· Podcast Episodes
Morningstar Australia

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. Or getting started the right way. Too many people jump into the share market thinking there are quick gains that will solve all of their financial problems. I was joined by Shanni Jayamanne & Mark LaMonica from Morningstar Australia's Investing Compass Podcast from to talk about some of the steps that you can take before heading off down investment road. Sensible advice warning.

Morningstar Australia

“Money that you've put away, that you have gone through the effort of saving and investing, that's going to give you more flexibility in the future and that's what we all want, right? We don't want our choices narrowed as we get older based on the decisions we make when we're younger.” - Mark LaMonica

We spoke about some steps to take when planning for investing. These include:

  • Finding the right information sources.
  • Debt reduction (for some, but not all debts)
  • Investing vs paying off the mortgage
  • Having an emergency fund
  • Nobody's perfect, we all make mistakes and it's all part of the process of building our investments


  1. Personal Cashflow statement 
  1. ASX Investor Study 2020 
  1. Morningstar Guide to Selecting Investments 
  1. Morningstar Guide to Portfolio Construction 
  1. Our latest webinars for foundational investing, including a link to register for upcoming webinars 


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Let's start by quickly running through a little bit about your backgrounds in the finance industry. Shani, I think you're going to go first, aren't you? 

Shani (1m 6s):

Yeah sure, I can go first. Yeah. So I started off in advisories. That was right after I left university. So I've been in the financial services industry for about six, seven years now. And advisory really wasn't for me. And of course, advisory is a holistic look at someone's financial position. So I really enjoyed the investing piece but I wasn't too big on their wills and estates, taxation side of things. So I moved to an investment manager for a few years to focus on the investing side of things. But about three years ago, I decided to make the move over to Morningstar where I'm an investment specialist for the individual investor business. And I made the jump because I really aligned with the way that Morningstar thinks about serving individual investors, so investors like you and me. 

Shani (1m 48s):

And Mark and I worked together now and one of our shared passions is investor education and advocacy. And we get to do that through a podcast called Investing Compass, as you mentioned Phil, and a bi-weekly foundational investing webinars series that are both free to access. 

Phil (2m 3s):

So when you say advisory, that's like when you go to a financial advisor, a financial planner, who's looking after everything, apart from the investments, as well as the legal accounting side of things and taxation and taking into account all of those kinds of things. Is that correct? 

Shani (2m 17s):

Yes. 100%. So financial advice is really looking at your financial position holistically. So looking at every single part of it. 

Phil (2m 24s):

Yeah. So Mark, in the simplest possible terms, your story. 

Mark (2m 28s):

Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, I don't know about your Shani, but never thought it would be described as a fellow podcaster. So that is a, that's something new. But yeah, a little bit of a different path than Shani. So I was a management consultant and worked with large global asset managers, hedge funds. And I did that for around a decade before joining Morningstar. And I've been with Morningstar for about four and a half years now. And I head up our individual investor business in Australia. But you know, even when I was a consultant, I was just always very passionate about investor education. And, you know, Shani will probably laugh at this, but I always do start out any internal presentation by talking about how I have the best job at Morningstar. Because of all the research we do, all the data that we generate and have, you know, it's our team that's able to put that in front of individual investors and help them reach their goals. 

Mark (3m 15s):

And then, you know, I'll give you a little bit of a plug Shani. Hopefully this won't go too much to your head, but yeah, it's also great to work with someone like Shani, who, as she said and as I can attest to, is really, really passionate about helping people reach their financial goals and learn more about investing. And, you know, I think especially Shani really acts as a role model for women who have been underserved by the industry. And yeah, you inspire me Shani. So I'm excited to do this podcast with you, a new one with you. 

Shani (3m 45s):

That's very nice, mate. 

Mark (3m 46s):

I know, I'm nice. You always, you always say that I'm not nice, but I am, I am in fact nice. 

Phil (3m 51s):

He looks very nice. I can tell you now he looks gorgeous. So Shani, you've got some interesting statistics on new investors in the share market and also about where they source their information from. So let's hear about this information that you've got. 

