Building Financial Futures
Having solid financial literacy skills can not only help people accomplish goals like buying a home or saving for retirement, but it can also enhance their well-being. Economies can benefit from financial savviness, too. But in Asia Pacific, younger generations are lacking in financial education, says alumna Alison Chan.
“In APAC, money really isn’t talked about openly,” Chan says, “and especially how it fits into your overall life goals and with your personal well-being. Our mission is to help teach young people these financial skills and how to apply them.”
After a career in banking that started at J.P. Morgan, Chan set out to enhance young people’s financial literacy with a business she co-founded three years ago alongside alumnus Antony Leung, a former chairman of Asia Pacific while at J.P. Morgan.
Solomon Learning Group is a Hong Kong-based social enterprise that runs Project M² (M2= Morals & Money), an initiative that provides students with gamified digital lessons on developing good financial habits and mindsets. Since 2020, Chan has helped thousands of students from kindergarten through university learn about budgeting and financial planning through online lessons that complement instruction received in Chinese schools, and she’s eager to continue expanding Project M²’s reach.
Impacting younger generations
The ultimate goal of Project M² is personal well-being, says Chan.
She works closely with the Hong Kong Education Bureau on the initiative and schools can sign up for Solomon’s interactive, activity-based platform. Project M² relies on support and sponsorship from for-profit companies to cover costs.
The program is 80% online and 20% in-person projects and activities. Kindergarten students start by distinguishing between wants and needs, while older students learn about daily expenses and budgeting, investing and practice by creating a budget and savings plan. College students dig deeper, learning how to become financially independent.
“We make it very relatable,” Chan says.
Lessons learned at J.P. Morgan have helped her with the new endeavor, and especially the firm’s commitment to maintaining a high standard of excellence and professionalism. “We strive not only to teach technical financial skills but also lead young people to develop their own moral compass in making financial decisions,” Chan says.
Some 35,000 students, primarily in Hong Kong, have used and benefitted from Project M² over the last three years. Recently a school in Japan reached out to Chan and Leung and the school is now using Project M² in its curriculum, too.
“There’s more opportunity to go abroad,” says Chan. “This is an extension of what Antony and I have done in our careers. We’re using our collective wisdom and our experience to help younger generations.”
A shared mission
Chan got her start at J.P. Morgan as she finished her MBA at Harvard Business School. As a summer intern in 2001, she worked in high yield research with a focus on the retail and consumer sector.
After graduation, she joined the firm’s high yield origination team. She relished the challenging, demanding work. Chan also tapped into the firm’s internal women’s network, where she found support and career guidance. “J.P. Morgan is so well-structured,” she said. “I really flourished in the supportive culture. I learned leadership skills as well as cutting-edge financial skills. It was a wonderful experience.”
Two years later, Chan’s grandmother, who raised her, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Chan wanted to be by her side in China so she transferred to Hong Kong, and was able to take time away. “The firm was very understanding when I needed time away,” Chan says.
When she wasn’t with her grandmother in the hospital, Chan helped friends who had businesses in China with advice on selling their companies. She found herself using skills learned at the firm – financial modeling and strategic planning.
“It really excited me,” she says. Through word of mouth, more people started to ask her for help. “So I decided to take a different trajectory,” Chan says.
Since then, she’s worked on her own providing financial and operational advice to clients, traveling around China. She then helped a well-known expert network group establish its business in Asia, working her way up to APAC head of new markets.
Chan and Leung didn’t overlap at J.P. Morgan, but they met later in Hong Kong when Leung was the chairman and Chan was the president of the Harvard Business School association in Hong Kong. Leung was starting an investment group and he asked Chan to be part of his founding team.
Chan worked for Leung’s investment platform for four years on healthcare investment before deciding to pivot and work on education. That’s when the two co-founded Solomon Learning and the Project M² platform.
“Both of us shared the same observations about financial literacy,” she says. “We want people to understand you can talk about how to earn more money, but don’t stop there. Life is about more than making money—it's about making a difference. I want to help people shift their focus from accumulation to contribution.”