By Oonagh Montague
The days when a woman’s place was in the home are long gone. Nowadays, she’s more likely to own the home, and perhaps a few more besides. Ria Lawlor, a qualified medical doctor, mother of two and full-time investor, is one of the founder members of the ICES Group, (Irish Complementary Education Systems), an extraordinary team of individuals determined to take the fear out of investing for the ordinary man, or woman.
“It all started in 2002 with a game called Cashflow,” says Ria. Cashflow 101, a board game designed by Robert Kiyosaki, author of motivational book Rich Dad Poor Dad aims to teach players how to invest, focusing in particular on property investment.
“When my husband Ian and I began playing the game with Tony Reid and Darrell O’Dea, we knew nothing about investment. We started as a small group playing in a kitchen. As more people joined, we moved to a hotel in Tallaght and, finally, on to Temple Bar.”
The group grew to such an extent that the original four decided it was time to structure the evenings. “We started inviting guest speakers and holding question and answers sessions,” explains Ria.
In 2003 the ICES Group was officially formed and, today, network meetings and events take place nationwide. Guest speakers at ICES meetings explore a range of subjects, such as gold investment, how to make money through property, stocks and shares, or the ever-crucial subject of tax. However, there is even more to learn when the speakers are finished. According to Ria, the questions and answers slot is often the most interesting aspect of an ICES Group event.
“People will ask questions such as ‘I’m looking at a property in Dublin 6, is it a good investment?’ or ‘How do I go about renting my house?’ It’s about shared knowledge and shared information. You might meet someone who tells you about an investment that may not be right for them, but it might be right for you.”
For Ria, this boils down to one simple lesson: “We’ve found that if you increase your network of people, you increase your net worth.”
For Tina Suvanto, a former librarian, the contacts she made through the ICES Group have led to fruitful investments.
“You can’t underestimate the power of meeting with like-minded people. I’ve made long-term friends from ICES Group,” she says.
Education forms the cornerstone of the ICES Group approach. To this end, they run several programmes and master classes. One of these is the Property Discovery Programme (PDP).
Clare Connolly was on a career break from her high-powered job with a pharmaceuticals company when she enrolled in the PDP.
And the outcome? Clare released equity on her home and went on to invest in a property in the UK, two in Eastern Europe, one in New York and she has just closed on a apartment in Massachusetts.
Through contacts made in ICES Group, Clare also now runs a letting agency. “It’s been life-transforming. As a single parent with a 15-year-old daughter, it initially felt like a big risk to take, but I thought, if I don’t do it now, I never will. I’m so glad I did. It’s just where I want to be.”
As Ria emphasises, anyone can become an investor: “It’s important to remember that everyone starts off at ICES on the same footing. None of us learned about money in school.”
In fact, one of the main lessons learned at the ICES Group is about returning to basics. Ria explains: “It’s about those very simple habits that many people have forgotten nowadays; like keeping an eye on your money, like saving. These are basic steps that have nothing to do with how much money you have. What’s important is what you do with it”