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🌟 My Journey from Finance to Fiction 📚

Ajay Khudania, the host of The KAJ Masterclass LIVE, interviewed me for his show. We talked about my experiences in the world of finance, putting real events into fictional books, and I even shared advice for aspiring authors.


Podcast cover image featuring Khudania Ajay and Mia Sivan on the KAJ Masterclass. The title reads 'How to Use Your Life Experiences in Your Writing: Insights from Mia Sivan.' Khudania Ajay is labeled as 'KAJ Masterclass' and Mia Sivan as 'Investment manager turned to Romance author.' The image includes play, pause, and other media control icons at the bottom

If you prefer reading to watching, below is an edited transcript:

Ajay: Tell us about yourself and your journey.

Sivan: I used to be a professional investment manager. I have a BA in economics and business administration and an MBA in finance and accounting. So, all my formal education was geared towards working in the finance industry.

I started working in 1991, and my first job out of university was in a firm managing OPM: Other People's Money. This is the big money—pension funds, provident funds, etc, you need a professional investor to manage it. I did that until 2007, and this gave me a perspective on how big money behaves. Also, you learn that you are treated differently when you manage this kind of money. People treat you as if it is yours, and you have to learn pretty fast that it isn't. You need to have respect for the money that you represent. And you need to be honest, which sounds trivial, but actually, a lot of scams and schemes in the finance world happen because people treat big money to manipulate the markets for their means.

The finance industry is affected by any and every crisis, as you need to address and think about them, and it wears you down. After nearly thirty years I decided to launch a second career. I chose writing because I used to get positive feedback on my writing.

My advice for beginning writers: when you just start out, write what you know. People feel your confidence through your writing.

In my first book, Crunching Her Numbers, I wrote about a strong woman, who some might call bitchy, and used a subplot about something that happened to me—a scam perpetrated by a very good friend of mine. Writing that book was writing about an environment that I knew and also about someone I knew and liked. I still like him, but he wasn't honest.

Ajay: I want to understand—what do you mean by strong woman and strong man? How have notions changed? Are masculinity and femininity the same or different?

Sivan: A strong man or woman, regardless of their gender, is someone who stands for their values or what they think is right. They don't cave in just because it might be better for them or even for their bank account.

As for women, for generations, women weren't allowed to show too much aggressiveness or decisiveness. It seems like when women say what they think and are very sure of themselves, they are not as well-liked as men who do the exact same thing. A man doesn't have to smile, but we expect a woman to do so—we think it is better if she does (smile).

We learn from a very early age that if we smile and speak less, it will be better for us. You know, there are studies that show that, in a meeting, if a woman and a man speak the same amount of time, she is perceived as speaking 30% more than him.

Ajay: When we think of big money, we generally think of places in the US or London. Israel, or Tel Aviv, is known more for its tech companies. Tell us how big money behaves in Tel Aviv and Israel.

Sivan: In investment management, there is what we call Home Bias, which means you are more likely to invest in your own markets. For example, India is a huge economy, but I’m not familiar with it at all; an Indian investor will be. But even with a huge economy like India, the capital market isn’t big. It's getting bigger—I think you're even almost as big as China in the emerging market world—but I’m sure big money, institutional money in India, is too big for the local market. Same in Israel: the institutional investors will allocate 30% in our home country and then you go out. Big money has to leave the small local market. Usually they invest in the United States, Europe, etc. The tech economy in Israel is very prominent, but Israeli tech companies are actually traded on the NASDAQ, not in Tel Aviv.

Ajay: How do you bring your own personal experiences and make them into an interesting story? Your mind will be boggled with so many of your personal experiences that it is very difficult to put all that into your characters. There is a danger of the story becoming boring with too many personal experiences and technical details.

Sivan: Your first draft is going to be very, very different from the final book. I actually had a lot more finance in the first few drafts of my first book than in the final version. I took an editor who knows nothing about finance and thinks it's the most boring thing in the world. And I kept editing out passages. So, what you need to do is hire someone, an editor, who doesn't think like you, doesn't like the same stuff as you, ask them for their honest opinion and be willing to cut out aggressively.

Ajay: Being from the investment industry and telling real stories, how do you maintain that balance of confidentiality and authenticity?

Sivan: Right. Even though I'm not in the industry anymore, I'm still compelled by confidentiality. Even now, I will never talk about past clients. All the scams in my books have already exploded, and they have newspaper articles about them. So I read the articles and make sure that I’m writing only what is public knowledge.

Ajay: So, people that know you, your former colleagues, do they ever recognize themselves or think they recognize others in your stories, and are they happy or not about it?

Sivan: First of all, yes, that happened. The first book I wrote very soon after leaving my place of work. I gave it to colleagues to read, and they came back to me and told me that when they first started reading the book, they thought they recognized our boss or the secretary, but after getting into it, they actually thought it was a different person. What I did is I took a little bit of that person, a little bit of the other, and did a mishmash. By the way - I also use real locations in my books, real addresses in Tel Aviv; I don’t make up squares, I use real squares and real streets.

Ajay: Your books are not only about finance; they also include steamy romance. Do you ever get reactions from real people like, "Hey, you used me in steamy scenes. I feel uncomfortable about it"?

Sivan: No, I don't because the main characters in my books are made up; they are not real. But you are correct that because I say I use real people, I get funny reactions. Like, one of the male characters in my first book is called Slava. And I get questions like, "Can we meet Slava?" No! He is totally made up. He is too good to be true.

Ajay: I want to understand, because you have dealt with big money and met people with big money, a lot of people say this big money thing is about control. What is your understanding of these people? There is a debate about controlling this power.

Sivan: Let’s separate two notions: institutional money is not like these billionaires you speak of. I did not meet Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, so I don’t know how they think or why they do what they do. Institutional money is heavily regulated. There is an investment committee every two weeks, and there are rules and auditors. It’s big money, but it’s made up of a lot of small monies from small people, and it’s your responsibility to make it possible for them to live comfortably off their pension.

Ajay: You’ve seen the scams and scammers in the real world—what was in their minds?

Sivan: I have no good answer. It’s partly greed, partly excitement, maybe it was using their wits, and also they made money. I think it’s a combination. Also, I think they don’t think of the consequences when they do it.

Ajay: In today’s modern world, how do you feel women play a part?

Sivan: I don't know how it is in India, but saying 2024 is different from previous years is not true. Ninety percent of the CEOs in the S&P 500 are men. About 85% of the mutual fund money is managed by teams of all male investors. So, in my books, I want to reflect that. In my second book, Analyzing Her Assets, the female protagonist wants a job. She has much more experience than her male counterpart. She's very good at what she does; he came only last year, yet he's an equal competitor. If it were the other way around, they wouldn't even consider her.

What I'm saying is women still have a long way to go to reach equality, let alone majority. So I want to reflect that in my text. And I'm not trying to fix that. I want people to say: Oh, this is what she has to do to get the job. It is so much more than what he has to do. I don't give solutions in my books, I just want to make people think.

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