How These Philippine Volcanoes Do Money

Philippines rugby SEA Games squadRugby may not be the most popular sport in the Philippines, but our national rugby team, the Philippine Volcanoes, is a force to be reckoned with in the region. They may have lost to Sri Lanka in the Division 1 championships in May, but the team is now 51st in the world, and the 5th in Asia. Which is all the more impressive when you consider that five or six years ago, our rugby team was the bottom in Asia, but they steadily ground out wins until they made it to the second tier in the region.

And now, with rugby sevens as a medal event at the Southeast Asian Games, both our men’s and women’s teams are gunning for gold, and they have a good chance at taking home a medal. The resurgence of rugby in the country is due in no small part to players like Jake Letts and Matthew Saunders, Filipino heritage players who were born abroad and grew up in Australia but chose to play for the Philippines. They’re also very passionate about growing the sport here, helping the efforts of the Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU), the country’s governing body of rugby union.

Jake is the captain of the sevens team going to the SEA Games, head of the national team, as well as handling corporate sponsorship for the PRFU. Matthew, or Matty as he’s also called, plays professional rugby for Japan-based team Kubota Spears.

Before they set out for the SEA Games, Jake and Matty spoke to iMoney about how they ended up playing for the Philippine Volcanoes, how they handle money, and why a P3044 outlay is the best investment Jake has ever made.

How did your childhood and early life influence your attitudes towards money and work?

MS: My mum’s from the Philippines so she grew up in the province of Pangasinan, so obviously getting to where she was, because we grew up in Australia, Mum had to work very hard when she was younger to afford a better life. So growing up my mother and father taught us that nothing comes easy, that you have to work pretty hard for it, and you got to have a strong work ethic. And they’ve instilled that in us that there were never any handouts, you got to earn and what you get.

JL: Yeah, I’m very very similar to Matty, my mum grew up in Bicol in the Philippines and she came from a pretty tough background, she wasn’t very wealthy, she found my dad, they obviously fell in love and dad brought her back to Australia. But saying that, she was a very hard worker, and like Matty says, she instilled that in us too. She was working two jobs in Australia, all day and all night, and my father had a job as well.

In terms of our family household, they really did both work very hard; probably my mum more so because she enjoyed the factor of providing for the family. She not only worked two jobs but she’d cook, clean, do everything in the house, do anything a mum does and more. And my dad’s overseas a lot, he’s a pretty intelligent guy. He’s worked hard for what he has now; he ran a few successful business, started a portfolio, owned a couple of restaurants, and some other stuff. Having said that, my dad’s known for keeping his wallet quite close to him …

matt saunders of the philippine volcanoes

Matt Saunders in training.

And did you ever think rugby would be a viable career for you?

JL: I never thought rugby would be a career for me. I just played it because it was a hobby. I went to university for five years. I had every intention of going to the corporate world. But Philippine rugby opened up the opportunity to play rugby professionally, and I took that opportunity with both hands and it’s something I’ll always appreciate, playing Philippine rugby, playing in countries like Japan where Matt still plays.

MS: Yeah, playing rugby from a young age, being a young kid, your role models on TV playing, you always dream of being able to do it one day. But not many get the opportunity to do that. Like Jake said, I played for the fun of it. I never thought I would one day do it professionally. I also studied back in Australia. I became an electrician, and then, playing for the Philippines, I was exposed to the opportunity of playing professional rugby so playing pro now is pretty exciting.

Did you guys have any “real-world” jobs before going into rugby?

MS: I’ve only been pro for 3 or 4 years now. Prior to that I studied being an electrician in Australia, finished my studies, so I’m actually a qualified electrician by trade in Australia. So that’s always good to fall back on after rugby.

JL: I studied full time for five years and ended up with a masters in management. When the opportunity came to play in Japan professionally I took that with both hands. I’m kinda lucky that my mum pushed me to go to university as well. Usually it’s the other way around; you play sport first and study later. Studying full time in Australia and playing in Japan opened up opportunities for me to be full time here with the Volcanoes. It’s a good thing I get to play and work for them and show expertise on and off the field.

Jake Letts of the Philippine Volcanoes

Jake Letts in action against Sri Lanka.

So what are your income streams now?

MS: For me it’s through rugby in Japan. Prior to that i was making money as an electrician. But at the moment, yeah, my main income is through rugby.

JL: I’m the same as Matty. For now I’m with the Volcanoes full time on and off the field. In terms of planning for the future, me and Matty are both looking at other income revenue streams. Growing up, I’ve always been interested in business management and entrepreneurship. I’m definitely looking to open up a few little projects on the side. It’s just a matter of finding the time, that’s quite hard.

We’ve both got a pretty relevant background, our parents were obviously very supportive, I know my dad is, I know Matty’s dad is in terms of putting our money where investment streams are very high. I know my older brother’s teamed up with my dad already; they left me out of the last portfolio deal, which was quite surprising and I wasn’t very happy about it. But I think Dad will guide me through that phase when I’m at that stage of my life.

How do you balance all your responsibilities?

