Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bumping Into a Reader

The world is full of coincidences. During the Admits Weekend at LBS as I was queuing up for the cloakroom, I met a fellow admit from Thailand (yes, you meet new people in queues too!). We had a conversation about how many Kiwi admits there are (making us very easy to keep track of) and he mentioned there was a Kiwi who went to LBS who had a blog.

Which led me to wonder whether one of the other Kiwis also had a blog... "I have a blog" I told him. Thereupon we discovered the blog he was referring to was mine. According to him he had a friend in Japan who discovered my blog, told him about it, and his friend has also now been inspired to apply to LBS after reading my blog.

What a coincidence aye? This bumping into a reader really highlighted to me how words can really inspire people - something I haven't thought so much about before in my writing. I had a bit of a "*gasp* someone is actually reading this" moment. It's both awesome and terrifying at once really. So I just want to say thank you to my readers (now that I know I actually have some), and hopefully you'll find something useful in my blog as you embark on your pursuit of the MBA. And who knows, maybe I'll bump into you at LBS :)

Monday, 30 May 2016

Day 1 of the Weekend | LBS Admits Weekend Part 2

The London Business School Admits Weekend officially kicked off on Saturday morning with registrations and breakfast. We received a carry bag, name tags, schedules and an MBA2018 tee at registration. Unusually, breakfast was provided in little brown paper bags which reminded me of old-school packed lunches. Naturally, breakfast was also a socialising affair and a chance to meet more new classmates, some of whom had only flown in the night before, skipping the optional Friday night reception I mentioned in my previous post.

Breakfast led to welcome speeches by several key personnel and introductions to the MBA admissions team and the student ambassadors. We were split into 2 groups with different schedules. My group started with a big Q & A session regarding the MBA Program where some key questions regarding the program were answered - a detailed write up on the various components is to come.

The session was followed by an interesting lecture on the psychology of ethical decision making by Assistant Professor Daniel Effron, who has just about had qualifications from every top ivy league school. The lecture covered his findings from various studies on the concept of good "credits", which then allow people to do the occasional "bad" thing without feeling bad about themselves. For example, allowing participants to show non-prejudice behaviour shortly before resulted in more responses that could be seen as prejudiced. Assistant Professor Daniel Effron is a lecturer for Operational Sciences and I can definitely see myself taking most of the operational science electives.

We then broke for a delicious lunch (my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach there), which was followed by a speed networking session. The concept behind the speed networking session was great with interesting questions to discuss. However with the large number of people all talking simultaneously, I found myself having to yell my conversations. It was also luck that determined whether or not you ended up meeting people whom you'd already met before or not.

After this we had a presentation by the student ambassadors, giving us more insight into the life of an MBA student. The key points I got from the presentation was then I should expect to have a really full calendar, and not to over-commit and take on too much. The fact that you really had to prioritise was emphasized over and over. Definitely good advice as the current students did say that whatever you want to do, the MBA provides opportunities in abundance.

Following this presentation, we broke up into 4 career groups - consulting, finance, entrepreneurship and other, and tech & media. The groups we were assigned to depended on what we'd selected on the registration form for the Admits Weekend. For me this was consulting and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately we only were allowed to attend 2 sessions. The sessions were also run as a Q&A rather than a presentation. It did mean though that the information gathered depended upon your questions and those of your group members. It would have been nice to have this as a combined session so we could have found out what other groups had asked - after all, you don't know what you don't know. Also it would have been nice to be able to attend all 4 sessions. In any case, I'm pretty sure we'll hear lots from career services over the next year.

The career session marked the end of the "information" part of the day - phew! We then headed to The Windsor for more socialising and to use the 2 free drink coupons we were given in the morning. A delicious BBQ in the picturesque LBS lawn was put on for dinner (more socialising and meeting new people). Then it was into the Nash Lounge for the famed Sundowners - free beer, cider and wine. Sundowners happens every Thursday and across all programs - a good chance to...yep, meet more new people :)

The day ended at 11pm, but of course there was an after party - after all, why not prolong the great fun we were having? So I found myself back in The Windsor for more socialising (yelling conversations). I did leave at a very respectable quarter past midnight though since there was still Day 2 to come.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Overview | LBS Admits Weekend Part 1

I recently returned from attending the London Business School Admits Weekend held last week. Let me just say upfront - for those who are planning to apply for the MBA programme at LBS in future, you really don't want to miss the May Admits Weekend! It's part of the whole amazing MBA experience at LBS and is worth every penny and km of travel...at least that's how I felt. So I'm really glad I flew halfway around the world to attend it as I would have been kicking myself otherwise :)

I'll be doing a bit of a series regarding the event, including all the very useful information about the MBA programme itself that I can recall from the event - answers by the program team & current students. It should hopefully provide some helpful information for anyone researching the LBS MBA program and current admits who missed the event.

