New Zealand Money Month Q&A: James Fuller, Co-founder and CEO of Hnry

James began his career as an application developer, before moving into technology strategy and consultancy. After senior roles at Thomson Reuters and Deloitte, he and co-founder Claire launched Hnry, a service designed to automatically calculate, pay, and file taxes for sole traders. Hnry is New Zealand's largest, and Australasia's fastest-growing accounting service, processing billions of dollars worth of payments every year.

Icebreaker! Buy Now Pay Later — yay or nay? 

Nay! I’ve just never been a fan of credit — it’s a useful tool when paid back quickly, but it’s all too easy to lose track of and for things to get out of hand.

What’s your approach to managing money?

I’m a bit of a data nerd when it comes to managing money. I tend to get far too into the details of where I’m spending, and how that tracks over time — much to the annoyance of my family!

Do you do anything special to keep engaged with your money?

I used to regularly import bank statements into Microsoft Money, and categorize all the spending so that I could look at the charts of our family spending patterns over time. When we started Hnry a few years ago, I found I had less and less time to get this sort of admin done, so I haven’t done it in a while now. These days I tend to just scrutinize the business spending!

How important are financial goals and do you have any you’re working towards?

I think it’s really critical to have some solid financial goals. It’s important to actually make them achievable though. I’m a big fan of having some longer-term goals and breaking those down into smaller, more achievable short-term goals, so that you can really see the impact over time. So a long-term goal might be something like paying down a mortgage over many years, and the shorter-term goals might be making voluntary contributions to that mortgage to help pay it down faster.

Where do you get your financial knowledge from?

I’ve always been interested in business and finance — so it’s something I’ve learned over time, picking things up from research and reading, as well as learning some lessons the hard way. I remember back when I was around 10 years old I would play a game with my dad where we would ‘invest’ an imaginary amount of money in the UK Stock Market, and see who did better over a few months. I became obsessed with tracking the share prices of the things I’d put imaginary money into, checking the price movements in the newspaper every day. Spoiler alert: I was not a good investor, and my dad won every time.

What do you love spending money on?

I really enjoy spending money on experiences — things that create memories — rather than simply buying ‘stuff’. I don’t really spend money on clothes or luxury items (most of my wardrobe is Hnry merch!), and I much prefer to spend money on going somewhere or doing something with the family.

What has been the best investment you’ve ever made?

Claire and I scrimped and saved and were lucky enough to be able to buy a small flat southeast of London many many years ago, and it increased in value by 40% over a few years, as the area it was in gradually became a little more livable and a bit less run-down. We sold that place when we moved back to New Zealand, and that helped us get a place here. I can’t take the credit for it being my master plan though — Claire was the one to see the potential in the property, whereas I was too worried about the area it was in!

Have you ever experienced financial difficulties?

When Claire and I first started Hnry, we weren’t able to pay ourselves for quite a while, so having both quit our full-time jobs to start the business put some pressure on our family — especially with two young kids. We ate into our savings a lot and had to really change our lifestyle to minimize spending and ensure we didn’t blow through everything we had. Luckily we managed to get the business to a place where we were able to take a small salary each — which made a huge difference.

What advice would you give someone just starting out with their finances?

I would always recommend that people make regular contributions to their KiwiSaver or Superannuation — it’s never too early or too late to start. Often we see Hnry customers (sole traders) tend to sacrifice making KiwiSaver contributions in favor of putting money into their business; however it’s a really good idea to always make voluntary contributions. Building a habit of making regular payments can really help in the long term, and if you make those contributions straight away when you get paid, it’ll pay off for you in the future.

What’s the silliest thing you would put on a new design for the $100 note?

We didn’t get Laser Kiwi as our flag, so maybe we could put it on the money instead?

This interview is part of New Zealand Money Month 2023. NZMM is coordinated by trusted personal finance resource Sorted, in partnership with the financial capability community, and it involves events all around the country to encourage New Zealanders to talk about money and develop greater financial capability. To further the conversation about money we got in touch with some of our pals in the personal finance space to get their perspectives on their own finances.

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