About Robert

Robert Bihar - Financial Analyst Author & Speaker - Money and Kids

As a kid, I loved playing backyard sports, in particular cricket and tennis.

On the school holidays I would invite my friends over and we would play tennis tournaments or cricket matches.  Our cricket matches became known as “the averages” as I kept scores of all of our matches and updated my statistics book daily.  My favourite part was at the end of the day when I would re-calculate everyone’s averages and announce them as the daylight began to quickly fade.

What was my average batting score for today?

Was it better than my average from yesterday?

What is my all-time best average for a day?

These were the common questions that each of my friends would ask me at the end of the day.  I would flick through my book of averages to find the answers.  I loved the fact that I had the answers.  I loved the fact that I could help them understand how they had performed on the day.

My parents had noticed my really good maths grades and they also knew how much I loved keeping scores and statistics in backyard cricket matches.  They thought my love of numbers might be handy in the accounting profession.

My first job was a Graduate Finance position with the South Australian Government.  One of my first major projects was to write a Finance Manual for Kindergarten (Pre-schools) administrators.

I had never worked in one of these positions before, so the challenge was to understand what they needed to do.  So I began to document these tasks, providing instructions and templates to help them with these.  A lot of the people that would use these manuals were from a non-financial background.  My main concern was that they would not understand the content.  I was straight out of University so I admitted to my manager that I had difficulty in writing for this audience.

I wanted to visit some of the kindergartens and spend time with the administrators.  I wanted to meet them and understand the challenges they faced.  I wanted to help them in person.  I have always placed a lot of importance in being able to look someone in the eye.  To understand how they are feeling.

I have always been an empathetic person.

Unfortunately, the department did not have the resources to assist me make my visits.  But, my manager did come up with another idea.  She would ask some administrators to “road test” the manual before publishing.

The whole process took 6 months (which was 3 months longer than originally planned) but the finished product was a manual that had been written and tailored for the intended user.

For the next 15 years I worked for some large corporations both in Australia and overseas.  Like all careers you have your ups and downs.

But five years ago it all changed…

I was in a high paying job that allowed me to provide a comfortable life for my family.  We were also putting money aside for the future.  This was how we were going to set-up our kids for their future.  It seemed to be going according to plan.  But there was a trade-off.

I was working long hours and I was not spending enough time with my young family.  I was staying in a job I did not enjoy because it paid well.  I did not realise this at the time, but I was constantly saying negative things about my job in front of the kids.

I knew things needed to change but I also wanted to be the ultimate provider for my family.  And then it all came crashing down around me….

On June 12, 2013 I was made redundant.

It was quite unexpected and it was a shock to me, my wife and especially my kids. Their dad had lost his job….what would he do now?  How was I going to provide for my kids future now?

The next morning, I got a call from a colleague with news of a job opportunity.  Having worked in finance for the last 15 years, I had the expertise they were looking for.  How lucky was I?  I wanted to say yes as it would have paid well and it would have removed our immediate money worries.  But without a second thought I politely declined the offer.  What was I thinking?  What have I done?

Maybe I didn’t want to jump too soon.  To be honest, I was scared to say yes.  I was scared of making the same mistake of accepting a job I didn’t like because it paid well.

Up to that point, the bulk of my decisions were driven by my desire to build a nest egg for my family.  I was just focussing on the numbers.  Losing my job was the best that happened to me.  It made me pause and reflect on my story behind the numbers.  It made me realise that I needed to change that story.

So I took some time off.  I would change my work habits so that I could spend as much quality time with my kids NOW, so that I could raise independent, confident young adults.

I wanted to help my kids understand the importance of their story.  And I wanted them to understand this from a young age.  Before numbers became important.  Because when you get older, it’s easier to fall into the trap.  The cycle of just focussing on the numbers.

Two weeks before I was made redundant, I published my book “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow – the fun and easy way to teach your kids about money”

This was how I was going to provide them with a head start in life.

It would be 12 months before I returned to work.  As a Finance Educator with the Australian Football League’s (AFL) training organisation.  Mentoring young people.  Helping them find their story through learning.

Last year I had the pleasure of presenting to the students of the Sports Leadership Program run by the AFL’s training organisation.

The students were covering the unit, “Managing Budgets and Financial Plans”.  The demographic of the group I was presenting to was early to mid 20’s who did not have a lot of experience in managing numbers.  Naturally, the unit they were covering was focused on finance and lots of numbers.

The challenge for me as the guest speaker was to share some valuable content to this group that would help them with this unit.  I needed to grab their attention from the start…I needed a great headline.

So I decided to tackle the elephant in the room.

“Why are budgets so boring?”

This was the question I posed to the group.  The look on their faces said it all “How could a Finance Guy ask that question?  Isn’t he telling us that what he does is boring?”

After a moment, the students started to respond.

“Staring at lots of numbers will send most people to sleep.”

“Complex calculations, involving lots of numbers will send most people to sleep.”

“Something that is tedious and takes a long time will send most people to sleep.”

I had a pretty good idea what their responses would be as I had experienced it first-hand over the last 20 years in my role as a finance analyst.

Staring at lots of numbers will send most people to sleep.  Understanding the story behind the numbers is what people want to hear about when it comes to budgets.

To illustrate this point, I shared a story with the students.

A local sporting club wanted to increase their revenue over the next 12 months.  They started by looking at the numbers.

They wanted to increase registrations by 10%.  They looked at last year’s numbers and did their calculations.  They shared their calculations with the key people on their committee.

They had their target.  They were ready to tackle the year ahead.  Or so they thought.

“But how are we going to do this?” asked one of the committee members.

There was a pause.

Then a member of the operations committee spoke up.

“Last year we started a specialized program in the early age groups.  It is targeted for new players to our sport.  The feedback from the parents was very positive.  We have kept 90% of the players that started this program.  I believe this is an area the club should continue to focus on.”

They all agreed that getting kids involved in sport from a young age was very important.  Getting kids active in today’s environment was a challenge worth pursuing.

They had found a common goal.  One that was important to all of them.  And they would pursue it together.

As I shared this story with the students they began to share their own experiences.  Each one had a story to share with the group.

At the end of the discussion they came to an agreement.

They would go back to their sporting clubs with one focus.

To better understand the story behind the numbers.  Because that’s what people want to hear about when it comes to budgets.

And they would do this with the support of other members of their sporting club committees.

Once the presentation finished I drove home to Geelong.  A 90 minute drive from where I had given the presentation in Melbourne.  And I sang my heart out for those 90 minutes.  All the way home.

It was the proudest memory of my career to date.

It was the day I decided to be the finance guy that helped others find their story behind the numbers.

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