A bit of a run down on what I did in London last week leading up to the event:

  • Arrived in London mid afternoon completely exhausted from over 14 hours of flying from Singapore. Couldn't sleep a wink on the flights so I'd gone almost 48 hours without sleep due to the time difference.
  • Managed to last till 8.30pm London time before I fell asleep mid conversation with the mate kindly hosting me. I tried very hard to stay up to a decent hour to minimise jet lag.
  • Woke up at 7.30am London time ~ yay not really jet lagged!
  • Planned to get a UK SIM so I could get data connection rather than using auto roaming - made sense to just get one now since I'd be moving to London later anyway. As I was staying in East London not far from Stratford, I headed out to explore Stratford and the huge Westfield Mall there that was developed for the London Olympics. I'm also a Westfield stockholder so I figured it would be nice to see one of my investments in person ;)
  • Spent the day wandering about Stratford, visited 4 different supermarkets and picked up my SIM before heading back for dinner with my mates.
  • Woke up early too but felt kinda lazy and tired. Considered going to town briefly but didn't feel up to it.
  • Spent the day instead exploring Canning Town and er...the supermarket >.<
  • Headed back earlier for another night of good home cooked dinner and interesting conversation spanning risk management, London real estate, Michelin star restaurants and politics.
  • Woke up early again and the weather was pretty lousy. Had a mid-morning nap while waiting for the rain to stop so I could go out :p
  • Headed to central London to check out the Museum of London. I love how most of London's museums are free. Interesting fact: in excavating to build the Crossrail line, they discovered a tradition Maori weapon artefact. Seems NZ has followed me to London ;)
  • Headed to the National Portrait Gallery to escape the rain. The Tudor gallery is highly recommended!
  • Met an old schoolmate for dinner in Covent Garden
  • Met up with another MBA admit for lunch and to wander around Paddington/Little Venice in the afternoon. We'd arranged it via WhatsApp.
  • Around 40 of us who were already in London then met up at a rooftop bar (very pretty views and highly popular with the professionals) for some pre-Admits Weekend socialising. This was followed by taking over another bar (much cheaper drinks) and then splitting up to have a very late dinner. Met amazing people and marvelled over the background diversity.
  • Some of the group headed out clubbing afterwards. Was getting late and felt bad if I got back really late and woke my kind hosts up, so headed home with people going in the same direction to arrive at midnight.
  • Met up with new friends from last night for drinks in afternoon...and met a few more new people
  • Wandered around the area before heading to a pub near the LBS welcome reception venue in Shoreditch.
  • Met more new people at the very packed pub and had very loud conversations over the din. Did not make time to have dinner - big mistake
  • Headed to the LBS welcome reception starving. Good thing there were nibbles but unfortunately they were nibbles.
  • It was a massive turnout with current student ambassadors. Met even more new amazing people and had more very loud conversations over everyone else's very loud conversations. Repeated where I was from, what I did, what I wanted to do over and over and over...you get used to it.
  • Had an amazing time but passed on the post event clubbing/partying as I wanted to be awake for the full on Admits Weekend day.
Moral of the story - plan to be in London early for unofficial pre-event socialising! It's much easier to meet and remember names and faces in batches.

Next up is a detailed post on the first official day of the Admits Weekend :)

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Budgeting for London Living Costs

When thinking about funding, I've found that it's easy to forget though that aside from the huge fee for tuition alone, there's 2 years worth of living costs to work into calculations as well.

So how much do you really need to live in London? I've been doing a fair amount of research to estimate this, after speaking to friends who live in London, LBS alumni and current LBS students. Obviously this is highly dependent upon your lifestyle and what you plan to prioritise with a limited budget. I'm just going to share here what I've gathered so far.

Speaking to alumni, something like £300-350 per week is a pretty reasonable budget as living costs. I thought this sounded quite good so I've been using this as the basis for my living cost budget.

