How a retiree started investing at 77 and built a fortune in 12 years
Lots can be achieved with clarity of purpose and organisation when making investment decisions.
This week’s story is about a reader of this column, who used to write mails and share his stories for a long time. He liked to remain anonymous, so we will call him Uncleji. He was 89 years old when he passed away last week, leaving behind a portfolio of wealth that is a classic case study on bequest to the next generation. He had told me that I could write his story only after his time.
Uncleji worked for the central government and retired to his two-bedroom flat in the suburbs of a big city. He was your quintessential uncle next door with a simple routine that included taking morning walks, helping with the household chores, meeting friends for chai and chat, and attending social ceremonies to feel connected. He mostly read newspapers and magazines and watched some television, pursuing nothing new after retirement. He often told me that there was no story in his life, and I always disagreed.
He excelled in keeping things in order and had a great penchant for paperwork, processes and filing. It was an offshoot of his work at the government, where the paper trail was important, and reading the fine print was necessary. He read through all the mails that he got, and many of our conversations were about the information disclosures that came with his investments.
Uncleji did not dabble in stocks or buy based on tips. He was a conservative investor who believed that the schemes of the post office were the best choice for a retired person. That was to change in 2006, when he began to invest in mutual funds. That was a tumultuous year, with the cracks in the US housing markets already beginning to show. The Sensex was around 10,000 (Nifty around 2,600).
He divided his money into three portions. One was for his use; one was for emergencies and unexpected events; and one was for passing on. We agreed that the amount he wanted to pass on could take on the long-term view and get invested in an equity fund. The one he kept for unexpected events was invested in a balanced fund, which he could draw upon if needed, and could grow if he did not touch it. The portion for his use remained in the post office and later in bank deposits.
He invested the last portion in small instalments, putting the money in with glee when the markets fell. For a first timer, he was courageous. He told me that the money was for his grandson who was just 20 at that time. That boy would live to see the markets soar, so let’s take a bargain, he said. Uncleji’s approach assured me that clarity about end use significantly impacts how an investment decision is made.
He made every investment for his children or grandchildren in their name. In the case of his grandchildren, he went through the entire process of third-party cheque issuance, opening of a folio in the name of a minor, and made sure that the investment was in their names. He invested for his two children, but he made them joint second holders in investments he managed.
He would open the account or folio with a small minimum amount. That required the second joint holder’s signatures. Then he kept adding to that folio as he desired, operating as the first holder, and invested, received information and updates, and grew that folio. Every year, he ensured that money kept moving from his own portion of the corpus, into the portions he kept for his children.
Uncleji was also keen about fair play and made sure that the two folios he had for his children were identical in their holdings, so that their value would always be the same. By 2011, he was already very comfortable with what he was doing, logging in online to check the folios, using Internet banking to transfer money, and managing the tax reporting for all his investment activities. With the Nifty at 11,000 now, Uncleji’s investments have grown at 13% compounded per year, over a 12 year period. Not a mean achievement at all.
This approach means that now on his death, all that his children have to do is submit a copy of the death certificate to the mutual fund and ask for the first holder’s name to be removed from the folio. All the investments that Uncleji made will become the property of the joint holders, his children, with just this simple process. No notarization, no NOC, and no need for multiple trips to the bank or other offices. He ensured that his bank deposits and investments were similarly simplified.
When his post office accounts matured, he transferred the money to mutual funds and bank deposits. He was of the view that his money should be easy to access when he was gone. He always kept a single paper list of the investments, complete with all the details about the folio numbers, names and such details. He updated the value every year and placed that paper in the file.
Uncleji gave away whatever he desired in his lifetime. He felt that his children were still too young to donate, and ensured that his favourite religious institutions, his old school, his faithful maid and driver, were all given a yearly donation or gift. The house that he held in his name for the longest time, he registered in the name of his son and asked the son to transfer an amount equal to half the value of the property to his daughter, on the very date of registration. His children lived elsewhere and he lived in that house until his last. He divided his late wife’s jewels between the children and kept no gold for himself.
There is a lot that can be achieved with clarity of purpose and organisation. Uncleji used the time he had after retirement to put every single paper and investment in his possession, in impeccable order. He read, asked questions, took the time to argue, differ and finally understand how investments worked. He began when he was 77 years old, but in less than five years was completely in charge and left behind a fortune for his heirs.
Those who think it is too late to invest, too complex to manage money, too difficult to bequeath, or too taxing to handle paperwork, should be inspired by Uncleji’s story. …….. …