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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The EU referendum: a view from a goldfish bowl

  • by Sofia S.
  • 20 Jun, 2016

Brexit

As I write this, we are only just a few days away before the UK votes to either Leave or Remain as a member of the European Union.

I decided to write this post as this is a subject that has attracted a big deal of attention on the media (obviously) and I have spent quite a significant time in understanding whether the UK is better off in or outside the EU.

One of the things I came to realise is that both the media and the Government aren’t really listening to the people of Britain and their concerns. This referendum is lacking in planning and in providing accurate information or even giving the British people the re-assurance they need in key points.

I will highlight what I have been seeing to be the biggest problem with the referendum and why everyone is so confused with how the polls are moving. If only a few months ago it was preposterous to even imagine that the UK would vote in favour of leaving the EU, now the scenario is completely different. Same with the American elections and Trump’s increasing popularity.  I have also come to realise that the polls show something very different from everything I read and sometimes listen. The media says one thing, the betting websites say something similar, but the people who use the internet to raise their voice say something different.

Just out of curiosity, I have found the Leave campaigners to be much more passionate about the subject than the Remain ones. Surely if you think something is best for you and your country, you’d try to educate your family/friends/colleagues to what you feel is best instead of keeping quiet and keep your opinions to yourself. But I have only seen this (or mostly seen this) with the Leave campaigners.

Honesty moment here: my car radio is 99% of the time tuned in at BBC Radio 4 and when I get home and do some cooking the BBC iPlayer app is also usually tuned on Radio 4 (yes, I am boring like that. No, I don’t listen to The Archers. Well, actually I do… Only sometimes though. Anyway, moving on!).

In my defense, if you’re a politics/economics geeky sort of person like me, what is brilliant about Radio 4 is the amount of quality content you can get every single day – in the mornings you have John Humphrys interviewing politicians from all sorts of ideologies and parties  (in my opinion JH is just the best journalist in the world! That man has an ability to be unbiased, make the questions that no one else dares to ask and actually pushes for an answer. Top quality!) and in the afternoon you have debate programs with all sorts of different types of guest with different perspectives and opinions. What’s not to love?

Obviously, the last three or four months have been extremely focused on the referendum so I had the chance to listen to a lot of people in favour of the Leaving campaign and a lot in favour of the Remain campaign.

Now, before I go ahead, I think it’s important to clarify that I am NOT allowed to vote on the EU referendum. In order to clarify who CAN and who CANNOT vote, in sum, if you fall under any of the following, you are ALLOWED to vote.

“British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens who live in the UK, along with Britons who have lived abroad for less than 15 years, are eligible to vote.”

If you are not any of these, you’re left out. Like me.

If by now anyone is wondering my personal position on this matter, if I was allowed to vote, I would vote Leave. And I am happy to explain why but not here as it’s really not the point here.

By reading comments on forums, by engaging with friends on Facebook and getting involved in discussions, I came to realise that there are a few main points that are causing for the citizens of the United Kingdom wanting to leave the UK. As I am unable to state them all in just one post, I have narrowed it down to the following three:

  • Citizens of the United Kingdom want reassurance that their voices are being heard in the EU and their interests are being protected;
  • Citizens of the United Kingdom want to know EXACTLY where the so broadly spoken £350million/week are being sent to and WHY;
  • Citizens of the United Kingdom want control over their borders.
Let me jump straight away to the last point and clarify something. A lot of people are currently being called racists and xenophobes because they defend control of the borders in the UK. If that was true, I would be facing a lot of abuse on social media and other discussion forums I have been engaging with. That hasn’t happened not even once. And my boyfriend (who’s English) still hasn’t dumped me over my nationality and he’s in favour of leaving the EU as well. Just to clarify that just because you see people saying they want to Leave the EU they are not Nazis, they are not Britain First or UKIP supporters and they do not want to leave the EU JUST because of immigration numbers.

Still on this point though, I heard one girl saying on TV in a Q&A session that she is not opposed to emigration but considering we talk so much about equality these days, why does a Doctor or a Nurse from outside the EU (which is a much needed resource at the NHS) needs to go thought an extensive visa process and someone with no skills at all, just because they live in the EU, is allowed to come in to the country? 

I mean, I have to say, she does have a point. I won’t even start on the benefits system because I think it’s just ridiculous that someone who has never contributed to the country and has never paid a penny in taxes can literally land in the UK and as soon as they walk out from the airport, they can make a request for benefits (housing, jobseekers allowance, child benefit, etc.). It’s like winning the lottery when you think about it. Free money for doing f**k all. Fan-tas-tic!

Speaking a bit more broadly now, the EU is currently failing to address concerns that are spread throughout all the countries. The migrant crisis is a real problem, there are real people who are climbing on boats trying to save theirs and their children’s lives and this is something that is affecting all of Europe. Not just the UK. What is being done about that? Turning our heads the other way, won’t make the problem go away. 

In Portugal, it was reported by the newspapers that the Government was in conversations with banks in order to use the houses that were repossessed by the Banks (worth mentioning these houses were from families that were unable to keep up with the repayments due to the recession), so these empty houses could be used to house refugees. This caused a national outrage.

