Saturday, December 16, 2017

After-Action Review : Financial Bloggers Meet-Up

The tradition of having blogger gatherings was started by the folks of BigFatPurse who took the first step in getting the financial bloggers together to have gatherings to discuss key issues affecting them. A much stronger alliance came into being when we found that many marketing firms are trying to pay financial bloggers in "exposure" in exchange for influencing the investing public towards their corporate goals.

The work of organising such gatherings has now been passed onto BIGScribe, which is really a company incorporated by financial bloggers with the mission to monetise their knowledge and effort.  Yesterday, we had a meet-up amongst financial bloggers and for months, I have been hatching a scheme to go beyond just catered food and gossiping about lifestyle bloggers.

Financial bloggers are one of the most motivated and learned folks on the Internet. Their ideas are valuable to corporate companies and their talks consistently sell out because of their willingness to give straight talk that is untainted by corporate interests. As I had over a decade of public speaking experience, I always believed that we can create a model that can surpass that of the Toastmasters because we have more substance and more willing to critically evaluate someone's content. I was also betting on the idea that financial bloggers would be happy to share 10 mins of their time to talk about any topic in an informal setting.

I will leave each individual blogger to expand on their talk but for this blog's readers, here are the topics we discussed yesterday:

There was no investment talk last night. We even had a special treat when SMOL sang a song for us.

Broadly speaking, six speeches was quite a good result for a first trial run.

But the weakest link was me as the MC. I should have controlled time slightly better, so we may have to use a bell if we were to coordinate another event and I surprised that chair placement in the room can really help us with crowd control. These are rookie mistakes if you do not have event management experience.

It's now back to the drawing board where I try to convince the directors to carry this idea forward for a paid event involving around 10 speakers, some preliminary ideas include the following :
  • We have to curate each speech proposal.
  • We have to aggressively limit each talk to 10-12 minutes.
  • There should not be no more than 6 slides including the introductory page.
  • Each speaker will limit himself to discuss ONE investment idea / philosophy.
  • Of course, speakers will be given a small gift of vouchers for participation but the real reward is to attend the talk for free. ( 10 investment ideas is a lot for one event ! )
There are some crazier ideas I may borrow from the Barcamp Unconference but I really got to have some coffee with the company directors to push them through.

Eventually, this may even be a new way for us to discover some new public speaking talent that investors would be willing to pay for in future conferences.

In the next 2-3 installments, I will talk about Mid-Life Crisis and how it affects a person's approach towards his Personal Finances.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Art of the Good Life #1 : Mental Accounting and the "Tai Ko Kia" fund.

Let's move onto the next book. This is great book that has so many tools, it is best digested slowly.

Mental Accounting is supposed a bad thing to do in finance because it creates inconsistency in the way we handle money. This happens quite a bit for folks who have inherited money versus earned money.

For most of us normal human beings, inherited and earned money are placed in separate buckets. Earned money belongs to us because of the personal exertion we made to earn that money. Inherited money is a lot more complex, we might just want to preserve it because it is something given to us by a loved one. This is why, when a person develops a margin account, I bet he is more likely to invest his earned money into the margin account. Inherited money may be put into something safer, like a broad based ETF or bonds.

A similar argument can be make for a lot of crypto currency fans who read financial blogs. I acknowledge that cryptos has had a really good year, but it's best to use just your spare change to buy them.

( Ok Ok, I know that many of you are now sitting on a heck of a lot of spare change )

This book views mental accounting as a good thing. We evolved to create mental accounts to protect ourselves from psychological pain.

The author sets aside a sum of money to make donations to charitable organisations every year. When he gets a traffic fine, he will deduct from that account so he does not feel that its cutting into his hard earned money.

Singaporeans can benefit from this idea from instituting a "Tai Ko Kia" fund.

You might ant to consider setting aside perhaps $2000 every year to deal with bad luck like fines or, in my case, when my son decides to break some of my equipment at home. If there is some amount left in your Tai Ko Kia fund after the new year, you can have a Tee Kong Kia barbecue celebration or simply buy more toys for your kids.

Monday, December 11, 2017

How did 2017 pan out ?

We have less than a month to go until 2018, so I decided to look at my first post in 2017 to see whether I managed to fulfil all the promises I made to myself as well as review whether my predictions were accurate.

Here's what I missed out on :

a) Predictions on financial markets were thankfully quite wrong.

It's obviously better to be rich than to be right.

I wrote that 2017 would have been a flat year. I was glad that I was wrong, and I was able to emerge from 2017 with a lot more assets than when I took my last pay-check. My investment performance could have been better over the past 4 years, but considering that my family needs at least $60,000 a year to maintain, to be able to emerge in a better shape than before is a decent feat.

Moving forward my portfolio has developed some capabilities for leverage and I was personally hopefully to introduce a small amount of short-selling in 2018.

b) Career in portfolio management did not materialise... so far.

Another example of making all sorts of bets against myself. I was feeling quite down in January this year and thought my grades would not make me an employable lawyer by the time I graduated which was why I tried to hedge by considering a career managing money.

I am in firmer ground with my legal career now since I am done with my bar exams, things can still go wrong but I am a lot more optimistic than before.

Here's what worked out so far :

a) Less drama at home

2017 had much less drama although my parents are still not getting any younger and I need to be careful as we've just lost our domestic helper.

b) So far there's still hope of becoming a lawyer in 2018

My legal career is gaining more momentum and I have a lot more confidence with my skills now that I have gone through the bar preparations. The actual legal work is a lot more interesting because it is practical and can impact people's lives in a dramatic way. I did not enjoy some aspects of university schoolwork because academic work can sometimes be too distant from reality.