MS: Time management and scheduling, I suppose. For me it’s not too hard because I play rugby and that’s my only job so I’m very concentrated on that. I don’t have to do anything outside of that for the moment. Obviously if i had kids and a family it would be different, but right now it’s just rugby.

JL: I’m currently employed as head of national teams. I had an agreement with the PRFU for me to stay in the Philippines, I’d want be doing both, I wouldn’t just want to play rugby. I want to get some expertise in my chosen field after rugby, because there is life after rugby. We can’t play our whole lives. I made that option that if I come back I want to boost my resume. And the PRFU were very accepting of that.

I’ve always been interested in study and the way money works, I guess. Reading books and stuff, going to uni, it’s all about learning, and that’s where time management comes in. You’ve got to be able to plan things in advance, and if you don’t you’ll fall behind. Obviously the world is changing every day, there’s new technology, new innovation, and real estate in the Philippines is booming. In terms of being able to do that it’s staying up to date, being able to read the current news and trends. We have other players in our team that are in real estate now; they keep us in the loop which is good.

matt saunders

What’s the best and worst money decisions you’ve made?

MS: In terms of an investment, I’ve bought some investment property back in Australia. The same as Jake was saying about real estate over here in the Philippines, in Australia it’s booming as well. So Dad’s always helped us and told us “the best time to buy a place was yesterday, the next best time is today,” so I got my foot in the door because every day it gets harder and harder to buy property in Australia.

Worst investment, probably little gadgets and stuff. I buy DVDs from the Philippines, take them home, and they don’t work.

JL: The best investment I made is why I’m here. When I first wanted to play for the Philippines, I needed a passport so I had to apply. If I didn’t purchase that application, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be able to play in the SEA Games, wouldn’t be able to play in Japan. It opened up the road to where I am now, and how I got to know Matty and all the rest of the boys. A Philippine passport was … 89 Australian dollars (P3044)? That was a good purchase.

My worst purchase is impulse buys, like Matty says. When you have money in your wallet, you just buy things you don’t need. Like the other week, I bought a new pair of boots for quite a lot of money. I still haven’t worn them. I wore them once and I could feel some blisters. I would like to return them but I was four days too late. So now I’ve got an expensive pair of boots sitting in my suitcase, waiting to be used, and I still haven’t used them.

So what are your financial/career priorities for the next five years?

MS: Just try and save up. I’ve got a couple of mortgages now, so I’m going to try and pay them down, and save up while I’m working to help set myself up later on in future so I don’t have to worry so much about that side of things. If I’ve got investment properties underneath me, then it’s easier to provide for a family later on in life.

JL: For me, I always relate everything back to my studies. As everyone knows revenue + income = profits. The more I can put into those lines, the better. Investment properties is a big thing. I’ve got some start-up capital, I do have a couple of things in terms of starting them up, it’s just a matter of finding the time and finding the right person to do it. It’s also a matter of finding the right target market and come in at the right time because if you don’t, you spend a lot of money on a start-up business and it goes nowhere. As long as you have the right products at the right time and the right capital I think you can do very well.

jake letts

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about money?

JL: I’ll take you back to the Rich Dad, Poor Dad book. Everything you earn, 10% is yours to keep. No matter how much you earn, you let that 10% accumulate and you invest that in a property or whatever, and you just let it build. No matter what, you just keep that 10% and you just make sure that’s invested.

MS: It comes back to what our parents instilled in us. Nothing comes easy, so you have to work hard for what you get. You don’t get handouts in life.

Does money make you happy?

MS: To a degree. I wouldn’t say it doesn’t, but there are more important things in life than money. But you’d live a very tough life if you had no money. So you make decisions along the way, good or bad, and you learn from it. But hopefully you make more right than wrong decisions, and it leads you to an easier life.

JL: Money can make you happy, but I’m in agreement with Matty. There are other things in life that can make you happier. I actually had that way of thinking back in school, “I wanna do this, I wanna do that, I wanna be in the corporate world.” I actually started my own business when I was 18; I was about to get it up and running, everything was ready to go.

But my best mate told me “You’re crazy, you know. You’re about to start a business when there’s a whole world to explore. Why don’t you do that first and then get started with the business?” He was about to embark on a year-round trip traveling the world, and he actually convinced me. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I don’t regret it for a second. If it was for money, I would have kept going with the business and started at a young age, but if I’d done that I wouldn’t be here today, wouldn’t be in the SEA Games, wouldn’t have known Matty or any of these guys.

Money to us is just that, income to keep us going. But in terms of happiness if you’re with the people you love, doing the things you do love, then that’s happiness.

MS: You can’t trade money for happiness.

JL: But it’s good to have money. (laughs) It’s good to have money and be happy.

philippine volcanoes sendoff

Follow the Philippine Volcanoes and Philippine Lady Volcanoes as they go for gold at the SEA Games on Sunday, June 7, and Monday, June 8. You can watch games live on TV5 and online at For more on Philippine rugby, visit the Philippine Rugby Football Union’s website at

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