Maneuvering the bazaar wheels through the traffic packed city streets to the iconic Gulf Bank Headquarters is as difficult as we imagine the next interview topic is going to be. Finances, investment portfolios, trade funds, this isn’t our forte and quite frankly it’s doubtful we will ever have the money to play in these confusing areas either, right? Wrong! Gulf Bank’s AGM- Investments—Consumer Banking Tareq M. Al- Saleh gives bazaar the low-down on the easiest way to invest with Gulf Bank’s WISE, the latest and simplest financial service.
Greeting us with a broad and friendly smile we’ve decided to conduct the interview with Tareq in a lovely corner office on the fourth floor; all dark wood features and large windows. You can clearly see through the inner glass wall of the Jean-Robert Dello designed building to the free-standing concrete elements which make this building, finished in 1974, so iconic. Similarly, this is what WISE represents.
Gulf Bank takes you through a completely transparent way of investing with your own personal assigned advisor to guide you through the WISE investment process. It is a product that Tareq is rightly proud of and opens up investing to a completely new audience with WISE’s ten thousand-dollars (approximately KD 3,000) minimum investment, and no hidden penalties nor additional fees vision.
Growing up, did either of your parents or anyone else in your family advise you on finances?
My family did, especially during the Eid holidays which for me is a vivid memory of joy and celebration. With the Eidiya, you would get a lot of money, and, yes, enjoy some when you would buy your toys. But, my parents would urge us to save as well putting the rest away in a savings account, old school, with a book you would write down your deposits in. The bad side about growing up is that now, you have to give out Eidiya!
What was their best piece of advice?
You have to have something today in order to service you in the future. You never know what circumstances you can come across, what’s going to happen. This was part of our thinking when it came to designing the WISE platform; after the  invasion, that experience affected a lot of people, and now many people are aware of the benefits of having investments in the international markets.
Your background from the very beginning of your university career in 1990 was in economics, what was it about that subject that interested you at such a young age?
I was always fascinated with finances and with how countries overall operate, writing and blogging about it. Even after graduating, I joined the Kuwait Economics Society, eventually becoming the chairman of the society.
What was your inspiration behind creating the WISE investment product?
As a lot of people don’t have access to international markets, we thought ‘How can Gulf Bank give them this access?’ Instead of going to a diwaniya and losing my money in the latest or hottest stock, which, if it’s being talked about, is probably at its peak, it was clear to us at Gulf Bank that people need to invest in international markets in the proper way. That’s how the story started, we had to find an innovative way to address this need and we created this platform using the latest technology so that Gulf Bank customers can invest in an educated, diversified, long-term manner.
In summary; it started with the customer’s need to invest in the international market, to do it in the right way, to give them that access with a relatively low amount of money [ten thousand dollars], in a very reasonable, easy and cost-efficient way.
Why ten thousand dollars as the minimum investment amount?
We wanted to hand-hold customers. So, it’s a reasonable amount to get started, and at the same time we can manage this with the [advisors] resources that we have. We want to make sure, especially initially, that we have the time to give customers advice and not just leave them alone with the platform. The amount needed to be the right balance between an amount that is reasonable for a large section of society and to allow them enough to have a meaningful dialogue with an investment manager.
Having an investment portfolio or a certain amount of savings, which would you advise someone in their 30s to focus on?
If you invest your money in the right way, you’re not going to lose it. You have to invest in a diversified way and you have to invest for the long-term. Why not stick your money under a mattress or in a couch?
In reality, you end up losing that way. You need to generate growth with your money and achieve a return or you will lose out because of inflation.
What is the single most important thing about WISE that makes it different to other personal investment financial products?
here’s a social aspect to what we are trying to promote; it’s of great benefit to society. WISE is simple, transparent and cost efficient. One low management fee with no hidden costs, no exit penalties, no minimum time, just very simple and straightforward. At the end of the day; it’s a philosophy and we very much want to make sure that we are very much aligned with our clients. It’s easy; in less than ten minutes you can have a well-balanced diversified investment in the international market that suits your requirement.
WISE is transparent; you know exactly what you’re investing in, you can track it anytime and anywhere on your mobile device or online, and it is cost efficient. It’s nice that it’s a business that is well-aligned with Gulf Bank clients, and at the same time promotes a social message that is so important.
How do you combat hyper-consumerism by investing for the future?
Build that safety net, build that habit to save, and invest in the right way, it doesn’t contradict you taking risks but it’s always beneficial to have that safety net because you never know. If you have the right investments portfolio set aside that is growing, you can take more risks. I think it’s powerful. It gives you freedom.
In life, is it ever too late to start investing?
[Tareq smiles] Simply put, it’s never too late to be WISE.