Feature Story – Louis Tan

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Photo courtesy of Louis Tan

Louis Tan explained that one of the biggest rewards that he gets from teaching children about personal finance is when he sees the child’s face light up when he or she understands the concept of budgeting‭. ‬To most people‭, ‬this seemingly mundane topic doesn’t seem like such a big deal but to Louis‭, ‬it has become a life mission to teach the children of Brunei about the concept of money management‭.‬

Why is this important? 

“Because the future of our country depends on it. Imagine if we raise a generation of people who are savvy with personal finance, the economy would inevitably be vibrant and strong – regardless of the oil price.” said Louis.

He belongs to an international NGO called Junior Achievement (JA) which was started in 1919 by Theodore Vail and Horace Moses. The core purpose of JA is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. It focuses on areas of financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. To date, JA has 218,896 classroom volunteers from all walks of life, including: business people, college students, parents and retirees from all over the world. Since Louis started this initiative two years ago in Brunei, there are now about 30 JA volunteers.

Prior to his full time position with JA, Louis was a Relationship Manager with a leading Bruneian bank who handled corporate clients. While he still deals with finance, the clients he faces on a day to day basis couldn’t be more different. Nothing he did in the bank prepared him for this new role. The clients are loud, funny and often times unpredictable with their questions and responses. However, there is nothing that he can’t handle because he has a set of proven modules that has stood the test of time.

Budgeting is in fact one of the most popular modules amongst students, as it is taught using a game format in which each student is given a different job title so hence, each one gets a different paycheck. For example, if you are a given the role of a doctor your salary would be more than that of a janitor. Students are then assigned to budget their monthly expenses according to their paycheck. They are taught to allocate money for rental, electricity, mobile phone bills, clothing and charity. Yes, charity. The program doesn’t just teach finance, but instills good values which will hopefully have a positive effect on the student’s character. For example, kids are taught why giving to charity is important. They are also taught about the ethical way of handling money. On a subliminal level, children are also exposed to various job scenarios that offer different levels of salaries, these are real examples which may help them to choose wisely for the future.

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In the last two years, with the help of the Ministry of Education, Louis and the rest of the volunteers have given a total of 9,000 lesson hours to 1,500 students across 35 schools. A remarkable achievement by any measure, but to him, this is just scratching the surface. Louis’ dream is to reach out to all 250 schools within Brunei, and to introduce the JA curriculum to the future generation. With this ambition in mind, 30 volunteers are not enough.

Currently, his biggest challenge is to recruit more volunteers to coach students. The selection criteria is quite simple, you need to be passionate and have a positive outlook; have a basic level of literacy; and have your own transportation. Training will be provided by Louis before you are sent out to teach in schools.

How is he funded in order to run the Junior Achievement program full time? Like many NGOs, Louis relies on the generosity of sponsorship. In this instance, JA Brunei is funded by HSBC and Baiduri Bank. Sponsorship can come in different forms – monetary or time. In the latter case, companies can assign man-hours to volunteers to join him in his school programs.

When asked how this job is different from what he did before? Louis Tan explained that he still works from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. In fact, he often works on most Saturdays too – when he is needed to teach in public schools. Louis is working harder than ever before, and for less pay. However, the kind of fulfillment that he gets from this role is priceless and “difficult to explain.” Louis also said that he now sleeps much better at night. As he put it, it is simply a labour of love. “If you can’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”

This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!