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What losing my job taught me…

ENTERPRISE
By Winnie Makena | March 4th 2021

I was in employment for 14 years. My area of expertise was IT Audit. I have previously worked for Telkom Kenya, Deloitte and Refinitiv. A career-defining moment for me was authoring the anti-money laundering guide for accountants under the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK) that is still in use today.

I lost my job in 2019 and it is when I like to think I became a true hustler. In January 2020, I realised I was still very passionate about financial crime so I decided to be an independent consultant in the same field. It was an interesting time because a few months later the pandemic hit. Initially I had a partner,l but we parted ways and I went out fully on my own. I started my own firm called Due Diligence and we now have four on the team.

Learn to play office politics. It is the one thing I have learnt about the workplace. At one time in employment, I was the only risk and compliance person for East and West Africa offices and I was reporting more or less directly to the top-most person in South Africa. The role involved a lot of politics. I should have learnt to handle politics more proactively particularly with senior-level officers and not just focus on work. The earlier you wake up to the reality that staying at your job requires navigating office politics the better you can progress.

I had a career plan. My goal was to run my own firm by 2022. When employment was terminated I decided to start the business early. I saw the opportunity for the service I was offering was growing and I had built a good reputation with my contacts who already trust me. Because of this plan, losing the job did not destabilise me much. Of course, it was not a smooth transition. There was a three-month gap where I had not decided whether to go back to office work or jump into self-employment. Also, don’t fall prey to victim mentality. I am doing way better now and I am more respected in the industry since I left employment.

 Do and learn as much as you can where you are. You only connect the dots looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. Do your best where you are now. If you need to go back to school to learn a skill, do that.  Looking back at my career, I moved from being a hardcore programmer doing database design to being an IT auditor at some point working in communications and customer care departments to risk and compliance. They are very diverse fields but the skills I developed and networks I made come into play now in the opportunities I want to explore.

Have mentors. They will come in handy particularly when going through change. Chances are, they have gone through the same experience and will guide you. The thing with mentors is that you do not have to walk up to them and ask them to mentor you. You get it from conversations and interactions. My dad has taught me to manage time and resources and is my greatest mentor. But a number of my mentors are people I met online on LinkedIn that work in my field.

While working, diversify your sources of income. Employment is important but relying on that is disastrous. I would tell my younger self to take more risk and have more investments like in stock markets, farming back at home.  My life changed in some few ways. The savings I had and my other businesses did not give me the same level of income like my job so there was an adjustment to be made. It was the first time I had ever been unemployed since I stepped out of campus. I had to cut on frequent travel and holidays to remove unnecessary expenses. I used the time and cash I had to build my firm. I also moved from my rental house to build and move to my own house. It was one of the things I wanted to do but in 2025. Losing the job gave me the needed time to focus on that.

I TRADED MY MERCEDES FOR A PROBOX

Franklin Orwaru was retrenched three years ago

I was in the finance industry for over eight years working at KCB Group, Housing Finance and Thomson Reuters before I lost my job through retrenchment. In my last posting, I grew and managed new business pipeline for East Africa and maintained business in the Indian Ocean Islands.

You will always know when you are about to be retrenched. I had seen some of my colleagues who were doing better than me getting the cut and knew to prepare for my own letter to arrive. The financial division in the company I worked for was sold to a different organisation and half the staff was let go. I had worked there for about two years at the time and was at the top of my career.

After I lost my job, my life changed more than I anticipated. There was no consistent cash flow so I had to work on a shoestring budget. My daily expenses were drastically reduced. First, I parked my Mercedes and got a Probox to move around. I stopped traveling completely, both for holiday and to and from work. Due to the lockdown, there was not much movement anyway. I spent a lot of that time improving my skills in sales management and digital innovation online. I basically spent the time on personal development and exploring my passions. I also used my severance package to build my house to get rid of my rent expenses. That was my first priority since rent is the biggest expense and is recurrent.

 Immediately you lose your job they give you a severance pay and tell you they may call you in three months. If you are recalled, you are to return the whole amount. If not the money is yours. I was never recalled and I knew I had to start on job applications. The severance pay equivalent to six- month salary they offered was a buffer to give me time to find another job. However, work was not forthcoming that is when I refocused on a digital project. I wanted to build a Fintech product. I had experience in the financial markets from my immediate previous employer and the overall seven plus years in the finance industry. The project was a payment operations app that I had intended to do for a while and I am currently still working on. I also now work with Market Force 360 and own a metal fabrication machine that I lease out to blacksmiths and projects.

 You get to know your true friends when you lose your job. To get people who will check up on you or offer you financial assistance when you need it is rare and that is a defining life moment. Don’t live for the cheers. Also, find a deliberate life financial plan. Examine your expenditure. How are you spending money? Can you project your life five years from now? I learnt compounding interest can save your financial life so invest wisely.

Regrets? I wish I had known to...

1.       Enrol on any of the paid courses while in employment. Even though time was extremely limited I know now that I would have created a bit of time to gain new skills considering the company catered for all expenses.

2.       Not get an insurance policy that matured in four years. As much as I do not regret saving, a life insurance policy has several disadvantages including not being able to withdraw your money until the maturity date.

3.       Focus on my personal growth too. I focused too much on the job and not enough on my own personal growth. Upon leaving the job I found out I did not have much of a life outside my work.

AN EXPERT SURVIVAL GUIDE TO RIDING OUT A JOB LOSS

 CPA Peninah Kimani, MBA, BA, is a finance professional with over 13 years of experience in the financial services industry. She is the Founder of Mali Maestros.

As soon as you lose your job…

STEP 1: Self-assess and develop a plan.

1)      Categorise your expenses. Put down everything you spend money on. These could be rent, food, utility bills, school fees, entertainment etc.

2)      Divide them into essentials and inessentials.  Deciding what is essential is a very personal thing because what is essential for one may not be essential for another.

3)      With each essential, consider how you can cut down the cost. If say rent, you can move to a lower-income neighbourhood. You could also change to a cheaper mobile service provider. You could opt to drop off the kids to school or walk them and ditch the school bus. You could cut out the apples and eat the in-season fruits which are usually cheaper. Basically, look for cheaper options in everything.

4)      Review your monthly loan repayments.  Talk to your loan facility provider and discuss the possibility of deferring your repayments or extending your debt period (result in a reduction of monthly repayments).  Be cautious about deferring the repayments as it ends up being more expensive in the future and it is also a very short-term solution unlike reducing the repayment amounts. 

5)      Keep reviewing your plan against the actual on a regular basis for improvement.

 STEP 2: Review your income

The other side of the budget is sources of income. Review what kind of income you can manage to come up with from your assets base. If there is a way to start making some money, use it.

Asset portfolio review -  If you have some assets that can earn some passive income like a money market fund, treasury bills or bonds, then you should factor that income in your budget.  In case your asset portfolio has no cash-flow earning assets (land and personal vehicles), it may be time to convert some of the assets into a cash earning assets to fund your day-to-day life.

Cash in on your investment in risk management – The purpose of this investment is to ensure losses never exceed your acceptable boundaries. If your loss of income is due to a redundancy process, and you had invested in risk management, your credit insurance on the loans should make your monthly payments for the first six months. This time will give you space to review your options or if you need to sell the underlying assets.

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