Today, exactly 22 years ago on 7th of August, 1997 I started something which has truly been a great journey, with many obstacles, stressful nights, countless learning curves but also a journey with a lot of fun, excitement and many close relationships and friendships being built. On that day I made my first ever investment decision and entered the financial markets. I was 18 years old with ink still fresh on my high school graduation diploma.
Our family lived in a small village in Estonia called Kadrina which was and still is today quite far from the financial world. Nonetheless, in that village in 1997 there were two subscribers to a daily Estonian financial newspaper Aripaev. One of these subscribers happened to be myself as at 16 years old I had read probably the greatest book of all time written by French novelist Honoré de Balzac with a title “The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans”. In that book you can read a lot what sort of power financial wealth can give to people and coming from a small village, I guess I wanted to achieve something in my life as well.
The other reason why I decided to subscribe to the daily newspaper was the legendary drama film with Michael Douglas, Wall Street. Watching the movie at 16 and seeing the fast pace of the financial world, the ticker tape, nice suits, 5 phones constantly ringing on the desk of Gordon Gekko, well, it really resonated with something in my mind.
So the last 2 years of the high school I would anxiously wait for the new print of the daily newspaper appear in the mail box. I would read the news, over time start to understand who are the key players in the business world, why certain deals were being made, etc. At that time all Estonian banks had to publish their monthly balance sheets in a daily newspaper and I would cut them out with scissors and glue them into my school notebook where I would be able to compare the financial figures with previous months and do comparative peer analysis. Reading on a daily basis any news about these same banks helped me to come to conclusions why certain banks were growing and others not. Some of the banks would ultimately fail and I would then go back in my notebook and try to find out whether financials had shown this stress beforehand. It was a beautiful notebook. Not in any way comparable to Excel because you can’t glue anything on Excel. Like football fans have their favorite clubs, I developed a fanatic relationships with certain Estonian banks like Hansabank (now Swedbank) and Forexbank (now Danske Bank).
I remember that at certain point I started feeling a bit awkward going to school in the morning as it seemed so distant from what I actually wanted to do in my future life. I loved math and physic though, geography and the languages – all of the subjects that have turned out to be quite useful in my career.
In the afternoon of 7th of August, 1997 I would physically walk into the office of Hoiupank (now Swedbank) and ask the teller to sell me some shares of a Russia-focused mutual fund. That fund had been one of the best performers in 1997 so it seemed logical to jump in.
It is interesting that in 1997 no bank had an internet bank. Everything had to be done either in the physical office of a bank or over the phone. There was no website I could check the live quotes of my mutual fund. I would either call the bank next day or read a daily newspaper in order to find out whether my investment appreciated or depreciated.
You will know the outcome of my first investment if you google 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and 1998 Russian Financial Crisis. By the way, can you tell me, what would be the percentage return of my investment into this Russian mutual fund (effectively Russian stock market) if I had kept it until today?
Another interesting point about my first investment is that the currency used to execute it was Estonian kroon which was replaced with Euro on the 1st of January, 2011. The total investment made was 10,883 Estonian kroons which is equal to 695 Euros today. I remember that at that time it seemed to be all the money in the world. The 3 bedroom apartment where our family lived had a market value somewhere in the range of 1,000 to 1,500 Euros which was pretty much the only asset our family owned.
The bank I used to make my first investment has changed owners and brand names many times but it is still around under the brand of Swedbank. The mutual fund I invested in is long gone.
Today I could do similar investment through the internet without leaving my house. I can see live prices of any investment through internet bank or any other public source available online. In 1997 you could invest only into securities or mutual funds issued in Estonia. Today you can buy shares in any global market, be it in Japan or the Americas. Most of these products can be traded through a trading platform with LIVE prices and you can do it even from a mobile device while sitting on a bus. Instead of reading news on paper and using glue to attache balance sheets on a school notebook, all people today have laptops, desktops and other devices where you can do your analysis. In 1997 I did not have a computer to do any analysis because a laptop at that time costed more than our family apartment.
Reflecting back from where I started my own journey in 1997 and seeing how much technology and the financial markets in general have developed over these 22 years make me quite excited what the future can bring. In 1997 everything was so manual. In 2019 we have most of the Clients of our firm trading with trading algorithms and robots from more than 140 countries globally. The world has become so global, so interconnected and surprisingly so small.
The last weekend I visited our village in Estonia. It still seems to be quite distant from the financial world. I liked that most of the houses in the village were renovated, the high school was nicely painted with new windows. In front of our apartment building they had just recently installed a new kids playground and a big project in the village today is replacing the underground tubes that deliver heat to the houses. Most of these investments are possible because Estonia has enjoyed a remarkable development from a former gray Soviet republic to one of the leading centers of innovation and technological development in Europe.
The paper stock purchase instruction that I used in 1997 I will keep for the future. It will be cool to show to the kids when they get a bit older to show them how the world was in the old days. But it will also help me to remind me from where I came, how things worked before and enable me to be progressive and embrace innovation.