Portugal is very family orientated and most people don’t ever leave the area where they grew up. We have very strong family ties and like to be close to home.
A lot of people lost their homes upon the recession as they lost their jobs and the interest rates increased ridiculously to the point where a family previously paying €350/month on their mortgage was now facing a monthly payment of €800/month. It’s worth mentioning that at the time the minimum wage was around €486/month. In case you’re wondering, it hasn’t increased much since then and in case you’re wondering how we cope, we don’t. You either are forced to move in with your parents or in-laws like a lot of people did. Mind you, these are people who also have their own families and moved together with their spouses and children.

For these people to know they’ve always paid their taxes, worked hard and lost everything due to an economic crisis they had nothing to do with and were greeted with no mercy by banks and the government itself in relation to their situation, now knowing that their home, their dreams (yes, in Portugal owing your own home is a big deal) were going to be delivered in a gold platter to people from other countries was the last drop. Not because they don’t sympathise with them; not because they don’t want to help but because they feel betrayed by their government. Politicians elected by the people that should work FOR the people; who SHOULD act in their best interests instead of trying to look good on a international picture that doesn’t mean anything in real terms.

Oddly enough, in Portugal we have a common saying that translates to “Only for an Englishman to see” which is commonly used to explain hypocrisy or in this scenario as it tries to hoodwink people into thinking Portugal is a great country when actually, Portuguese people, eight years after the start of recession are still struggling massively.

The question you commonly hear is “We can’t afford to feed our own, how can we feed others?” As much as Portuguese people know that we are talking about other human beings that experience pain like you and me; That bleed like you and me; That have feelings like you and me; That were unfortunate to be born in a less peaceful place. “How can we afford to help if we can’t help ourselves?” 

And this – whether you like it or know, whether you believe me or not – is the ugly, naked and raw truth of Portugal. 

Brits want re-assurance that their voices are heard and want to know what is happening with the money that is being sent abroad rather than being spent in their country with their people.

As a member of my Church, a while back, I helped in the food bank in the area I live in. Food banks are depending on the charity of the people on those communities to help those who need it the most. Some of the stories are heart-breaking. The Europe where we live now is not a pretty sight in that regard. 

The EU was created as a system for economic and political support between the nations. It was created with the best of intentions and with a great purpose. Is that purpose being fulfilled at the moment? I’m afraid I will have to say no. The previous President for the EU Commission was Jose Manuel Barroso. This person was Portugal’s Prime Minister when he was elected in 2002. He basically abandoned the country half way his mandate in 2004 when he was faced with the opportunity to join the EU. It’s a no brainer, really. “More money, more power, of course I’ll accept it! Fuck Portugal and their problems.” He did an impressive job with Europe same as he did with Portugal. He helped ruin something that was already fragile due to its nature. 

Britons also want re-assurance that the NHS won’t be privatised and although Cameron is trying for the UK to be exempt from mandatory privations under the TTIP no exemption has been granted. If you’ve never heard of TTIP there is information about it out there. Don’t just take my word for it but make some research on your own. 

For the sake of trying to show something unbiased, I have selected this article  from the Indepedent but I would suggest anyone to do their own research. It is scary stuff and there is a lot of people that simply aren't aware of it.

Just out of curiosity, ever since 1996 (there is no data previous to that), the UK has voted 55 times against a Directive from the EU (a Directive is legally binding to all member states and must be implemented in full) that would jeopardise the country and in all those 55 votes, the UK was over-ruled. This means that in 20 years, nearly 3 times a year the UK representatives said no to something that ended up having to be implemented against their will. It may not sound like much but keep in mind that these have a long lasting effect. And why shouldn't countries be able to decide what is best for them?

There are many reasons why I believe the UK would be better off leaving the EU. Do I speak against myself considering I am an immigrant? Maybe. But I like to think I am a fair person and I speak what I feel is right.

And to be honest, the Remain campaign hasn’t really bothered to refute the Leave campaigners, their numbers and the information they’re passing on to the millions of Brits who will be voting on Thursday.  In a nutshell all I’ve heard from the Remain campaign was “We have to stay because the UK is better in the EU (nothing else is added to that) and the Leave campaigners are racists.” Oh and the threat of an “emergency budget” by George Osbourne saying he would make cuts to the NHS, schools and increase taxes was the ultimate sign of desperation. Like when you see a teenage couple breaking up and one of them as an final act of despair (very Shakespearean kind of thing) makes a ultimatum trying to keep his lover. Perfect for Shakespeare, simply embarrassing if you’re the Chancellor. 
But all is well as even members from his own party said they would never allow for such “emergency budget” to pass in the House of Commons and if he even tried to do that, I would probably think he’d be in need of professional help because that would be political suicide.

In all fairness, leaving the EU would be like a divorce. It’s painful, of course it’s painful. But the reason for the divorce to happen is because things aren’t working anymore and the short pain of the legal proceedings will provide the opportunity of lasting happiness for both parties. The most amicable it is, the better. It means all parties are adults and worry about one another rather than trying to rip each other heads apart.

If we decide to leave (I say "we" because I live here, pay my taxes here and the outcome will have an effect on me), there are risks associated, and is someone thinks otherwise is deluded. But if the UK decides to stay, there will not be another referendum anytime soon and the EU will be glowing and carrying on being administrated as it has been.
No matter what the outcome may be, one thing is certain. This referendum showed that the British people are not happy with the EU and its current policies as they stand.

Are people actually willing to do something about it?

I guess we will know the verdict when we wake up on Friday.
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