Shani (4m 3s):

Yeah, exactly Phil. So this is taken from the ASX Australian investor study and it was conducted in 2020. And what it shows is that there's a rise of new investors in the market. So almost a quarter of investors started within the last two years and we see this trend continuing. So we see 27% of intending investors. So those that are looking to begin investing within the next 12 months, they're under 25. And yeah, as you mentioned, the statistics around information sources are also pretty interesting. So we see that people are actually turning to get information when they're making an investing decision. 64% of them are turning to friends and family and newspapers. 

Phil (4m 41s):

This is not a great place to start investing. Is it, you get the information from really 

Shani (4m 46s):

No, no. 

Phil (4m 47s):

Everyone's got an agenda, haven't they? 

Shani (4m 48s):

Yeah, exactly. And I think what's important to note here is that both of these sources would be relying on other people's experiences and it wouldn't be a holistic look at your personal situation and what might be the right vehicles to get you to your financial goals. And it's important that when you're setting yourself up for investing, this is at the forefront of your mind. So we've done a whole episode on how to construct a portfolio that's individual to you with Investing Compass. But I think one of the most important things to remember is that people don't invest to beat benchmarks. They invest to reach financial goals and that could be a house or a holiday or a comfortable retirement like I'm saving up for. So these goals and they differ person to person and your circumstances differ from person to person as well. 

Shani (5m 29s):

So you have different wages, your expenses are different, your financial responsibilities are different to the person standing next to you. So I think it's pretty folly to think that investment someone chats to you about would be right for you off the bat. 

Phil (5m 41s):

There's also biases in the people that you might be talking to. I mean, he might be talking to uncle Joe who invested in some mining company in the eighties and got burned so badly, you know, like, all he wants to talk about his property now. And you've got to deal with these kinds of things. Don't you? 

Shani (5m 55s):

Exactly. It's personal experience. And I think it's also confirmation bias. So you just kind of want to be right about what you're investing in and you'll gravitate towards the information that that's confirmed that. 

Phil (6m 4s):

And Mark, I can see you're ready to leap in here. 

Mark (6m 6s):

Oh yeah, no. I mean, I'm just echoing what Shani said. So, you know, we always talk at Morningstar that we're about the investor and not the investment. And that just, it's the same thing Shani was talking about, right? That it's really about what you're trying to accomplish. And I think so many people dive into the other end of that, right? They dive into what's the ETF I should buy? What's the share I should buy? And as Shani mentioned, a lot of that comes from, you know, quote unquote advice that they're getting from people that they know, but we really just want to take a step back and make sure that people are comfortable with the framework and why they're investing because that's actually going to help them over the long-term. 

Phil (6m 40s):

So when we were preparing for this podcast and I was listening to a few of your episodes, I came across this one where we were talking about the foundations: what you need to do to set yourself up for investing before you can even start investing. So I'll put a link to this program in the show notes. So what do you think about debt and why should it be paid down before you start investing? 

Mark (7m 3s):

Yeah, I mean, in almost every circumstance, your priorities should be to pay down debt and reduce the amount of debt that you have, particularly if you're in sort of a non-investment. So something like a mortgage or government loan related debt, which is generally around education. And so most of that consists of credit cards and personal loans. And, you know, that's what is really known as sort of bad debt. And the important thing to remember is that you are paying generally an extremely high interest rate. And what that means is that debt that you actually owe is going to snowball and compounds. So we always talk about compounded investing, but you can also compound with debt, which basically means it's just going to grow and grow and grow. 

Mark (7m 45s):

And so, you know, it's not unusual to go out there and see 18 to 25% interest payments on some of these personal loans and credit cards. And what that really means in the real world is that you need to make a return that is higher than that to justify putting money into investments rather than reduce debts. And even though we've had really strong market returns recently, I think we just have to be cognizant of the fact that over the long-term you've come nowhere close to those percentages. And that's really the theory behind wanting to pay down debt. 

Phil (8m 17s):

It's incredible, the interest rates that are on credit cards. And, you know, they seem to be just there waiting for young people like a fish on a hook, ready to catch something coming along. 

Mark (8m 26s):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. And you know, I think if we go back long-term market returns. So if we go back 140 years, obviously a long time, and look at US stocks, they've returned about 9.2% a year. And there have been decades, I mean, it's hard for a lot of younger investors now that have seen the markets go up. But you know, in the 1930s, they had an average annual return of negative 4% and even the 2000s. So between 2000 and 2010, you had a negative return. So it's important to remember that you, if you still have debt and you're investing in those types of market environments, you're going to be worse off. 

