From almost dropping out of school to a successful financial advisor, this mentor of low-income kids want them to know anything is possible.

“I stayed in a rental house for about 25 years. It’s quite a ghetto area for many low-income families. By the age of 14, I was already working at different fast food outlets to earn extra pocket money. I worked during weekends and school holidays. 

Back then, my parents would wake up everyday at 1am to make vadeh. It’s a popular Indian snack. My sister and I would take turns to wake up at 3:30am to help pack the vadeh. By 5am, my dad would deliver the vadeh on his bicycle to a few stalls in Geylang.

That was how my parents raised us. They were not highly-educated, but they were always working hard to make ends meet. I consider myself lucky that my mum had a talent for making vadeh; that’s how we survived. But because of me, she was hospitalised.

I would tell her that I was going out to study with friends, but I would actually be hanging out with some bad company after school. One day, I got beat up by about 10 other kids at my void deck. The incident happened the same year that I had to sit for my O-Levels.

My face was swollen. When my mum saw what happened to me, she couldn’t take it. It was so strenuous on her heart that she had to be hospitalised. More than anything, she was very disappointed in me for lying to her.

We didn’t have a lot, but she sacrificed so much to make sure I had the things I needed – food on the table; money for tuition and religious classes. When I saw the look of disappointment in her eyes, it was a real wake-up call. That was my turning point.

I actually wanted to drop out of school because I lost interest in studying. But after the incident, I was determined to pass my O-Levels. It wasn’t easy. When I recovered and returned to school, one of my teachers even told me I was a hopeless case.

I wanted to make my mum proud and prove that teacher wrong, so I burnt the midnight oil and worked hard to pass my O-Levels. I managed to scrape through and get a place in a Polytechnic and course that I wanted.

Today, I’m working as a financial advisor. After I completed my part-time degree in Accountancy, I took a risk and joined the insurance industry. By then, my parents had already stopped selling vadeh. My mum’s ageing, and my dad underwent hip bone surgery, so he couldn’t cycle anymore.

The vision I had when I joined the insurance industry was one of my parents. We’ve been staying in a rental house for 25 years, and I told myself that I wanted them to be happy. They hustled so hard and sacrificed so much for us. I just wanted them to have a good retirement.

I like the things that I do as a financial advisor because I get to create impact on the lives of others. And it’s not one-way; it’s mutually-benefitting. My clients learn from me, and I learn from them. I get to know how they think, how they manage their life, their finances.

In my first year, I managed to earn the same amount that I was earning when I worked in the Fund administrator industry. I eventually moved into a management position, and that’s when I started to volunteer as a mentor at an organisation that helps underprivileged and low-income kids.

In my line of work as a mentor, I have heard criticisms from mainstream society about how low-income parents don’t take advantage of financial aids and raise their kids better. That is why many kids fall through the cracks and turn to crime or drop out of school.

A lot of people fail to understand that most of the time, the situation these parents are in is not a matter of choice for them. They are in survival mode. It’s not that they don’t have initiative or don’t want the best for their kids. They’re just trying their best to make ends meet.

Many middle or high-income parents are fed information because of their social environment. Friends or relatives of similar status will tell them, ‘You may want to apply for this for your kid’. But those in low-income families are not surrounded by such people.

That is why I believe so passionately in education as a mentor. If we don’t have a certain level of education, it’s a big barrier against progress as it affects our confidence level. When we sit with those from middle or high-income families, we tend to feel inferior. 

People on top also don’t fully understand what’s going on because the information they get is filtered down and based on assumptions. That’s why I believe that education is one of the ways to empower kids to unlock their own potential and help get them out of poverty.

If there’s anything I want kids from low-income families to know, it’s that life isn’t about how others perceive you. What people think about you is just their opinion. If you have a vision and know what your goal is, just be disciplined, work hard, and make something of yourself.” – Arief 

Interview by: Arman Shah


If you have any questions about or are interested in building your wealth portfolio, DM Arief on IG. If you are looking to explore financial advisory as a career, he is also available as a mentor:
– IG: @abdullah_arief_ali