Investor Kristi Saare: "The goal is to build a portfolio for life."

Kristi Saare is an investor and entrepreneur who has inspired many Estonians to embark on an investment journey through her popular blog, book, and workshops. In an interview for sTARTUp Day blog, Kristi discusses the causes behind the recent explosive interest in investing and shares valuable tips for making one's first investment and building a portfolio for life.

Kristi started her investing career in 2012 when she transferred the first 10 euros from her teacher's salary to a crowdlending portal. Today, her portfolio includes stocks, index funds, real estate, loans, and startup investments. Kristi is also the founder of the NGO Female Investors Club and has won the title of Investor of the Year 2021. You can follow her on her website at kristiinvesteerib.ee.


The interview was written by Anette Tiitus, member of the sTARTUp Day Marketing & PR team.


The global investment frenzy has really taken off in the past year and a half. Why didn’t we talk about investment options for regular people before that?

There’s been an interplay of several causes. First, people were stuck at home due to the pandemic and had a lot of time and occasionally also money at hand. Another important reason is the progress of the fintech sector. Traditional banks have typically offered very expensive and complex investment products to retail investors; it wasn’t even possible to start investing with small sums. Now, we have trading platforms like Robin Hood where one can start with just ten dollars.


After all, the problem is not that people don’t want to invest. When discussing investing with them, they typically say that the problem is insufficient funds or that the whole thing is just too complicated. When I started investing, you needed at least 500 euros just to buy stocks on the Baltic stock exchange.

Now you can buy, for instance, a single Tallink stock on the Baltic stock exchange with no fees whatsoever.

The ease of access also attracts one’s friends and relatives to jump onboard. Moreover, the fintech sector's progress has brought to market convenience products, such as LHV Growth Account or Swedbank’s Robur investment funds, which again simplify investing for a layperson. You simply make a standing order and money will start to grow.


Why is financial literacy not taught at Estonian schools, is it a cultural thing? Do you view it as a problem, and what could be the potential solution?

It is a big problem, and in fact, considerable efforts are being made to tackle it. It’s a historical problem ‒ unlike in Finland or Sweden, we didn’t have a capitalist system for 50 years. Many of our parents have never used a number of financial services. Noone could pick up investing skills during the Soviet times or pass them on to their kids.


Today, however, there are already four Estonian-language investment books for beginners, plus several books written in Estonian for kids, including kindergarten children, and teens. The Ministry of Finance is nudging us firmly towards financial wisdom ‒ entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills are more and more prominent in kindergarten, primary and high school curricula.

It’s important to note that to reach all youngsters we need a finance-savvy teacher in front of the classroom at every school and achieving that requires time.

It’s positive that people of all ages strive to become finance-savvy, which allows them to teach financial skills to their kids and spread among their friends.


In short, the problem is being tackled on many levels in society, but it takes time to solve it. It’s also essential that youngsters, women, schools, and parents initiate investing groups to create communities and spread information.


I recently heard a successful local trader admit in an interview that her parents regard her job with skepticism. Why might people develop prejudices about investing and trading?

It’s worth noting here that investing and trading are not the same thing. About ten years ago, the term “freelancer” sounded strange, “entrepreneur” may sound scary to some. Many things that are unfamiliar at first make people hesitant and frightened.


Media also tends to amplify the negative. A stock crash on average every ten years gives another opportunity for dramatic stories about someone losing a home or blowing up their portfolio. Money is an emotional topic. When I started to discuss finances and investing, a family member asked me if I was not afraid someone would take the money from me if I talked about it so openly.


Which characteristics must a successful investor possess? What qualities have you had to develop yourself? 

A systematic approach, discipline, patience ‒ these are a must. While trading may bring short-term gains, the ultimate goal for an investor is to build a portfolio for life. Therefore, it’s important to think with a long-term perspective: if I save money now, I can live off it in 50 years’ time.


The Covid crash tested the patience and discipline of many investors, especially if you had to see your portfolio in the red for a while. I’ve been investing for ten years and I still don’t like to see red numbers. After all, noone wants to lose money, but self-discipline helps to stay on the road.


During the Covid selloff, we exchanged screenshots with friends to compare whose portfolio was the worst hit. In such a situation, you can do nothing but stay rational, which doesn’t mean it’s emotionally easy. The ability for self-analysis and self-control are what come to the rescue.


It’s relatively easy to learn how a certain order works or what a specific ratio or term means. However, it’s your behavior where you have so many possibilities to fail. You must constantly work on your mindset and continue learning to avoid that.


The first step of a journey is often the most difficult. I believe investing is not an exception. What should a first-time investor keep in mind or steer away from?

In fact, there are specific steps for embarking on an investment journey without jumping over one’s own shadow. First, you need to examine your financial situation. You can only invest the funds that you actually possess and don’t need for expenses. It’s crucial to create an emergency fund to have your back covered in case of a stock market crash. In general, the less expertise you have, the more calm and conservative your approach should be.

At the same time, there’s no point in reading 20 investing books before actually doing anything. With great likelihood, you won’t learn anything radically new after the third one. Practicing should start with broad-based, low-fee index funds. In Estonia, these are third pillar pension funds, which allow “discount” investing due to income tax refunds. It’s important to get your first 10 or 100 euros, and then the start has been made!

This year, pension funds have been a topical issue in Estonia. What advice would you give to people who decided to withdraw their money from the second pillar of the pension system to invest it on their own?

First of all, you don’t need to leave the second pillar to manage your pension money on your own. It’s worth reflecting on why none of the prominent members of the local investing community chose to withdraw their money. Let’s be realistic: if you didn’t invest earlier, the obstacle was not the mandatory second pillar pension savings but something else. At the moment, pension money is rather used as an excuse. As we spoke earlier, one can start investing with just one euro.


Which of your investments do you consider the most successful one? Why?

It’s a tricky question. Some investments have shown impressive returns, but to be honest, many of those have been pure luck. For example, some positive news came out and made the stock price surge, or you met the right person who gave a great tip. The best investment decisions are: investing with a lifetime horizon, truly familiarising yourself with the subject, and behaving accordingly.

People often fear missing out on some super investment opportunity. In reality, investment opportunities are like trams ‒ there will always be the next one.

You can find great investment opportunities in every sector, and new ones come by regularly. The most important thing is to be in the right place and ensure you have sufficient funds for investing once the opportunity comes.


In your view, which sector has the greatest growth potential in the coming years?

Covid forced us to get many things done. As a teacher, I saw the digital transition happening that we had been talking about for years. But such a forced transition to the digital world also revealed many things that can be improved. This prepares the ground for making changes and coming up with better solutions.

If someone came to you saying their goal is financial freedom, what would be your most important piece of advice to them?

The most important piece of advice would be to start now instead of waiting for “the best” or “the perfect” investment opportunity. The most significant factor impacting your portfolio is how much money you put into it at the start. For a regular person, this translates into saving money and looking for ways to increase your income so that you’d have more funds to invest. You will never dare to dream about big sums unless you start with small sums!


Read the interview in Estonian here. foundME is the official media partner of sTARTUp Day 2022, bringing to you top stories of the festival and Estonian startup community.

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