Shani (9m 1s):

Yeah, exactly right. And if you were running this scenario, there are very few instances where you wouldn't become poorer by investing because it's also worsened by taxes. So you'll be taxed on any of the returns that you make on these investments and the amount returned by your investment will more than likely be less than your interest payments as well. 

Phil (9m 19s):

So is it best to pay off the credit cards? But how about the HECS? Should you be looking at paying off your HECS debt? 

Shani (9m 25s):

Yeah. So maybe I should take this question, Mark, cause I've got HECS debt and you don't. So it is a question that we get from a lot of younger investors, whether it's the type of debt they should pay down before they invest in, in almost all cases, the answer is no. And you know, there are some circumstances where it might impact your borrowing capacity, if you're taking out a mortgage, but speaking generally no. HECS and HELP debts they're some of the best loans that you can get. So you do have indexation and indexation is applied to the sum each year to adjust the cost to the cost of living. And that allows it to maintain its real value. But in other words, you'll be hard pressed to find a cheaper loan ever again. So yeah, as I said, I've got a HECS debt and I've chosen not to pay it off because it's the opposite situation of a credit card or a personal loan. 

Shani (10m 9s):

So the indexation amount that's charged on the loan, it's a really low hurdle in terms of investment earnings. So I did my taxes last week. And for the last financial year I saw the indexation rate. It was 0.6%. So it's a really low hurdle rate and I'd be better off putting my spare cash in a term deposit, equities, anything that earns me more than 0.6% 

Phil (10m 30s):

What about mortgages? If you can get a mortgage. It's getting harder and harder to get a mortgage, but if you've got a mortgage, is it worthwhile paying that down before starting to invest? 

Mark (10m 40s):

Yeah. When I moved to Australia, it's been awhile, but yeah, six and a half years ago, I learned very quickly to be very careful about talking about housing. People are very passionate about it. But you know, this is once again, I think a situation where you want to take a step back and think about what you're trying to accomplish by investing. And, you know, Shani mentioned earlier that one of the big goals that she has is she's trying to invest to have the type of retirement that she wants. And that is a common goal, obviously. So maybe we can use that as an example. So if you have any extra cash and you're going to put it all into your house, trying to pay off that mortgage, you need to try to figure out, okay, what happens when you actually retire? How are you going to get cash out of that house and actually pay for your life? And there are ways to do that, right? 

Mark (11m 22s):

I mean, you can certainly take out loans. You could sell your house, move into something, smaller, move into a cheaper area, but you do need to take that into account. And really one of the advantages of investing is you're giving yourself more options and flexibility in the future. Because you can do whatever you want with that pool of money that you built up. So you could of course pay off your house if you really wanted to, but it allows you to diversify your wealth and income. And people should always remember that despite how housing has done historically in Australia, you're really putting all of your eggs in one basket there. Because the value of your house, there are a lot of systemic factors that are going to influence it: so demographics and economic conditions and interest rates. 

Mark (12m 2s):

But also some really specific factors to your house: the popularity of the city, you live in the neighbourhood you live in. And so just think about diversification. 

Shani (12m 11s):

Yeah. When we get down to it, there's really just two strategies with balancing a mortgage and investing. So there's concurrent and sequential. And concurrent is when you have a mortgage, but you're also starting to put money away into other types of assets like equities. Sequential is focusing your energy on paying down your mortgage and only focusing on paying down your mortgage and then shifting your focus to investing in other assets once you've paid it down. And there are obviously a lot of other variables that are involved in the decision to take either one of those avenues. But the first is assuming that you do have that extra cash after your expenses and the mortgage payments. There are different considerations when you're formulating your investment strategy but time horizon is probably the major factor that will determine whether you employ that concurrent or sequential strategy. 

Shani (12m 55s):

And as a general rule, it said that if you have less than three years on your mortgage, it's worth focusing your efforts on paying down your mortgage and the extra money that you're devoting to paying off the mortgage over this relatively short time period is essentially buying you extra cash flows in the future through the elimination of that major expense, which is that mortgage that you've been paying down for I'd say quite a while. So the longer you have to pay your mortgage and the more attractive investing becomes because the payoff of not having housing expenses is so far into the future. And the longer time horizons for equity investments have meant that they have time to compound. 

