by Sofia S. 09 Aug, 2017

Today, 9th of August 2017, marks ten years since the beginning of the financial crisis which had devastating effects in the life of thousands and thousands of people around the world and filled the pockets (even more) of a few privileged people.

Back in 2007 I was about to become a freshman at University as classes were about to start in a few weeks’ time. I was 23 years old, determined to give my absolute best, focused and motivated.

I went to University a bit later than most people do but life happened that way for me and that’s fine. What matters is that despite all the adversity, I went and I graduated.

In July 2007 I was partying hard in Ibiza with three of my friends and we had the best time together. Memories I will cherish forever. 

However, I don’t recall having heard anything about a financial crisis, all I knew was something about a Wall Street crash back in 1920-something and obviously, that subject was completely outside of my radar. Investments? Banks? Nah. Not a subject for me. It wasn't until Lehman Brothers collapsed that I remember the general panic and that things really started to look bad. Or maybe I was just not paying attention before.

I completed High School with a Diploma in Pottery and Ceramics. At University, studied Marketing, Advertising and PR because at 23 years old I finally decided I wanted to be a copywriter.

I wanted to be the person that writes ads and creates content; I wanted to surrender myself to my artistic vein, to allow for my creativity to fully blossom and develop. I had come to the conclusion that my path was an artistic one and it was time to embrace my future. I had it all figured out. Even when I got pregnant with my daughter during the second semester at Uni, I carried on.

I took a gap year (school year of 2008/2009) because birth was scheduled for December so I couldn’t attend the January exams relating to courses beginning in September. It was the wise thing to do.

When I returned to Uni for my second year (2009/2010) my motivation was stronger than ever. I now had the cutest tiny little human who would be looking up to me and to everything I’d do, she depended on me and it was my duty to ensure all her needs were taken care of. I started to do everything with her in mind and solely having her best interests at heart. And that’s when things changed.

Things were not good at home and that’s as far as I will go in relation to exposing that part of my life. The only thing I’ll say is this: the worst things got, the stronger my motivation to succeed would get.

As part of my course, I needed to attend a Business class. It was only one semester but that Professor gave us two separate classes so in some ways they were linked. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say I had two business classes the same semester.

A few lessons into the class and I felt like I had seen God. What on Earth had I been doing studying arts all my life because that was so not the right path for me.

I landed a job at a Bank shortly after that and from there on, I became determined to learn as much as I could on my own because switching courses to Business or Economics was not an option. I didn’t had the funds and didn’t want to feel like I’ve wasted two years of my life. Especially when I had to take into consideration that I went to Uni later than usual.

I did countless online courses on platforms like Coursera and some of them were so daunting and full of jargon – not to mention the fact they were all in English – so I actually had to repeat a few of them until I could grasp what they were on about.

I started reading the Financial Times so I could understand what was happening in the financial world. I took advantage of a few colleagues that were much more knowledgeable than me to ask questions and learn from them. I became an avid reader of a Portuguese Business newspaper and slowly things started to fall into place and words I had no idea what they meant before, I now recognized and understand them.

I did all of this while looking after a new born, whilst working and whilst attending University. Talk about will power. Looking back, I have no idea where I got the strength from but I did it nonetheless.

I have been working in this industry for nearly 10 years now. I have seen people come and people go. I am blessed to be able to work in an industry that I genuinely love. There is not a single day that goes like the previous one. Everything changes at an incredible pace and if you stop, you become obsolete.

Ten years on since the beginning of the financial crisis, have we learned anything?

I hope so. I see firms committed to give the example from the top; there is more regulation; there is more awareness.

Do I believe that it will happen again? Unfortunately yes but maybe not as the ones we’ve seen before. The financial services industry business is the money business and the goal is to make even more money using someone else’s money. It’s called an “investment” and it can go right or wrong. You risk what you can afford to lose.

The problem with that statement is that the majority of people that cannot afford to lose are usually the ones that end up losing everything even though they have never placed a penny in an investment.

