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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Money & Me: 'Achieving financial independence has been my biggest milestone'

Noor Bank chief John Iossifidis says he has enough savings but he still plans to work until 65

John Iossifidis of Noor Bank says he does not work for money; instead making a difference is more important to him. Victor Besa / The National 
John Iossifidis of Noor Bank says he does not work for money; instead making a difference is more important to him. Victor Besa / The National 

John Iossifidis is the chief executive of Noor Bank. Born in Australia to parents of Greek descent, he worked in Australia, Asia and the Middle East, with ANZ, Standard Chartered and Mashreq, before assuming his current role 18 months ago. Mr Iossifidis, 57, lives in Umm Suqeim 3, but is having a house built in Dubai Hills with his wife Elisa Fausto, who runs a yoga studio on Sheikh Zayed Road. Father to a grown up son and daughter from his previous relationship, he shares his money journey.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I’m an only child, but have a big family on my mother’s side. My father left Athens and studied in the US from the age of 17 and went to Australia when he met my mother. They emigrated in the ‘50s. My mother did the most unrecognised and underpaid role of motherhood, running the household. I went to one of the elite Melbourne schools, but our house was a 140 square metre three-bedroom home. I used to travel two hours to and from school, catch the bus to the train to catch the tram and then walk. My father was an entrepreneur, initially in refrigeration and air conditioning, but he later moved into shipping, shipping supplies and then the hotel business. The ups and downs of running multiple businesses … I don’t have the same risk-taking capabilities he did. I’m a bit more conservative. Maybe that’s why I’ve ended up as a qualified accountant and banker.

What were you paid in your first job?

I was working from the age of 15 as a sales assistant in a department store doing a Thursday, Friday, Saturday job. It was casual paid employment - maybe AUS$10 (Dh27) an hour. One of things I did was close the till at the end of the day, taking the money up to where they collected it. I guess it was banking in one sense, responsibility. The other skill it taught was how to relate to and engage, talk to people you meet for the first time. I did that until I finished uni and then I had job offers from accounting firms and two banks. I didn’t see myself being a chartered accountant so ended up in banking. I said I’d give it two years. That was with ANZ; 34 years later I’m still a banker.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I’m balanced. There’s a kitty put away for the future, but I also enjoy life.

Where do you save?

Predominantly real estate; here, Australia, Thailand. All, with the exception of the UAE, are more rental and capital growth (orientated). Australia’s seen tremendous capital growth. Phuket pays for itself. Secondly (I save) in fixed income bonds; third in shares and equities.

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What brought you to Dubai?

The first time was 2000, to a workshop I was running; ANZ had acquired Grindlays Bank. I was in Sri Lanka from 1997 to 2000, during the civil war. ANZ then sold Grindlays to Standard Chartered, who made me an offer I couldn’t refuse so I ended up in Dubai during integration of the two banks. That took two years. I went to Singapore for two years, then came back here in 2003.

What made you choose a banking career?

It was default in one sense. I really didn’t want to be an accountant. I did enjoy the economic side of things and saw finance being a broad-based career that I could grow in. The other thing is, I always had the ambition to travel as part of my work; I could see banking, particularly with one of the bigger banks, was going to give that opportunity. In 1984 I started on the ANZ graduate programme, my first job in a branch, in Australia. I did telling duties, so I understood the branch operations. I ended up in financial accounting a year later. Multiple careers in one industry … you learn how things work and the process that happens. That understanding has developed over time.

What has been your best investment?

A plot of land I bought in Australia, Portsea on the coast. That is worth four times the amount it was in a 15-year period. It was a significant purchase and is a much bigger part of the portfolio now.

What is your philosophy towards money?

I work to live and I enjoy life. I really enjoy my work as well or I wouldn’t work as hard as I do. And money affords you the comforts or pursuits you desire.

Mr Iossifidis says his most cherished purchase is a Porsche 997GT3 RS he bought in 2007 for Dh500,000. Victor Besa / The National 
Mr Iossifidis says his most cherished purchase is a Porsche 997GT3 RS he bought in 2007 for Dh500,000. Victor Besa / The National 

What is your most cherished purchase?

I’m into cars, a Porsche fanatic. I’ve got a 997GT3 RS. They produced 1,900 globally and the particular combination I’ve got is one of 400. That gives me the most excitement. I bought that here - more or less Dh500,000, in 2007. In the UK or Europe they’ve doubled in price over a 10-year period. It’s something I use and enjoy.

Is there anything you regret spending on?

I invested in a mutual fund in 2000, just before the dot.com crash. It took eight or nine years to get back to 75 per cent of what I originally invested.

What are you happiest spending money on?

Experiences. We enjoy travel, whether family holidays cycling through Italy or Portugal with my kids, or going to the Maldives. I enjoy (participating in) motorsport and try to do one, two or three events a year. Most recently I did the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series Middle East; six races over three weekends in February.

What’s been your key financial milestone?

To have financial independence and not be relying on the government supporting me. That was achieved a while ago; having enough behind me, savings, a home that’s paid for. What that does is allow you freedom based on values. I enjoy my work, and that’s the truth. I don’t work for money; leaving a legacy and making a difference is equally as important to me, if not more important, than pursuit of the dollar.

Are you wise with money?

I’m knowledgeable in money. I like to enjoy life - that means we travel and experience things as opposed to save everything for retirement. I’ve been told that I’m a generous person. I don’t know any other way.

Do you plan for the future?

I have my plans in place. I have financial independence behind me. You also plan in terms of longevity in work. The retirement age in the bank is 65. There are plans we’ve got for the business we’re trying to build that actually mean I have to be here for three to five years more, at least to see the fruits of today’s efforts.

What would you raid your savings for?

Supporting family if they need medical (help). That’s number one.