Mark (13m 28s):

Yeah. And compounding, of course, we talked about that a lot. We talked about compounding with debt earlier, but that's basically just earning a return on a return. And that is the key to investing is to invest for the long-term and get that compounding up. So the longer you can keep your money in the market, the higher the return you can eventually get. And so that's just another good reason to start investing early. And, you know, we went through a lot of detail on this, on, on one of our episodes. But the other thing that you need to look at is of course tax and the return expectations you have for the housing market basically versus what's in the market. And once again, when we talk about return expectations, we are talking about not just the return of the house, but also the interest rate you're paying. 

Mark (14m 12s):

So mortgages are so cheap now. So if they're sitting at 2 to 3%, it's likely that you could probably get over the term a significantly higher return in the actual market. So that's something that's important to look at and just remember that interest rates play a really big role here. So interest rates really can't drop much lower. But think about what interest rates have done to asset values, including housing, it has elevated all of these asset values. So that's just one last thing that you should take into consideration. 

Phil (14m 45s):

So when investors are starting out, you also speak about a safety buffer and emergency fund. 

Shani (14m 50s):


Phil (14m 50s):

Just tell us about that and the importance of that. 

Shani (14m 53s):

Definitely. So we believe that every investor should have an emergency fund before they start investing. And it's a critical part of an investment plan. And that's because you just don't know what the future holds. Wages are never a certainty. You might need to take time off work for unexpected circumstances, or you might have unexpected expenses like a car or a house repair. So what an emergency fund is, is a cash reserve of three to six months of expenses. Some guides say three to six months of salary, but we believe expenses are sufficient. And this is just a safety buffer in case the unexpected happens. 

Mark (15m 24s):

Yeah. And it, it has two different things. And I think there's an underappreciated positive about an emergency fund. So, you know, number one, you get financial security, as Shani said that if you have this unexpected expense, you can actually pay for it. But what it also does is it allows you to protect yourself from deviating from a long-term plan that you've come up with for your investments. So the last thing that you ever want to do from an investment standpoint is sell when you don't want to. And especially like, you know, in Shani's example when she's looking at retirement, so her retirement is quite a ways away, she's not wanting to have to sell off assets that she has dedicated to retirement to try to pay for short-term expenses. So that's another huge advantage of an emergency fund. 

Phil (16m 6s):

Yeah. Another one I've talked to a guest recently about this, and he was saying that an emergency fund also gives you freedom in that you might suddenly get a job offer, which means you've got to go and work on the other side of the country. It mightn't be as high a salary as you're on now but it's a great job with great opportunities and you're really excited about, so there is a positive to having an emergency fund as well. 

Mark (16m 30s):

Shani (16m 50s):

Exactly. And there's also that aspect of protection as well. And from a financial advice standpoint, a lot of financial advisors build in this emergency fund because it covers that period while you don't have any insurance. So you might have a 90 day waiting period If you have income protection insurance or life insurance or something else there, it's also that protection aspect as well. 

Phil (17m 12s):

Now let's talk about budgeting. I've got a friend who is a financial advisor and he says it's the hardest discussion he has to have with clients. And it's really difficult for some people to put together a budget and to stick to it. What advice have you got there? 

Shani (17m 26s):

Yeah, exactly. And there are all sorts of different budgets for this purpose because one doesn't fit everybody. So what works for you will really depend on you and your spending habits and your personality. But if you're not sure where to start, or you haven't started budgeting, you shouldn't start investing because you just don't know what sort of cash flows you're going to be able to contribute towards your investing goals. So the best place to start would be a personal cashflow statement. And this is to understand where your money is going now and what you're spending it on. So if you're interested in your own personal cashflow statement, you can just Google it and there's a few templates that should come up, including the one that we have at Morningstar, which is free to access. 

Mark (18m 4s):

Yeah. And one, I think one important thing about budgeting, I am probably not the world's biggest fan of some of the detailed budgets that people go through and highlighting different expenses and things like that. But what you need to do in my opinion is just put it within context, right? So it is part of meeting your financial goal. Because when you sit there and you look at how do you actually achieve a goal that's out in the future and you have to get specific about defining that. Well, there's lots of different things you do. So obviously you're getting returns on your investments. But particularly if you're younger, you need to get money into the market. So I think if you frame it in that way, then budgeting, at least to me is more palatable because all of a sudden it isn't just a sacrifice for the sake of making a sacrifice. 