It starts with a family member losing its job. Then, one bill gets left behind, then another and by the time you realise you’re receiving a letter from the Bank saying you’re facing your home is being repossessed.

It’s scary to witness how the financial crisis has long been forgotten by the industry and yet it’s the complete opposite for consumers. People  that ten years on, on a daily basis still worry about a new potential crash and what effect will it have – again – on their families and how will they cope.

It’s a cruel business the money business so I guess it’s totally legitimate for people to ask me why am I in it? How can I associate myself with such practices? The answer is simple. I genuinely believe I can make a difference. No matter how small. I believe in fairness and in righteousness. I believe in doing the right thing so I don’t mind being associated with such industry because if more of us believe in the same thing as me, maybe one day, thinking about a financial crisis where people are left to starve and homeless for no fault of their own will sound surreal and impossible.  

Thankfully, I know I'm not alone in this. I have met so many great people, so many professionals that are a tribute to this industry and profession.

I act in a way I know I will never have to bow my head in shame and in a way that it won’t disappoint my family and have their values judged by others due to my actions. I will never act in a way that will make Diana ashamed of being my daughter. I will always do what my heart tells me is the right thing to do. 

One can dream and, so far, all my dreams have come true.

Like I said. Motivation.


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Mortgage Part II

  • by Sofia S.
  • 16 Jun, 2016
So here is the second part of this story as I previously (tried) to start talking about my part-time job and then got carried away about all the issues relating to the housing market and taxes, etc.

I will do my very best to keep focused this time.

Going back just a little bit in time, when I first moved to Bristol, my first job was in a pub as a barmaid in the city centre. I worked countless hours earning minimum wage (£6.19/per hour at the time) but it was good fun and met a lot of people which helped to forget the fact that I was all alone in a foreign country and away from my family.

About 6 months later, I started working for an Insurance company during the day but still my wages weren’t enough for rent, food, clothes and the occasional flight to go back to visit my family so I had another job at a restaurant on Friday and Saturday evenings to help me top up my salary and get by. I never asked for any type of benefits for the reason that I felt that some people had it far worse than me and if I was young, fit and healthy to work, why should I rely on the Government instead of myself?

So I worked in a restaurant and only had Sundays to rest. As my career progressed I would still go to the restaurant but purely because of the people that worked there. The restaurant manager Piyush (an Indian guy) was absolutely amazing and we always had a blast at work. He was an incredible dude! Always with a huge smile in his face, with a friendly word if I was feeling down for some reason and he would always make me laugh. We became friends and remain until today.

Apart from everyone else who was Thai – it was a Thai restaurant by the way – we were the only two “outsiders” but everyone single one of the staff was lovely. They would try to make me speak Thai and because I can’t roll my tongue in the way they do, my words would come out in a weird accent and they would be in tears. To be fair, I laughed when they tried to speak Portuguese too! All good banter!

At the end of our shifts we were entitled to have a meal and my stomach doesn’t tolerate spicy food. Every evening the Chef would ask me what I wanted for dinner and cook me a different meal from everyone else’s as they would ALL eat spicy. I have learned that Thai people are warm individuals who value friendship and family and are appreciative of what they have. Some of the girls who worked there were at Uni and came from wealthy families and didn’t need to work but out of principle they would. They would be waitressing in a restaurant because they wanted to earn and spend their own money, not their parents, even though they didn’t need to and with Uni lectures and assignments to do in a foreign language. Hats off to them and I have to say, that’s good parenting right there.

Apart from the odd customer that would turn up inebriated and say a few words no one would quite understand, all customers were polite and friendly to us. I stayed there for nearly 2 years purely out the joy it would give me working with such bunch. I only ended up leaving as the restaurant closed doors and was eventually sold. Piyush moved to Birmingham and then to Manchester where he now lives.

I decided to stop working weekends and have some rest time. I confess I didn’t know what to do with myself for a while but ended up embracing the great delight of doing absolutely nothing and I loved it.

