Take good care of your health mentally and physically. You can’t have an enjoyable retirement if you don’t have your health. According to a study from MacArthur Foundation Study of Aging in America, only one-third of how we age can be attributed to genes. The remaining two-thirds is determined by our lifestyle choices. I think that is great news because successful aging is within our control. The key is to take charge of your health and stay engaged so you can use (not lose) your physical and mental capabilities.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Retirees Say They Wish They Were Told Before They Began Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jiab Wasserman. Jiab is recently retired after 25 years in the financial services industry. Her last position was VP of Credit Risk Management in Small Business Card division with Bank of America, the second largest bank in the US, with assets over $2,377 billion and 205,000 employees. Jiab lived in Thailand for the first 22 years of her life. She went to Chulalongkorn (King’s) University in Bangkok, where she earned a degree in Industrial Engineering. She was one of only a handful of women in the IE program. After working as an engineer in Thailand, she came to the United States and earned an MBA from Auburn University. Jiab then worked in financial services for a combined 25 years. Most recently, she spent 17 years with Bank of America, first as a financial analyst, then senior financial analyst, eventually working her way up to become a Vice President of credit risk management. While working full time, Jiab enrolled in the RICP (Retirement Income Certified Professional) program at American College and successfully passed the exam in 2018. Jiab and her husband (and their two cats) moved to Granada, Spain in 2018. Jiab started a blog with her husband at Yourthirdlife.com, writing about their experiences regarding downshifting, personal finance adjustment, relocating to another country, and other aspects of their retirement. She also writes articles about personal finance for Humbledollar.com, both generally on retirement and as to particular issues, such as retiring overseas, longevity risk, gender pay gap and elderly financial abuse.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Iam originally from Thailand — born and raised there. Back when I was growing up, there were not a lot of women working outside their homes, let alone working in the math and science fields. With the encouragement from my parents, however, I decided to pursue a career in Industrial Engineering. I passed the most difficult entrance examination in Thailand and was admitted to the College of Engineering at Chulalongkorn University — the oldest and most prestigious university in Thailand.
I worked as an industrial engineer for a couple of years and then came to the US for an MBA. I then spent over 25 years in the financial services industry — I started with UK Standard Chartered Bank, then worked for a small mortgage broker for a few years, then worked for Citi for five years, and finally spent the bulk of my career climbing the corporate ladder at Bank of America.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I would say the most interesting story is about my nickname — Jiab. It is the sound a bird makes — like “chirp” in English — and is actually a fairly common nickname in Thailand. At work in the US, however, whenever I sent out an email to someone who didn’t know me, they never knew if I was male or female. Most assumed that I was male so they usually address me as “mister.” Also, whenever I received a phone call or someone had to read my name, usually there was a pause as they tried to take measure of my name. Usually, they would “over-pronounce” my name, calling me “Jeeee-yab.” I have the one name, but in any given office people pronounced it five different ways.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
When I started a new job at The Associates (now Citi) in 1997, I had a 6-month old baby and I was still breastfeeding him. So, I pumped my breast milk every day. Back then, there was no lactation room and I could not use the regular lady’s bathroom with stalls because there was no electric outlet to plug in my portable breast pump. I had to use the accessibility bathroom for both males and females with an electrical outlet inside the bathroom to supposedly provide me with privacy. The problem was that the room was located by the hallway toward the break room so there was quite heavy traffic in front of the bathroom. I had to pump two to three times a day. One day, I was in a meeting with my colleagues and my manager. All of them were male. My manager mentioned that he often heard a loud buzz coming from the accessibility bathroom when he walked past and he just wondered what the buzz sound was from. I then told him that it was me pumping my breast milk. I remember the awkward and embarrassed look from all of the males in the room. Some of them turned red, especially my manager, who quickly changed the subject.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I give the credit to my parents who always encouraged me to pursue a non-traditional career for women even though it was not easy to work in the male-dominated fields of engineering and finance. When I was growing up in Thailand, there were few role models for women who wanted to work outside the home, or even societal messaging that such an aspiration was OK. My parents, a doctor and a nurse, were very progressive and ahead of the times. Whenever we discussed my career choice, my parents always told me to pursue anything I wanted, even if it was a non-traditional career-choice for women.