Mark (18m 46s):

It is you're actually marching towards that goal. And a big input in that goal is how much you can save and invest and when you get that money in the market, because the more time, the better. 

Phil (18m 55s):

So really the idea is to spend less than you earn and to invest that little bit that's left over. That's really what it comes down to. Isn't it? 

Mark (19m 3s):

Yeah. I mean, absolutely. And I think that, you know, going through this goal setting process that we have shows you the different levers that you can control. So the reason we'd like people to go through this is because we want to calculate the required rate of return. So the required rate of return is simply mathematically what gets you from where you are today, you have a certain amount of money, how much you can save and how much time you have to get to a goal and then the amount of money you have for the goals. So that required rate of return, you can get it lower if you save more, which is always positive. You can also see if your goal is even achievable, right? If that required rate of return is way too high, you're just not going to get that in the market. And so you're allowed to adjust those different levers. 

Mark (19m 43s):

You could push back your goal. So maybe you want to retire a couple of years later, you could economize a little bit with your goal saying, okay, I don't need that much money, maybe I can survive on less. But you have to go through that exercise. And then all these budgeting decisions you have, which you know, is giving things up. Then they're just within context and you know what you're marching towards. 

Phil (20m 3s):

So, we've got a bit of money left over, we're ready to invest. We're going to take our first steps. Do you just go and buy the first ETF that comes along? 

Shani (20m 13s):

Yeah, no. So as Mark mentioned, it's important to construct your portfolio around you. So we mentioned that portfolio construction episode which goes through these steps and Mark obviously just went through it just then. But it's really about defining your goals. So understanding what your actual goal is and then you calculate your required rate of return from there, selecting your asset allocation targets. So how much of Aussie equities will you have in your portfolio? How much of international equity is cash, fixed incomes, et cetera. And then from there you can select the investments that match that asset allocation that you have. And purposefully that last step is when you actually decide what to invest in, which is very different to what the ASX survey said. Most people are just choosing investments that are mentioned at the barbecue, which I guess we're not really going to many of, but it's important to anchor your investment back to what you're actually trying to achieve. 

Phil (20m 59s):

And Shani you've written a guide and Mark you can tell us about it. 

Mark (21m 4s):

Yes. You know, I, I am your biggest fan Shani. So I get to, I get to talk about the guide, but yeah, we obviously talked about portfolio construction, but then how do you get in that last step where you actually select an investment that's right for you once you've done all that groundwork? And, you know, Shani wrote this guide on how to select investments and what it really does is it just walks through what are the different considerations? So at a high level, what are the different considerations If you want to get direct shares or ETFs or funds, then we drill down a little bit. Let's say you want to use funds in ETFs. You're more comfortable with one of these collective investment vehicles. Well, should you go active? Should you go passive? There's all sorts of different considerations as we kind of go down that decision tree. 

Mark (21m 47s):

And so it's really making sure that once again, that instrument that you're using to accomplish your goal is aligned with the goals that you're trying to achieve. 

Phil (21m 55s):

So let's get into the difficult question. This is not a perfect world. Many people are in messy financial positions with low incomes and not as many years left as some of us. Maybe some people should just start investing with as much as they can muster just to get a start? What are your thoughts on that? 

Mark (22m 11s):

Yeah, so it's a really good question. And listen, I certainly understand that there is something to be said for just taking that plunge and for a lot of people it's really getting over that first hurdle of making their first investment. That's very, very difficult. So yeah, there's a lot to be said for just getting started. And, you know, as I said before, sort of mathematically, when is the best time to invest? The best time to invest is now because you have more time on your side. But I also think, you know, making progress comes in different ways, right? Paying off debt, putting a plan together that is all progress, even if it doesn't necessarily feel that way. But, you know, I think it's really the way that, the way that personal finance's portrayed. 

