Julia Chung, co-founder and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Spring Planning Inc., has always been willing to take opportunities as they come, including starting small businesses on the side as she built her financial career. JESSICA VENTURI/HANDOUT

Julia Chung, co-founder and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Spring Planning Inc. and president of the Financial Planning Association of Canada, talks about growing up with hippie parents, surviving as a single teenage mom, and her drive to seek out career opportunities continuously both in and outside of the financial services sector.

What was your first money lesson?

When my older brother and I were toddlers, our mother bought us this little cardboard book for kids that explained how a bank works. It also had a piggy bank at the back. That’s my first memory of learning about money. Then, when I was five years old, my mother took me to the local credit union and helped me open a bank account. She did the same thing with my brother when he turned five. She talked about saving money and what to do with it, whether spending it on something frivolous or donating it to local charities. My mom was adamant about us developing financial skills from a young age. It was a thread throughout our lives.

What was your experience with money growing up?

My parents were immigrants. My mom came to Canada from the U.K. when she was 11 and my dad came from Hong Kong when he was 20. Both were from well-off families, but when they met in Calgary and got married six months later, they wanted to be financially independent and build a life and family on their own. They were also hippies and wanted to be ‘real Canadians,’ so they moved to Whitehorse, learned to hunt and fish, and found work to pay the bills. That’s where my brother and I were born. When I was three, my parents decided the Yukon was too cold and moved the family to Halfmoon Bay on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.

We experienced a few negative financial events along the way; my dad’s business went under, my parents declared bankruptcy and we lost our house. Still, my mom and dad were determined to find their way without financial help from their parents. That became a constant in our lives: to be financially savvy and independent, especially for my mom after my dad returned to Hong Kong when I was seven. My parents then divorced when I was 10 and my mom moved us to the Lower Mainland. At the dinner table, we would talk about the importance of having a strong work ethic and discuss different monetary systems around the world. It was expected that my brother and I would have part-time jobs while going to school. There were also specific rules around what was appropriate for us to pay for once we started earning our own money.

What past events were most influential in shaping your life today?

When I was 19, my mom died and I had my first, and only, child – all in the same week. I was a single parent with no family nearby. I learned a lot of things at once – and quickly, including how estates work and how to survive as a single mom. I did a lot of careful juggling of finances to ensure my son had enough food, a roof over our heads and child care. I decided to work not long after having my son instead of staying home and collecting government benefits. I sacrificed spending more time with him as a baby to build a career that could support us better in the long run.

What’s your biggest money mistake – and what did you learn from it?

Getting married without a prenuptial agreement. I was married for about 10 years and then got divorced. It’s a life-changing event that can be financially detrimental. When you get married, especially when you’re young, you think you’ll be together forever and are on the same page. But there are so many things that you don’t know about the other person, including how they’ll grow and change.

What decisions have helped drive your career success so far?

A willingness to take opportunities as they come. The expectation for the kind of life I would live as a single teenage mom wasn’t good, but I never paid attention to what others thought. I always looked around, saw and took opportunities to do things I liked and was interested in. I am an entrepreneur, like my dad. While building my career in the financial services industry, I also helped start and run a few small businesses on the side, including a concert promotion company, a coffee business and a virtual assistant company. I have also worked as a copywriter, business and technical editor, and ghostwriter. Some of these worked out, some didn’t, but they all helped get me where I am today, which includes running my own successful financial planning business.

The Globe and Mail, May 9, 2024