenience vs. an institution that aligns with their values and lifestyle.
As an Asian female in financial services, who also happens to be a millennial, I am still questioned if I am an expert in my field or if there is someone else “more senior” that clients can speak with. They tend to see my older colleagues as more “experienced”. On the flip side, my experiences and knowledge in financial services has also helped me develop wonderful relationships with my clients, where they cherish and respect my transparency, dedication and really trust me when it comes to their finances.
PW: What are your favourite things to spend money on?
SL: I think people need to realize that spending money is ok as long as you spend within your means! It’s ok to treat yourself sometimes and life is not all about saving. I love buying flowers and plants, I treat myself to a good meal out once in a while (well now with COVID, a good take-out meal!), and I really love buying skin care products.
PW: How can we change the female narrative in the space of financial literacy?
SL: Stay informed, be independent and know what money means to you! Read and understand before signing. I sometimes see couples in my office where the woman just signs because the partner said so – and I think it’s important for women to understand before they sign anything. Be a part of the process and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know or you want to learn – we all have to start somewhere. Being in charge of your own finances also helps you learn what it means to you.
PW: How important is it in your opinion for people to be well-versed in finance?
SL: It’s a very important part of being an adult. It’s unfortunate that we never learned about such an important aspect of adulthood in school, and it’s good to hear that the government is slowly adding financial literacy to the curriculum, but I don’t think it’s enough. You need to do your own research, connect with friends to hear their stories, learn the details of finance and what’s important to you. What’s working for your best friend doesn’t mean it will work for you, so create your own toolbox of financial knowledge and tips and cater it to your needs. Plus - there are TONS of great resources online now. Some of my favourites are www.ratehub.ca and www.getsmarteraboutmoney.ca.
PW: We are so excited for this new series. What do you hope for the future of
SL: I hope that audiences will be able to connect with Wealth Wednesdays and learn finances in a simple, engaging, matter of fact way. I don’t want to just be another finance literacy blog or series, I want people to learn about finance in a fun way that's relatable to their life and demographic, with language that speaks to current generations. The financial language is complicated as is, so if I can unpack it for audiences, and share information about how finance can be easy, then I think I’ve done my job! Maybe one day we can create a podcast? Host some seminars (post-COVID)? The sky's the limit.
PW: Lastly, what does financial well-being and wellness mean to you?
SL: Financial well-being is knowing what finances mean to you and understanding how it fits in your life. It’s about being able to sleep at night knowing your money and debts are in a good place. It’s about understanding how to attain a future goal and how money will support that. And it’s also unique to each individual – financial well-being can mean paying off all your debts, having a small emergency savings fund, and so on. At the end of the day, it’s about taking control of your money, not letting money control you.
PW: Now we’re curious, are you currently saving up for anything or have a future goal in mind?
SL: Short term: I’m saving to buy a luxury item I’ve been wanting. Long term: I want to buy my first home!
I think there is a ton of pressure amongst millennials and younger generations to follow a timeline for life. You should go to university/college to do X, you should have a great career by this age, you have to own a home by this age, you should have this much saved for your retirement, etc. etc. etc. I don’t follow that timeline or those rules. I follow my own. I’m working on my own timeline, living by my own rules, building savings for my life because I understand my financial wellness and what I need to do to ultimately achieve my goals and dreams.