A piece by Kelly Anissa
Once upon a time, Melissa Pinto found herself wondering if she would ever make it into college like her friends.
“ When you’re in school, you don’t really realize how your parents are financially, until it starts to affect you like just before college,” she said.
Before Melissa became the successful accountant working at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) today in the UK, she was living with her family in a lower income household. To say life was simple might be an understatement.
There was nothing miserable about their situation growing up, but things were never easy. The one thing that kept constant through it all was her studies. She had her head buried in a book almost everywhere she went and excelled in her education. In many ways, it felt like I was speaking to Hermione Granger. However, the absence of the iconic character’s big curly hair brought me back to the very real person sitting in front me, her legs crossed and a packet of teh-o-ais in her hands. It was a hot day in Seremban.
Melissa’s parents made it known from young that there would be toys she couldn’t get, or go shopping like others did. She noticed that the house her family lived in was smaller, and observed as others compared the things they bought among themselves.
They had no car at first, only a motorbike and took a bus almost everywhere they needed to go as a family. Her father was a government servant and her mother a housewife.
With very little savings of their own, every year at Christmas, they would get a bank loan to put up new curtains, change the cushion covers and buy presents for the family.
“When you’re younger, you don’t realize what that means.”
After Form 5, Melissa and her parents hit a speed bump they saw coming a mile away – college. There was no plan.
“I could see all my friends applying to private colleges and I knew there was no chance in hell that my parents could afford that.”
It was at that point that Melissa made herself a promise that when she has children someday, they would never share the same concerns she had to at that very moment- that if they worked hard, they would be able to go study wherever they wanted to.
“I had to make a better life for myself. ”
During the interview, she continuously reiterates that she doesn’t blame her parents. No matter how tough things were, they gave Melissa and her sister the best they could. The house was well kept and warm food was always on the table.
“It’s just how it is, isn’t it? ” Melissa said.
She wanted to be successful and made many promises to herself, but wasn’t confident if she would make it back then. I observed the look on her face as she spoke about the hopes and dreams she had. For a moment there, I wondered about mine too.
She had law on her mind, but settled for accounting instead because it costs less. Not long after, she started on the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), a diploma level qualification where payment was made on a per semester basis, which took a load off her parents’ shoulders.
Melissa paused to take a sip of her tea. As she set her drink aside, she now had a different vibe. I could tell a silver lining was coming up.
As he was flipping through the newspaper pages one day, Melissa’s father came across a scholarship advert from The Star and brought it home. Turns out the scholarship was linked to where she was studying, Systematic College Kuala Lumpur to do her Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualifications . What were the odds right?
“I was in the Star’s Bright Roving Annoying Teens (BRATS) program,” She said. “I used that and put it in my resume for the interview and I actually got the scholarship.”
Melissa’s parents were relieved off the burden of the expensive fees. That, and taking the bus from Seremban to Kuala Lumpur everyday kept expenses at a minimal.
There were about 14 papers in her course and the average time to complete them takes three years. However, Melissa completed them six months in advance. For one of those papers, she secured her spot as the highest scorer in Malaysia and second place in the world.
By 20 years old, she had already graduated and booked her first job at Sunway Group, where she got to deal with auditors from established accounting firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Her bosses were nice, but they told her that getting a job in a firm such as PWC and Ernst and Young would be difficult.
“ I didn’t think I could get into a company like that, BUT I wanted to try,” she said. “ So I thought I would spend a year in Sunway first and then apply with PWC and I ended up getting the job.”
“ Melissa told me that someday she is going to buy her parents a house and a car,” Debbie, one of Melissa’s cousins told me. “ That was her goal and she worked very hard to move towards it. ”
After spending 4 1/2 years at PWC doing auditing for hotels and companies all over Malaysia, it was time for a change. Bernard Chow, Melissa’s friend who was working at the UK at the time told her that the finance sector there was blooming.
“ So I thought okay, I’ll give it a try, ” she said. “It was also scary because being an auditor was really hard, you don’t even get paid a lot and by the time I left, I started earning about close to RM 4k.”
With only RM 7K in her savings (which only came up to about one thousand pounds at the time), the then 28 year old Melissa went ahead and took a big leap of faith.
Upon arrival in the land of hope and glory, Melissa settled in with some friends in the area and began going for job interviews right away and eventually secured herself a position at a German bank doing product control with a three month contract.
“I thought I would try something different, so I tried it ( product control) and I hated it and decided to go back to normal accounting, ”
After hunting for a more permanent vacancy somewhere else, she managed to get one at Citibank. Within a year of landing a job in the UK, true to her words, Melissa had enough to buy her parents a house.
“They sold their house when I was 12, I’m not sure why, financial difficulties maybe,” she said. “Ever since then, they just rented and I think they always felt a bit sad about renting ‘cause they wanted their own home.”
She called her parents and told them to go look for a house they liked with the only condition being that it needed to be a one storey home, because “they were going to get old in this house.”
After working in Citibank for a year, Melissa left for the Royal Bank of Scotland, because it had the challenges she was looking for. Fast forward to about seven years later, Melissa is now the Vice President for Franchise Reporting & Accounting Developments.
She told me she thought she was going to end up back in Malaysia within a month. Had she not secured a job when she did, nothing would’ve worked out, you see.
After two years, Melissa and her friend Bernard, who told her about the job opportunities in the UK, got engaged, married and now have a little family of their own.
This sounds like the kind of fairy tale EVERYONE needs.
It was around this time, the newlyweds bought her father a new car for Christmas.
Being surrounded by friends who are currently deciding where to further their education, which college is better than the other or if whether they should do it locally or abroad, I wondered if which college you go to plays an important role in the real world.
“ No, I don’t think so. I think if a person is driven, you would do whatever it takes to get to a point to get to a better life. But maybe if they did have the money to get to a better college, they would make a better living perhaps, IF they had the same personality. The thing is, being driven is something you’re born with. Its not something you can buy with money. That’s most important, you need to have that in you first ‘cause if you’re not driven or tenacious, you can still go to some fancy college and still be a loser. If my parents had more money, I might not have been more driven to be better or to push myself harder. I feel like its a balancing act. Now that I have kids, I have to make sure that I don’t spoil them too much and teach them that only if they work hard enough, then only will I spend money to get to a good college. If not, you’re on your own. I want them to be motivated and not just think its going to be handed to them. I don’t think you can rely on people to constantly push you to do a good job. Even when you’re working and your boss sucks, your boss shouldn’t be the reason whether you do a good or bad job. You need to do something you’re proud off.
No one should be responsible for motivating you except yourself. If you don’t, then maybe that’s just laziness.”