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Ambareen Musa, a single mother of two children, says she wants to help as many people as possible to optimise budgets, minimise expenses and maximise savings. Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Dubai: Ambareen Musa is the first Mauritian I have met. When I tell her as much, she is hardly surprised. My next sentence, a question actually, seems equally predictable to her: “What’s it like coming from such an exotic country?”

“Well, as you can see, being a Mauritian helps break the ice so naturally,” she laughs. “Everyone wants to know about my life back in Mauritius. It’s a great place, an ideal holiday destination, but somehow, my two older brothers and I grew up, knowing we would leave the comfort of our home one day.”

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Financial guru and CEO of a Dubai-based financial education platform (Yabi by Souqalmal), today, Musa is out to change lives. Her practical tips and “proven” methods are aimed at helping people optimise budgets, minimise expenses and maximise savings and investments.

A single mum with two children, she too lives by the same principles, which she says have held her in good stead.

Early economics: Ambareen Musa makes it a point to educate her two children, above, about the importance of being financially literate. Image Credit: Supplied

“It’s something I learnt from my parents – to stay relevant, be financially independent, and have the freedom of choice,” she explains.

“My father ran three businesses while my mother had a catering venture. I worked with both of them even when I was in school and learnt the ropes of the trade. I would spend my summer holidays too decorating wedding cakes and laying out trays of pastries. I also managed to build a database for my father’s receivables when I was 15. It made him very proud,” she recounts.

Spirit of enterprise

After Musa finished high school in Mauritius, she left for Melbourne in Australia for her university studies. Her spirit of enterprise resurfaced here, giving birth to a budding entrepreneur.

“I was in my final year of university when a friend and got talking about the lack of campus accommodation and the hunt for alternative options. International students like us had a tough time finding a place to live. Our parents would invariably have to travel with us to settle us in, which made things more expensive. So, we decided to meet landlords who had rooms to spare and convinced them to advertise with us on a dedicated website that we set up. We even showed the properties with a 360 degree view, enabling virtual tours for potential tenants,” she says, adding it was unheard of at the time.

As president of the International Student Society in her university, Musa even lobbied with the management to cross-refer her website in their offer letters to international students. It was a win-win situation for all and the portal became an instant hit.

Ambareen Musa always believed there needed to be greater clarity on the terms and conditions of bank loans, structuring of interest rates and their selling and mis-selling. Image Credit: Shutterstock

When Musa was ready to leave college, she and her partner decided to sell the website - at a profit.

The taste of that success still lingers with Musa, whose entrepreneurial skills found full expression in Dubai. Armed with an MBA from INSEAD business school in France, she had made a mark for herself in the corporate circles of Melbourne and London. She now yearned to try something on her own, something “new and adventurous”.

Dubai did not disappoint a she gained wide exposure to new people and new industries in her consulting job. The urge to become more relevant, as her father had taught her, was stronger now than ever before.

Musa remembers how her six-week maternity leave as a new mother enabled her to reflect on what she could do.

“One of the things that struck me, because of my own experience with a car loan, was the need for greater clarity when it came to the terms and conditions of bank loans, structuring of interest rates and their selling and mis-selling,” she says.

Dubai, says Ambareen Musa, helped her tap her potential to the fullest. Image Credit: Agency

Dire need

The more she thought about it, the more she was convinced that there was a dire need for creating greater public awareness on everything to do with credit cards, bank loans, mortgages, accounts and the like.

In 2012, she started Souqalmal, an online platform which compared thousands of personal finance products, breaking them down into components that the layman could understand.

“Souqalmal grew 3X in three years and when we started to cover insurance as well, it grew 7X. We wanted to help people to compare and purchase their car, health, travel, yatcht and home policies online,” she says, attributing its runaway success to the yawning market gap that it was able to fill.

Musa decided to go in for a sale and exit in 2022, following which the asset management and investment banking platform that picked up the majority stake in Souqalmal asked her about her future plans.

She had a fair idea of where she was headed. “I wanted to build on what I had done and help people become financially literate, set money goals and achieve financial freedom. So I came up with Yabi, an app with 15-plus online classes from budgeting to asset allocation,” she says, adding how a survey done by Yabi recently showed how one in two people lack confidence in their finances.”

20240401 Ambareen Musa
Ambareen Musa strongly believes in staying relevant, being financially independent and exercising the freedom of choice. Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

The questions addressed by Yabi include everything from how much should someone be spending on rent, travel and entertainment and how much they should invest and in what to what all the fuss about crypto is and what financial scams they need to be aware of. The classes are run by well-known financial coaches.

Ask Musa how one can plan one’s budget at the personal level, and pat comes the reply: “Just follow the 50-20-30 rule – it’s the ideal ratio in which you should spend your earnings on your needs, savings and wants respectively; then, look to clear your debts, factoring that from your 50 per cent; make sure you have an emergency fund - six months of your basic salary factored from your 20 per cent; and work on building your wealth by investing long-term.”

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Musa then breaks into a chuckle. “There goes – mum with her favourite lecture – that’s what my kids say when I get started. But jokes apart, financial literacy is the key - to be monetarily independent and exercise the freedom of choice. It all comes back to where I began – the basic lessons I myself learnt as child,” she adds.

How to spend, save your money

Learn how to budget: Stick to the 50-20-30 rule, earmarking 50 per cent of your income to cover your expenses for your needs (food, rents, education etc); 20 per cent on savings, bpoth short and long-term and 30 per cent on meeting your wants (entertainment, shopping etc)

Look at how you can reduce your debts: Factor them in the 50 per cent expense

Start an emergency fund: This is six months of your basic salary (Build this from the 20 per cent)

Build wealth: Do not invest in something you do not understand. this is a long-term gain; figure out your risk appetite and invest in real estate, world index funds or whatever suits your budget