On the other hand, the desire of owning my own house started to get to me. I started to do the math and it would be absolutely impossible for me to save enough for the deposit relying solely on my current salary. It's not a bad salary but it's far from enough for amount I need.

So I decided to start looking for a second job again but nothing would come up. Either was far away or the hours wouldn’t match what I was looking for; there was always something. Until one day I went for a meal at a pub close to town and saw a sign saying they were hiring. Spoke to the manager, went for a trial the next weekend and 2 hours later I was told that the job was mine. Ended up doing a 6 hour shift that same evening.

On my second day (Saturday, lunch time), the place was packed! I won’t say the name for obvious reasons, but this is not exactly like your local. It’s a bit of a posh place and a mixture of pub with restaurant. There’s an outside area with chairs and tables and the view and the place itself is lush. The staff is also lovely! I have been blessed in that regard! Manager, colleagues, everyone is lush and there’s a really good atmosphere within the staff. 

So on my second shift I was serving a couple. As I said, the place was packed, I was on a fast pace and I didn’t sat down for 4 hours. Allow that to sink in. FOUR hours, non-stop. Almost running and always serving food, going back and forth. So this couple rightly complained about their starters as they didn’t came out exactly as it should because of the cheese. I apologised, explained what happened (after speaking with the Chef who gave me a flash lesson on cheese so I could pass the information on) and offered to replace the starter with a new one and take that item off their bill. They were polite and said thank you but requested only for it to be taken out of the bill as the mains would be coming out shortly so no point.

Shortly after serving their mains, rushed back again inside to pick up more food for other customers when I was stopped by the guy who said his girlfriend’s food was cold. I was livid. Considering this place is a bit posh, I was expecting to deal with customers who are used to a certain level of service and for them to be a bit posh as well.

However, nothing prepared me to see him throw the plate with the food at the bar, cursing and shouting at me that now he had to give his burger to his girlfriend so she could eat something. I asked my manager to come and help me sort the situation as I’m not used to be cursed at and I believe it’s unnecessary.

To my  surprise, my manager spoke very calmly, picked up the plate, said he would be removing it from his bill and walked away. I swear I didn’t know what to do at that point! Do I stay here and continue to speak with the customer and apologise again or do I follow my manager?  
Considering how rude he was and because I was in no mood to be cursed at again, I walked away and followed  my manager all the way back to the kitchen whilst watching him making an effort not to explode and respond to a customer on the same tone.
He was sticking his fingers inside the chicken pie, looked at me and said “This is boiling. Feel it.” – I followed his lead and placed my fingers on the pie.

And yes, it was boiling and considering it was a proper summer day in Bristol that day it was close to impossible for the pie to be cold. I looked at him and shake my head not knowing what to say. He looked at me with his shoulders straight, a serious face but with the utmost integrity, looked at me and said “Sometimes, in this industry you simply can’t win.” 
I couldn’t help of remember a part of the Maid in Manhattan movie with Jennifer Lopez (I’m a fan and yes I’ve seen that movie more than once that’s how I know this part. Don't judge.) when Lionel (her manager) says to her: "To serve people takes dignity and intelligence.  But  remember, they are only people with money. And although  we serve  them,  we are not  their  servants .” This was a reality check for me and the ugly truth that money doesn’t buy anyone matters.

Next time you go to a pub or a restaurant, remember to be respectful to the person who’s serving you. One of my colleagues is a French Science teacher who moved here only for a few months simply because he fancied a change. In September he will be going back teaching. Remember you are dealing with people who also have red blood running through their veins and have feelings and are made out of flesh and bones. 

Tip your waiter or waitress. Not because you have to, but because it’s a sign of your personal appreciation for the service you just received; because people who earn minimum wage struggle and that can make a difference on their lives. Because you don’t know if the person standing right in front of you has their legs shaking from standing up so many hours and yet they make an effort to smile at you. 

If you can’t afford to tip that’s ok. But at least be kind and respectful. That doesn’t cost you a penny. Just like the smile of your waiter isn’t being paid for. They smile because they want to. Remember that.
Me and Piyush
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