inspiringlives

Judith Muhoro did not become a personal financial advisor by design. Circumstances made her one. To many of her friends, relatives and those lucky to pass through her hands, she has become a fountain of financial wellness, accepting nothing much in return except their gratitude and the satisfaction of seeing changed fortunes. She shares with ESTHER AKELLO her unprecedented journey of financial mentorship to those who least understand what it means to have financial freedom.

Judith Muhoro wears many hats. An accountant by training, she has delved into the world of entrepreneurship – trying her hand at farming and running a micro-credit company, but her passion, training, has grounded her. She considers training not just a passion but also her calling. She is currently a lecturer in accounts and finance at St Paul’s University in Limuru.

Her training is not limited to just the classroom. Over time, she has found herself thrust into the murky world of personal finance but of a different kind. Whereas personal finance is considered a preserve of the wealthy and urban middle class, Judith offers the service for free to people in the low-income bracket and those who least understand finances. Her success stories vary from farmers on the brink of bankruptcy to casual labourers owning prime pieces of land but have no idea what to do with them.

“I believe everyone deserves to live a dignified life and have the ability to make sound financial decisions to achieve their life’s goals,” she says.

Judith grew up in Nairobi’s Buruburu estate and describes her parents as serial entrepreneurs from whom she learnt the importance of taking care of one’s finances and maintaining different sources of income. Her father was an insurance agent and her mother a teacher. However, owing to the turbulent times the eighties was for the Kenyan insurance industry with many companies facing collapse, her mother resigned from her job, moved back to their rural home in Othaya and became a farmer. In addition, she started a café and curios business to supplement the family income. She credits her mother with teaching her the importance of budgeting and recordkeeping.

“My parents’ experience inspired me to make sense out of cents. Despite my father’s job uncertainties, we continued going to the same schools and ate the same way because our parents’ made sound financial decisions. My mother stuck to her budget without diverting anything outside her plans unless it was for a medical emergency,” she reminisces.

The need to become ‘money wise’ came calling when Judith was in her third year at university. Circumstances forced her to take over the management of her father’s insurance agency and her mother’s café business.  “My mother’s business was on the brink of collapse for lack of record keeping and accountability. I introduced these measures and within no time the business was up and running,” she says.

Having gained considerable experience from helping to manage her parents’ businesses, Judith left her lecturing job at Strathmore University in 2004 to start a micro-credit company. She says this venture brought her more misery than profits. Most of her clients became loan defaulters not because they were poor, but because they had gotten into a habit of living in a cycle of debt. When her business eventually collapsed, it was not without Judith learning many valuable lessons. She realised her clients were always in debt, and therefore unable to meet their obligations, because they were poorly managed financially.

“I wanted to help these people. I realised giving them money just to push them deeper into debt was not the right thing for me to do. I needed first to train them how to manage the money. They needed financial advice to enable them handle their money,” says Judith, adding that this was how she realised her calling was to train people on how to manage money and not to give it.

Whereas Judith wanted to make a living out of her financial training business, the people she was dealing with could not afford to pay for her services and so she gave it for free. Seeing people turn round their fortunes made her so happy that making money stopped being a priority.

Judith has helped many people including her uncle, a farmer, who, in 2013 was admitted in hospital suffering from stress after being threatened with the auctioneer’s hammer because of the many debts he had accumulated in his farming business. He asked Judith to loan him money to pay off the creditors but Judith refused and instead volunteered to help him salvage his business.

Judith went into her uncle’s farm and took stock of his assets and operations. She realised her uncle was doing too many things that were not bringing him an income and his record keeping was pathetic. She advised him to stop all other farming activities and concentrate on rearing chickens and tending to his tea. Within no time he started making money and was able to pay off his debts.

“Personal finance does not make sense to a lot of people until they make winnings. Most people find it difficult to believe they can achieve their financial goals until they pay off a debt or buy their first plot – an achievement they thought impossible. It is simply a question of mind set,” says Judith who is currently pursuing a PhD in accounts.

“Personal finance is about teaching people how to control their finances no matter how big or small they are. A lot of people mistake personal finance management as a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme, but creating wealth takes time and sound judgment. Your money is going to go somewhere, so why not prudently tell it where to go?” Judith explains the essence of her work.

Judith says she has mentored over 50 people from all walks of life. Some are friends, others family and yet others referrals from those she has helped before. Among the people she is currently mentoring is a casual labourer at a construction site and her cleaning lady.

“When I met Tabitha in 2008, she was in the business of washing people’s clothes to support herself and her two children, charging each client Ksh 400 per wash. Now she charges about Ksh 700 and owns three plots to boot, thanks to the financial guidance I have provided. She grows tea on one of the plots and is now saving to add to this plot. She also has rental houses on another plot,” Judith talks about her cleaning lady.

Judith concedes that it has not all been smooth sailing and there are those who look at her with scepticism. “When I started out on this work my family, and even my husband, did not understand why I was doing it for free. In fact, one time I approached a bank to offer their staff free training and they refused because they couldn’t understand why I would be giving such as service for free. But after observing successes of those I have helped, many people, including my family, started believing in me and often come to me for advice,” she says.

Judith’s greatest advice on personal finance management is the importance of saving to grow wealth. She inculcates a saving culture to those she mentors, including her children whom she encourages to save from their pocket money and gifts they receive. She says financial discipline is important as the culture of wanting instant gratification leads to one spending all they have and not putting away something for a rainy day.  

akello@parents.co.ke

Published in May 2015