My parents also encouraged me to play competitive tennis when I was young, which was unusual for a young girl in Thailand forty years ago. They strongly believed playing a competitive, individual sport like tennis builds grit and character because it forces you to rely on yourself, be mentally tough, and never give up. I would say that I ended up using a lot of the lessons I learned from tennis in other areas of my life, from my career to raising a family.
I came to the US for my MBA alone and with very little English proficiency. It was a tough challenge for a young woman. I almost quit many times to go back to Thailand, but I kept telling myself “one more week/month/year” (just like in tennis, one more point). I made it through, earning my MBA and then subsequently worked my way up the American corporate ladder to VP in credit risk management. I would not have made it without the perseverance and hard-work habits that I gained from my parents’ encouragement and guidance.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
I was once felt burnout early in my career, when I was in my early 30’s. Then, I was a single mom and was focused on climbing the corporate ladder in one of the big financial services companies. I worked 60–80 hours a week while trying to juggle being a mom. I received two promotions and very quickly moved up from financial analyst to a director level but it came with lots of stress and long hours. Needless to say, that lifestyle was not sustainable, so it didn’t take me long to feel burnout. I was exhausted mentally and physically, felt unmotivated, and all I wanted to do was to get out of the financial services field. I left the company and wanted to change careers. After a few months off, I realized I still liked being a financial analyst but I needed a better work-life balance. I took a new job at a new company (Bank of America) that gave me the opportunity to re-balance my life. I ended up working 17 years at Bank of America before I retired. Since then, I have learned to prevent burnout before it happens.
Burnout happens because of over-work and over-commitment, when there is little or no balance between work and personal life. It’s having a full plate, but being afraid to turn down putting more on it. So, here is my advice:
Determine only-you-required tasks. There are always many things that compete for your time, so I suggest listing them out periodically. Then, select the top three that are the most important to you and that only YOU can do (for others or, more importantly, yourself) and focus on them. For the rest, delegate, outsource, or eliminate them from your priorities. Remember that you can’t do it all so select only those that are vital and do-able for you.
For example, you may list work, family, socializing, exercise, cooking, and housework on your list. Determine from your list which priority that you can outsource or delegate and which priority that only YOU can do. Only YOU can exercise for yourself, be a mother to your child, or a wife to your husband, but you can delegate your work and housework to someone else (including your own family!).
Minimize your life. I use “minimize” in the sense of reducing unnecessary tasks or things you have to do that do not add value to your life. For example, people spend on average 2.5 hours per day on social media. If your time on social media doesn’t add value to your life (do you need to keep up with your acquaintance’s vacation pictures or see what they had for dinner?), then eliminate that time-gobbler and use the space to take your child to a park or go for a walk to get fresh air (and leave your phone at home). Automated bill payments, savings and investments are other ways to minimize your life-worries so as to free up more time.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Communication. Be transparent and honest to your employees. Provide on-going feedback about their performance and your expectations.
Offer flexibility. Non-monetary compensations are important and, in some cases, are more important than money. The job benefits that employees often care about are those that provide them with greater flexibility, including telecommuting, four-day workweeks, and/or flexible hours (so they can have a good work/personal balance).
Be socially responsible. Support things like reducing carbon emission or participating in philanthropic activities that benefit communities. You’ll feel more connected as well as better about yourself and the world you will leave to the next generation.
Foster Diversity of opinion. Make sure your leadership is inclusive and represents all employees within the company.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact nearly every aspect of one’s life. Obviously, everyone’s experience is different. But in your experience, what are the 5 most common things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
- Consider fee-only financial advisors specialized in retirement. Before you retire, and if you are not a financial person, consider hiring a fee-only financial advisor who specializes in retirement. It is one thing to save and accumulate a large pile of cash, but it is entirely different when you have to determine how to make the pile last for the rest of your life. There are many things to consider, such as when to claim social security, get long-term care insurance, utilize Medicare, and how the various financial products (stocks, bonds, annuities, ETF, mutual funds) fit into your situation and goals. Even if you are a DIY person, it is worth it to get a second opinion from a professional.
- Plan how to spend your time (not just money). People on the edge of retirement love the idea of doing nothing, but when your day is no longer occupied with work, meetings, projects and commutes, how do you keep engaging in life? I suggest making a list of your favorite interests and activities that you want to pursue in retirement. It could be creative pursuits (drawing, music, poetry), volunteering, traveling, or educational enrichment. Anything that interests you and will keep your mind active and sharp, which is important as we get older, should be there.