Mark (22m 52s):

People with quote unquote, their act together with their finances are always portrayed as being perfect, that they never go out and buy something they shouldn't, they never have credit card debt that rolls over a couple of months and that's just not true. And I think sort of this notion of perfection really holds people back from getting started. So, you know, I can sit here and Shani can sit here and say, mathematically, if you're investing to get 8% returns and you're paying 18% in credit card debt mathematically, that's not a smart thing to do. But you know, you can do both at once. And I think we just have to get people comfortable with getting started. And I think getting comfortable with an approach because the number one thing with investing is it's not really getting started. 

Mark (23m 33s):

Well getting started's hard. But it's really maintaining it over years and years and years and years, just like one trip to the gym is not going to get you in perfect shape. You just need to maintain this over a long period of time. Which means you have to be really, really comfortable with the way you're approaching it. And what we always say is there are many different investment approaches. They are not good or bad, but one of them is going to resonate with you. And that framework is gonna allow you to keep going as you invest. So yeah, I get that the world is not black and white. It is messy, but it's important to get started. 

Phil (24m 4s):

So tell us about Morningstar Australia. What are some of the resources that you can offer to listeners? 

Mark (24m 8s):

Yeah, I mean, we have a couple of different things. So if you're not sick of hearing us, we do have the podcasts that we mentioned, Investing Compass. Then we have a webinar series. So basically we do a couple of webinars each week. So Tuesday and Thursday, you can just go to our website to sign up for those. And then finally, for people who do want access to the tools we have at Morningstar, our research, so on ETF's funds, individual equities, we have a product called Morningstar premium. And that of course includes all the guides, including the one that, or a couple that Shani wrote. Avoid my guides, read Shani's they're much better. 

Shani (24m 44s):

Yeah. I was about to say that you write some to Mark. 

Phil (24m 46s):

We'll put all the links in the episode notes as well in the blog post so that we can get to them. But what would you recommend of Mark's, Shani? 

Shani (24m 53s):

Yeah I mean, I think his, he has done one on getting started on investing and he's done one on how to get the most out of financial advice. And I think the most interesting part of that guide and Dwight's probably my favourite is that he also talks about how self-directed investors can make the most of financial advice or the concepts of financial advice to get themselves in a good position. 

Phil (25m 15s):

And it's also, I find it's really important to understand all the terms and the jargon and the way people are talking about these things. Even if you've just got Super, just so you can even understand what's going on in your Super account. 

Mark (25m 26s):

Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. And you know, I think sometimes when you have spent, especially in my case sorta longer in the industry, you can get caught up in all of this stuff and forget where everyone started. And I think, you know, one of the really refreshing perspectives that Shani always brings is naturally a lot of her friends go to her for guidance on what they should do. And just her coming in and recounting those stories, you know, in my mind can keep me and the team grounded and okay. You know, who are the people that we really need to connect with and get them a little more sophisticated so they can make their own decisions about how their finances are going to go? 

Phil (26m 2s):

So are you the go-to person, Shani, in your friends? 

Shani (26m 6s):

It sounds like it 

Mark (26m 7s):

You tell me this every day, every day you tell me this, somebody else comes to you. 

Shani (26m 10s):

I think a lot of my friends, they're in a position where they have saved quite a lot of money and they're really good at saving and they've got money in the bank and obviously interest rates are so low and they're not earning anything on it. And they're getting to the point where they've got FOMO, fear of missing out. They just want to get into the market and they just have no idea where to start or what sort of resources they can access and who to trust really. So, yeah. So I think it's just that foundational knowledge that you need to be confident with investing and take that first step. It's just not really there. And I think that's what we're trying to do with our podcast and obviously your podcast as well, Phil, because it's shares for beginners and the guides that we, we produce as well. Just try and increase that foundational knowledge that people can actually be confident in the actions that they're taking towards investing. 

Shani (26m 57s):


Phil (26m 57s):

So I can highly recommend the podcast. It's the Investing Compass podcast and you can hear lots more of Shani and Mark. Thanks very much for joining me today. 

Shani (27m 8s):

Thanks Phil. 

Mark (27m 9s):

Thank you very much.

Shares for Beginners is for information and educational purposes only. It isn’t financial advice, and you shouldn’t buy or sell any investments based on what you’ve heard here. Any opinion or commentary is the view of the speaker only not Shares for Beginners. This podcast doesn’t replace professional advice regarding your personal financial needs, circumstances or current situation