Of this budget, the bulk of it would naturally go towards rent. Especially since I plan to live close to school (which everyone advises is a good idea at least for the first year). I did some research on rentals and you can get a room in a 2-3 bedroom apartment in St John's Wood, Marylebone and Maida Vale (suburbs near LBS) for £230 per week, all bills inclusive. I've thus made this my max price for looking for accommodation.

I've heard from friends that food in London is cheap - if you cook it yourself. Basically what this means is that groceries are cheap, but eating out isn't (expect £15-20 at an average restaurant). Friends have said that groceries are cheaper in London than in Singapore. For instance, you could get 3 whole chickens for £7 (though that is a lot of food for one). I'm not sure if I'll find time to cook properly much, but putting together sandwiches and the occasional cooked meal for lunch is doable. Mind you, I'm not a very big eater so I'd say my food budget tends to be on the leaner side. Current students have also mentioned that every now and then corporates sponsor a reception or event with drinks and nibbles i.e. free food that helps cut down on costs ;) I've also heard that it's not unusual that some students attend these events solely for the free food...so you do what you gotta do.

Entertainment is extremely varied depending on how social you are and how much alcohol you're looking to consume. Despite having worked in the alcohol industry, I'm a very light drinker so I'm not expecting to have very high entertainment costs.

Summary of my expected general weekly budget
  • Rent in shared apartment - £170-190
  • Bills - £40-50
  • Transport (should be low if you live close to school) - £10
  • Food - £40
  • Entertainment (depends on how much you party/drink and I don't drink much) - £40-50

Monday, 9 May 2016

Unexpected Opportunity

As mentioned in a previous post, I've been helping out the potential MBA/GMAT-taking community on Quora as I've been on the questioning side and totally get the confusion/anxiety of being an applicant. Unexpectedly, my contributions to the community have led to a potential opportunity.

The CEO of a GMAT prep school liked my writing and has reached out regarding working together to help promote their GMAT prep program via Quora. Mostly just doing the same helpful question answering as I'd been doing, but having a link to their GMAT prep program in the signature. What I like is that their GMAT prep philosophy aligns with mine and there isn't going to be a hard sell plugging of their GMAT prep. Plus their prep program doesn't seem too bad either. Getting paid to do what I'm already doing sounds good :)

I'm looking forward to seeing how this one goes as it would be pretty awesome to be able to have some sort of income while I'm at the MBA and writing doesn't necessarily take up too much time. Watch this space to see how it goes!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Self Funding the MBA

With the limited financing options available to NZ citizens (especially those comme moi who aren't planning to return to work in NZ), I've really had to evaluate my assets in the last weeks to figure out what the best funding cocktail would be for me.

I'm somewhat lucky in that I do own a house which has gone up in value by a good amount in the last couple of years. This means I've been able to use the refinancing option as my main funding source. Mortgage rates have dropped since I last fixed the mortgage so refinancing works in my favour as well, though it does mean I'll have a several thousand dollar break fee to pay.

For the non-finance inclined, how refinancing works is that you move your mortgage over to another bank with different (usually better) interest rates. During the move, as a new contract is being signed with a new bank, you can take out a larger mortgage than your previous one, thereby cashing out some of the equity in the property, assuming your property value has gone up. In this way, people have been able to leverage on their existing property to borrow cash for renovations, travel, buying investments, a second property....or an MBA :)

You don't necessarily have to move banks. You could refinance with the same bank, which in NZ is known as a top up loan. Refinancing with the same bank usually saves you some of the admin costs and hassles, and is definitely a route to be investigated unless the other bank offers a far more attractive deal, or your existing bank denies your request for a top up.

I'd like to share a bit of my naivety here in dealing with banks and mortgages so that "too honest" people like myself get a heads up. I tried to top up my loan with my existing bank, Kiwibank, to avoid break fees initially but my application was denied. Why? Because when you ask your current bank for a top up, they're going to ask you why you need that money. So I told them truthfully it was to pay for school fees. Of course this lead to a further question on whether this was an overseas school or local, which lead to whether I was going to study full time, which lead to whether I was still going to have my job etc. You get the gist.

I was completely honest, but I told them I'd worked out a plan whereby renting out the house would cover all the mortgage payments and my investment dividends would cover maintenance costs like rates. It was perfectly reasonable and considering refinancing the house would still make the total mortgage less than 40% of the market value, it seemed a pretty save investment to me. I mean if I was looking at this loan as an investor, I'd jump on it since the risk is really very low and demand for a house in my area is very very high.

