Money Matters: advice from a financial activist

Originally from Whangārei, Irihapeti Edwards became the youngest person ever to work for financial firm Deloitte when she was just 18. Now 22, the ‘financial activist’ is scaling great heights in the world of international finance.

Tell us a bit about your background.

My childhood was a little unconventional. I was raised by my great-grandmother and during the first decade of my life I witnessed the insidious impacts of wealth disparities in the Northland community. This motivated me to educate myself in the financial space and do more to benefit the community. When you grow up seeing people around you struggling it definitely influences how you view money and resources. From a very young age I have been determined to create a better path for myself and those around me.

How did you get started in your industry?

I started working for Deloitte New Zealand when I was 18. I initially applied for an internship in the Tax and Private Sector and was grateful to be kept on and trained in the Deloitte Private Consultancy team and Share Registry team. This experience was the catalyst for my passion and insight into the financial world. Working for a world-class organisation like Deloitte at such a young age leaves a grand impression on you!

Where are you working now?

I am currently working in investments and commodities, including gold and oil, and I love working with cryptocurrencies (mainly XRP) and artificial intelligence (trading algorithms). I spend a lot of time working with international clients and I’m also a partner in a hedge fund. I have realised that I am someone who likes to keep a few 'tricks up their sleeve,’ and slowly reveal what I’m doing over time. It’s a lot of fun that way.

What does financial literacy mean to you?

Financial literacy, on a basic level, is necessary for survival. At the same time, financial literacy is also a luxury that has been denied to many for too long. Above being necessary for survival, it’s all the numbers and jargon, of course, but on a deeper level, financial literacy means security and the ability to carve a path towards self-actualisation. In an ideal world, it would be taught fully and without restraint to everyone, especially to our most vulnerable.

Why are financial skills important?

Financial skills safeguard our interests and afford us a higher quality of life. Those who are financially savvy are often better prepared for the unpredictable. They are also able to multiply their resources through appropriate decision making.We do not go to school to become ‘sorta’ literate in our respective subjects, so it doesn’t make sense for us to be ‘kinda’ financially literate, either. The world is dictated by financial systems. The more financially literate we are, the better we can engage with these systems.

Would you consider yourself a spender or a saver?

Truthfully, I can be a mix of both. I like to think I’m a strategic spender, but I do splurge on things that I perceive as 'worth’ it, especially quality experiences, self-improvement and relationships.

Have there been any significant events or milestones in your life that have made you reevaluate your relationship with money?

Living in different parts of the world and seeing how different cultures interact and engage with finances has been a game-changer for me. After growing up in Aotearoa and working at Deloitte, I received a Prime Minister’s Scholarship to work as an international relations analyst in Medellin, Colombia. Every day I witnessed firsthand how resourceful and innovative Colombian businesses can be. Then, from Colombia, I moved to Miami, USA. The United States shook my previous views about money to the core. I was immersed in an advanced world of investments, commodities, cryptocurrencies and technology, and I felt totally out of my comfort zone for a while. I am so glad to have had these experiences, as being exposed to different perspectives and ways of life has equipped me with transcultural skills and insights that allow me to traverse the financial world. 

What’s the best or worst financial advice you’ve received?

Financial success starts with the way we think about money. Many of us have been socialised from our childhood to view money in unhelpful ways – hearing statements like ‘money is the root of all evil’ and ‘money does not grow on trees’. While the latter may be true, it creates a scarcity mindset that will subconsciously influence our wider financial behaviour. In reality, money is neutral. It is the intention behind its use and distribution that determines its wider impact. We must be willing to be open, flexible and resourceful when we think about money. How we think about things becomes the determining factor for how we get to live our lives, and the quality of life that we get to enjoy. 

Are you working towards a financial goal?

Inter-generational wealth will always be an end goal for me. They say ‘begin with the end in mind’. For me, that looks like being able to create a financial legacy. In my opinion, inter-generational wealth comes from sensible, forward-thinking decisions. We cannot create inter-generational wealth by being irresponsible and we can’t create it by being stagnant, either. It is this type of thinking and habituation that creates inter-generational wealth in the first place; that is what I would like to pass on to my children. In the end, it’s not really about asset diversification or dividends, but how we utilise resources to reach their maximum potential. I want my life to be that of someone who is resourceful, pragmatic, adaptable and always striving to think about things a little differently.

Reported for our AA Directions Spring 2021 issue

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