My father was a medical doctor in Thailand. After he retired from his hospital, he continued to go back to his hospital for seminars on new findings. He was also invited to be a guest speaker. One of my aunts had a career running a few large hotels in Bangkok. After she retired, she volunteered to be a treasurer at a small Buddhist temple. Walking slowly with a cane now at age 87, she continues to be a treasurer and regularly attends the temple meetings and events. She remains mentally sharp and enjoys her retirement.
- Take good care of your health mentally and physically. You can’t have an enjoyable retirement if you don’t have your health. According to a study from MacArthur Foundation Study of Aging in America, only one-third of how we age can be attributed to genes. The remaining two-thirds is determined by our lifestyle choices. I think that is great news because successful aging is within our control. The key is to take charge of your health and stay engaged so you can use (not lose) your physical and mental capabilities.
- Plan how to maintain connections with family and friends. It will take more effort to keep those connections, but studies have found that people are more satisfied and tend to live longer if they have a robust network of friends and family.
- Remain flexible. Remember that people change. As we age, we change; you’re a completely different person at 14 and 30. The same is true from 65 to 80. So, don’t commit to buy or build your retirement home in the city that you vacationed last year just yet; rent first. Give yourself time to test out the water and change your course if necessary.
In short, my list of five is built around ensuring two essentials things for a successful and fulfilling retirement: sufficient funds to live on and sufficient things to live for.
Let’s zoom in on this a bit. If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important financial issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?
Live below your means and save early. Before retirement, start downsizing, minimizing or eliminating debt and living below your means. Saving early in one’s adult life is a smart strategy. By doing so, we can fairly quickly buy ourselves freedom later in life.
When my husband and I both worked and whenever one of us got a raise or a bonus, we didn’t proportionately inflate our life-styles by getting a new car, new gadgets, or moving to a bigger home. As a result, today — in our 50s — we retired early and can now spend our days doing things that we are passionate about or we feel important, such as writing our blog, taking on-line courses on art history, volunteering, traveling, or hiking.
Plan for a living long. Because we are living longer, longevity risk is the key risk that needs to be mitigated. So, it is important to consider financial solutions that work regardless of lifespan. Those solutions include favoring employers that offer traditional pension plans, considering different types of income annuity and delaying Social Security benefits. Think of the social security payments given up from age 62–70 to be the premium that you pay to buy the best inflation-protected annuity guaranteed by the US government. I explained more about this in an article about longevity that was published on MarketWatch.
Plan for your possible (even probable) mental decline. People don’t like to think about it, but there are two important reasons to plan for your mental decline.
One is that, as people are living longer, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are on the rise. Who will manage and have access to your financial accounts and how you want to be taken care of if and when you no longer have your full mental capability? Plan for it while you are still mentally sharp.
The other reason to pre-plan for mental decline is that elderly abuse is on the rise because people with such decline fall prey to those looking to take advantage. Financial literacy declines by about 2% every year after age 60. Confidence in financial decision making, however, doesn’t decline with age. That combination — reduced ability but continued confidence — helps explain poor financial decisions by older adults. My father and my god-father were both victims of financial abuse. My brothers and I had to go through the painful process of proving my father declared incompetent in a Thai court so we could access and manage his accounts before he lost more.
It is hard enough to see the decline in your parents. The best gift you can give to your adult children is to plan for your mental decline and communicate how you want them to handle it on your behalf.
If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important health issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?
Make time to exercise. Do it now even if it is 10 minutes a day and don’t wait until you retire. As long as you are in good health, everything else is gravy.
Socialize. Don’t be alone. It’s good physically and mentally.
Eat healthy — eat real food, not processed food, as much as possible. That means eating vegetables, fruits, lean meats, beans, grains, nuts, and not salami, processed meats, box cereal, potato chips,.etc.