Anyway, enough of my rant.... To cut the long story short, Kiwibank said no and "we don't really do equity cash outs these days". So I've refinanced with ANZ at much better rates through a mortgage broker, taken the break cost hit, but overall ending up being better off. FYI if you're in NZ, Kiwibank doesn't deal with mortgage brokers so you'd need to know how to negotiate better rates with them yourself.

Of course, I'm not relying entirely on the loan. After all, a loan is still something I'd need to pay interest on. So my savings are sadly going to be depleted over the next year to finance my living costs in London....for the first year. The plan after is to use my summer internship to earn most of my second year's living expenses and potentially try and work in a second internship in my second year (something quite plausible I've heard). Rental income from the house and dividend income from investments will pay the mortgage and property maintenance costs in NZ.

So that's my financial plan for self funding my time at LBS. Hopefully it helps give some ideas on how to structure your financial plan. I've done a monthly cash flow forecast for the next 2 years and also have a backup measure for if I don't get a rental income - something I would advise doing. Leave a comment if you have any other ideas to add :)

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Saving Money Paying MBA Fees in Foreign Currency

Since the value of the NZ Dollar is much lower than the Pound, foreign currency exchange rates and how to pay MBA tuition fees are obviously of much concern. London Business School's tuition fee of £70,800 translates to a whopping $150,000+. The great thing about LBS (and most MBA programs), is that they allow you to pay in installments.

For anyone interested, LBS's fee schedule for the MBA2018 class looks like this:

Year 1
Commitment fee: £2,000
Reservation fee: £6,000
Installment 1: £13,700
Installment 2: £13,700
Year 2
Installment 1: £11,800
Installment 2: £11,800
Installment 3: £11,800

For those of us borrowing/earning in foreign currency, you start getting obsessed with currency rate fluctuations in the attempt to find the "optimal" time to make the payments by the deadlines. Other than chronically refreshing the exchange rate calculation button to save on the exchange, the good news is that you can also save by using a foreign exchange transfer service instead of going through normal bank transfer channels.

Do note though that there are 2 kinds of forex services. Both offer you far better exchange rates than the banks. However, the one I'm speaking of here is the one that saves you more money - and hey, when you're about to become/are a poor student, every dollar counts!

So the service I'd like to encourage anyone needed to make currency exchanges, especially in large sums, is one whereby they own bank accounts in several different countries so that the transfer when it happens is not an international transfer, but a local transfer. The way it works is you pay the amount in your local currency to their local account (in most cases this bank to bank transfer should be free). Then they transfer the equivalent amount in the foreign currency from their foreign bank account to the foreign bank so the bank to bank transfer is free too. Where they make their money is either in charging a small fee for the transfer and also in the exchange rates as they put a slight markup on wholesale (clearly not as much as the banks do though).

In this way you save by getting a) better exchange rates and b) no unknown fees for the transfer aside from the commission/fee that the transfer services is charging you. Another benefit is that you know exactly how much you need to pay and how much your recipient is going to get at the other end without having to "guess" how much extra you might need to transfer in case the fee at the recipient end winds up larger than expected. This is especially important when you're paying bills like MBA tuition fees.

After a fair amount of shopping around, I've signed up for accounts with the following two services. Two because it's always good to have one extra for comparison.

1. Transferwise
These guys have one of the best exchange rates and charge a pretty small fee for the exchange. Plus if you sign up using this link, you'll get a free £15 fee credit. They hold the rate they quote you for 24hrs, which means your quote would not be affected by the second-by-second exchange rate fluctuations. This could be positive or negative depending on how the market is moving. You can cancel the transfer within 24 hours after you book it (before you pay them of course) if you see that the market has moved in your favour so that you can re-book with the better rate. The downside is that Transferwise only deals in limited currencies so you might not be able to use them.

2. NZForex
These guys are good for large sum transfers as they don't charge fees for transactions over a certain value (for NZ this is NZD$10,000). Plus they deal in a wider range of currencies than Transferwise. The rate you get fluctuates based on the current market rate so if you get one that you're happy with don't wait too long to book as it might change within minutes. One of the great services they offer as well is an email or text alert when the exchange rate get to a preferred level you set. This way, you won't miss out on opportunities to save due to better rates. If you sign up using this link, you'll get an NZ$50 i-tunes gift voucher when you make your first transfer.

The best way to make the most of it is to get a quote from both services when you plan to make an exchange. Then pick the cheapest :)