Filipinos and Money

The comedian Jack Benny was famous for his stinginess and love of money. In one famous skit, a robber points a gun at Jack and says "Your money or your life!" Jack puts his hand to his face and doesn't say anything. The robber again demands "Buddy, I said 'your money or your life'. Jack Benny answered him "I'm thinking!", i.e., he was deciding whether he loved his money or his life more, and it was a hard decision!

Hong Kong people and Filipinos DIFFER GREATLY in the way they view and handle money. For Hong Kong people money is very important. When people ask me "What is the main religion of Hong Kong?" I have no problem answering "Money". We even have a "Choi San" 財神.  Hong Kong people believe that money = security, so we want to have plenty of assets, lots of savings, good insurance coverage, etc. 

To Filipinos money is NOT as important. Relationships with others is far more important than money, so they will gladly give up money to ensure good relationships. They are what we call "a soft touch", they cannot say "NO" to a relative or friend in need. And because of poverty, someone in your family circle is almost always in need. That is why they cannot and, for the most part, do not save. If they save, someone will most assuredly ask them for a loan, and then the money will be gone! 

For these reasons, Filipinos like to buy things on installment plans, and  they are willing to pay high interest rates to do so. Most of us believe it is better to save and pay cash, so  we can avoid interest. For many Filipinos it is better to pay the interest and buy on time, because at least that way, they can acquire the new refrigerator they want, and honestly tell their  family and friends "I'm sorry, I have no money."

Most Hong Kong employers are strongly AGAINST their helpers taking out loans in Hong Kong, but we seem to be fighting a losing battle for two reasons:

  1. The Filipino culture of helping friends & family makes it difficult for the Filipino to save.
  2. Interest rates and terms for loans are more favorable in Hong Kong than in  the Philippines.

People hiring helpers from Arrow usually ask applicants "Why do you want to come to Hong Kong?" Most of them answer, "My family needs the money" or "I want to build a house" or "I want to start a small business." These are admirable goals, goals that take MONEY! Since they are unlikely to save to achieve that goal, HOW DO YOU THINK THEY WILL GET THERE? Borrow, of course! So they are either going to borrow in Hong Kong at low interest rates or from loan sharks in the Philippines at rates up to 30% per annum. 

What should we do? I don't know, BUT I am a big believer in ACCEPTING REALITY, and starting from there to find solutions. Arrow is talking with the Development Bank of the Philippines to explore different possibilities for helping the families  of OFWs. Perhaps you might start by talking to your helpers about the specifics of her financial plans. You might say something like "You told me when I hired you, that you want to build a house. Would you mind telling me a bit more about how you plan to do that?" If you understand their situation and their goals, you might avoid some misunderstandings and you might be able to give them some valuable advice. On the other hand, you may be thinking - "I'd rather not know. As long as it doesn't effect their work, then I don't care." That's okay too. Leave me a comment and let me know what you're thinking.

Allan Smith