Financial Literacy: Setting youngsters off on the journey of personal finance

This article first appeared in Wealth, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 30, 2022 - June 05, 2022.
A TSS designer working on the comics

A TSS designer working on the comics

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Many young people in their early 20s tend to struggle when they need to make financial decisions. Most of them are fresh graduates having a hard time navigating the slew of financial jargon and seemingly complex issues surrounding them.

This is where The Simple Sum (TSS) comes in. TSS is an online content platform that solves the problem by making financial terms more digestible and accessible for people who have no financial background, while setting up a solid financial foundation for those from a younger age group.

“What we do at TSS is to educate young people about personal finance and try to engage and entertain them along the way,” says Nicole Ng, finance lead at TSS.

TSS was initially started by Shirley Crystal Chua as a project to help youngsters better navigate their financial journey. Today, it has evolved into a for-profit business while continuing its mission of raising financial awareness.

Chua is a serial entrepreneur and investor passionate about financial education. She is also the founder and group CEO of Golden Equator, the holding group of businesses creating value with the elements of Capital, Community, Technology and Learning.

"What we do at TSS is to educate young people about personal finance and try to engage and entertain them along the way.” - Ng

Ng says youngsters in their late teens or early 20s tend to be more consumed with different aspects of life as they enter an age of self-discovery. They are occupied with their first job and relationships while enjoying their newfound freedom after leaving high school or college. Personal finance is rarely at the forefront of their minds.

“We target this group of people because personal finance affects every aspect of our lives. Our main objective is to get them to start thinking about how to manage their money better, even if it’s baby steps,” says Ng.

To increase engagement with the younger generation, there is an emphasis on entertainment in the content created by TSS to allow even those disinterested in personal finance to extract value from it.

“Our team is very good at exploring and experimenting with different formats and ways of storytelling, to see how we can further engage more people on their finance journeys,” Ng says. 

She adds that TSS is willing to experiment with different contents and formats to attract the younger generation to take more active interest in personal finance. When the initial spark is ignited, users of the platform can then explore the features on the TSS website, such as its emergency fund calculator.

“At the start of the year, we launched calculators on our website so that people can try their hand at calculating their emergency expenses or their [investment] returns. This is something that they can try to apply in their personal finance management,” says Ng.

"Financial concepts remain broadly the same no matter which country you are in, but applying them differs from country to country, and that’s where our local teams come in.” - Seow

Most youngsters obtain their information from social media, be it Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. For this very reason, the first point of contact with TSS for most young people is through its Instagram page, with TSS Malaysia having an Instagram following of roughly 50,000 people. They can then choose to explore the TSS website or join its webinars down the line.

“It’s a dual mix of getting people interested and then having the content for them to take it to the next step,” says TSS managing editor Seow Kai Lun.

Seow is in charge of coordinating the team’s efforts in creating content while fostering collaboration between the writers and graphic artists to decide on the financial topic they want to tackle and how to make it appealing to the readers.

On Valentine’s Day, for instance, TSS released a comic titled “Financial One Night Stand Confessions”, a tongue-in-cheek take on impulse purchases. The title grabs the readers’ attention off the bat, which then leads them to warnings of the dangers of uncontrolled spending and consumption. 

“The scenarios that we use tend to be familiar and relatable to young people and, hopefully, they also walk away with a nugget of knowledge to help them with their own personal finance journey,” says Seow.

TSS is present in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. As such, localisation is key to making its content relatable to its audience in different countries. 

Sample sketches for TSS comics that educate the young about personal finance

“Financial concepts remain broadly the same no matter which country you are in, but applying them differs from country to country, and that’s where our local teams come in,” says Seow.

Community webinars are another path undertaken by TSS to engage with people more intimately. Participants of these webinars can pose queries to their peers and enhance their financial literacy by sharing knowledge and experience with each other.

Ng, a Malaysian who was an account manager at Public Bank Bhd for four years, observes that Malaysia and Singapore have a strong savings culture but Singaporeans are more likely to invest their money in the market for potentially higher returns. 

“In general, Singaporeans have a lot more exposure to investing. There’s also more variety when it comes to investment products,” says Ng.

She believes Malaysians could benefit from a more mature investing mindset to maximise their money, which is also one of the things that TSS aims to help them achieve.