With our healthy hearts and knees, my husband and I regularly hike the mountains of Spain. A little over six months ago, we hiked part of El Camino de Santiago (an ancient pilgrimage route stretching from France to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain). We had to get up early in the cold mornings before sunrise to walk on average of 20 kilometers a day with full backpacks, ignoring and soreness or aches from the previous day. Because we hiked early in the season (March and April), some days we walked in the cold rain to get to the next destination. We also could not find a place (or a bed) to spend the night on occasion because some albergues (lodging for pilgrims) were not yet open, compelling us to walk on to the next village to find a place to sleep. It was the most difficult, and also the most memorable and ultimately rewarding, hike of my life.
Along the way, we met many other people attempting El Camino. There were a few people (some even younger) that could not make it to the end due to injuries or health issues. We were very thankful that we were in good enough health, and positive enough mindset, to be able to complete the route.
If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important things to consider before choosing a place to live after they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?
What lifestyle do you want (travel base, be near family, etc.) and then figure out locations. Being near family is tricky if moving, so consider the cost of visiting (airfare). Use sites like numbeo to figure cost of living especially in light of fixed budget.
Be flexible. Don’t over-commit to make the first leap permanent. I recommend not jumping into a commitment right away. This might mean leasing a place to test it out and don’t commit to buying right away. I’ve known people who have jumped right in by buying a “dream spot,” only to then change their mind later about what they wanted out of retirement, but were now anchored. Remember that we all change; who we are today is different than who we were in our 20s. So, who we will be in our 80s will be different than in our 60s.
For us, we chose Spain as a place to retire because it meets many of our criteria: affordable cost of living, excellent healthcare, location (giving us access to the rest of Europe and even Africa), and a stable government. Beyond the quantifiable and logical reasons, there are other immeasurable that we didn’t account for — adjusting to Spanish schedules and meal times, a slower pace of life with fresher food and air, people (including the elderly and small children) spending a lot of time outdoors late into the night. Family is the most important thing in Spain, and everything is built around it.
In regard to being flexible, one has to be ready for challenges, and that includes learning from one’s mistakes. Perhaps the most difficult thing for me in transitioning to retirement is learning a new language, especially at my age. My language mistakes in learning Spanish have been plenty. I am often confused tarjeta (a card) with trabajo (a job), or demasiado (too much) with despacio (slower). The result? There were many confused exchanges; I went to the store to buy a bus card (tarjeta) but I said to the clerk “Quiero comprar trabajo” (I want to buy a job). Another time, I meant to ask the butcher to talk slowly but instead of saying “hablas despacio?” (Can you talk slower?), I said “hablas demasiado” (you talk too much).
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to bring to the forefront the unconscious gender bias that causes the gender pay gap issue in society. The first step to solving the problem is to acknowledge that there is a problem. Only then can we do something about it. Currently, not all of us are aware of this problem that affects everyone, not just women, but their spouses, family members and friends who form an interdependent network. I wrote about this issue in a three-part series (Mind the Gap, Not So Fast and Odds Against) on Humbledollar.com.
Using current statistics to demonstrate this issue, males constitute about 49% of the population, but make up approximately 95% of CEO’s of the Fortune 500 list, not to mention as well accounting for 75% of the senate, 77% of the House, 77% of public school superintendents (where 76% of teachers are female) and 100% of US presidents.
As I said above, the impact of such disparity lasts long after a woman stops working, affecting her retirement and the next generation for years to come.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
It is The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama’s wisdom is expressed clearly, simply, and practically. The most important concept that helps guide me throughout my adult life is happiness comes down to one’s state of mind, more than by external events or material possessions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My life lesson quote is from my father: “Keep fighting. No matter how far behind you are, as long as the game is still being played, you still have a chance. When you lose a point, focus on the next one. There is always the next point, game, set and the next match.”
My father was a medical doctor who taught me tennis when I was young. I learned that tennis is as much a mental game as a physical one. He taught me to never give up no matter how far behind in the game I was. I carried this advice into my career and personal life as well. In my career, when I was declined a promotion, I quickly moved on. I focused on my next move or my next opportunity. I kept telling myself that I was still in the game and I still had a chance, no matter how far behind I was. I can’t claim it was easy. Before I landed my final position as a vice president of credit risk management, I had applied for a transfer internally for 83 positions.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
My blog at http://yourthirdlife.com
My LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/jiab-wasserman-mba-ricp-77878a13/
My twitter at https://twitter.com/your_thirdlife
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank you for having me on your magazine!