I also have much fewer hang-ups about being older and slower than my peers. What I lack in mental agility, I make up with experience. Thanks to a short internship I am more confident about using my engineering and financial skills to assist in dispute resolution. 

c) That satisfying work with BIGScribe

Lastly, the work with BIGScribe has been the single most satisfying work I have done for the past 2 years. I have made around 7 or more speeches and thanks to the coordination of the directors of the company, we've managed to sell out all the tickets for these events. I also enjoy being a fanboy when some other person is giving his talk.

I think that interacting with readers and other presenters who are smart and have some really great investment ideas of their own is the real pay-off when I make my prepared events. As you guys might already know, I don't sit still when presented with a good investment idea, I will backtest it and add a personal twist to it before using real money to back these ideas up.

My margin portfolio was first inspired by Brian Halim's idea that sometimes it is better to invest in higher quality REITs rather than stick to risky high yielding counters, it was modified again after I attended Marubozu's talk in the middle of year after I tried to backtest and formalise his claims. The leverage came after I became much more confident of taking risks after becoming much more comfortable with the lower volatility of higher quality real estate assets.

In 2018, I will provide some further directions on how my career and investment portfolio will pan out.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Upcoming BIGScribe Financial Bloggers Moot

This coming week, a select group of extremely elite and exclusive financial bloggers will be meeting up for a friendly gathering. Over the months leading to this event, I have been trying to sell the idea of a financial blogger's "Unconference" or TEDx like conference to the directors of Bigscribe.

I can't really say that I have been successful, because it is quite a counter-intuitive idea.

Why would financial bloggers, generally wonky introverts, be willing to speak for about 5 min to 10 min on one investment idea for almost negligible pay? The resulting event would also lack a central theme because folks may talk about anything under the sun so we cannot even predict how much value add this would bring to paying customers.

While I have difficulty understanding why others might be motivated to do this, I do know that I will happily jump into any speaking opportunity given that I'm possibly one of the rarer "flaming extroverts" in the finance blogosphere and having more than a decade of public speaking experience helps too.

But here are some reasons why another blogger should consider making a 5 min pitch:

  • First of all, if you speak in an "Unconference", you get to participate for free and you get to home with 20+ new ideas from the other speakers.
  • Secondly, this is a great opportunity to get new fans of for your blog. 
  • Thirdly, some of my ideas are incomplete and instead of talking about back-testing or quantitative alpha, a 5-10min talk can only accommodate perhaps just one new concept. So I need audience participation to shape your ideas further.
So this Friday, we are doing this at a super-miniscule scale so only four of us have volunteered to speak on a pet topic of our own so far. 

My topic is something I have been promoting since my bar exams ended last week. I created a minor stir suggesting that financial independence could not preclude someone from becoming a loser and I will be building up this subject matter into something bigger. I can tell that this issue is something other bloggers are deeply vested in.

I will be talking about "Mid-life Crisis and how it impacts Personal Finance" :
  • An overview about mid-life crisis and some science behind it.
  • What coping mechanism are there for mid-life crisis.
  • What it means for folks who are planning our finances.
Rest assured that there will be an AAR after the talk and I am guessing the other bloggers will probably not give me an easy time for this.

I do not know the full list of invited bloggers for this Moot, but I do hope that if you are invited, you can volunteer to speak on a pet topic that can be shared with fellow financial bloggers. This is not a formal event, even if it's just sharing a formula for a new facial cleanser or a book review, it will be very much appreciated.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Can you be financially independent and be a loser at the time ?

Personal Finance is to Finance the same way English Literature is to the English Language. While financial problems may be resolved by mathematical formulas or a backtesting exercise, there are many ways to interpret problems in Personal Finance. Some might be right and some might be wrong but most are somewhere in between. 

I always find value in interpreting someone’s situation in a novel or unexpected way, because let’s face it, looking at it from many points of view is probably better than just looking at it from one. In English Literature, I’d like to give a D7 answer in Secondary School ( although it might well give me an expulsion or A+ answer at the Univerisity level. ) Needless to say, I try to avoid the Humanities when studying for anything after secondary school.

Recently, someone shared a story of a financially independent single male in his 40s and I kicked the hornet’s nest by declaring that he is weak. Some folks supported my thesis but quite a few disagreed with me. I thought I would pen some thoughts on financial independence and argue that it is completely possible to be a big fat ass loser in spite of your financial independence.

A) Honesty and Deceit

I think this is a genuine problem FI folks face. This FI dude has to lie about his status because people either do not understand him or might take advantage of him. I think honesty is not the best solution as well because very few people may understand how the process works and some folks do come from families where there are relatives who are always out to take advantage of you.

There are some answers that are not completely honest that does not involve deceit. 

Calling yourself a private investor is one. Another is saying that you are on a sabbatical but do not know when you can recover from mid-life crisis or burnout. 

My solution is to go to law school, which eliminates not just this problem but the other two which I will explain below. 

B) Loneliness

This section deserves a philosophical lesson of its own. 

Some things have ameliorative value - they meet crucial needs in society. An engineering, finance or law degree has amerliorative value, it earns you a living and performs a crucial service to others. Society just needs legal advice even though I expect a lot of executives to hate dealing with lawyers in
the workplace ( I know, because I studied law because I want to give myself legal advice and stop being led on a wild-goose chase at work ).  Some things have existential value - they do not meet crucial needs but may provide meaning to a person’s life. A degree in the Arts, Philosophy or Literature or some personal hobbies have immense existential value. 

Your financial know-how and discipline are skills with ameliorative value, but they not contain very much existential value. You can derive existential value from Hobbies, Great literature and Art but getting into the right cryptocurrency at the right time will not make your life meaningful or deal with your intense loneliness.

To deal with loneliness, you need to hang out with other people. But more importantly, you need to be interesting enough for others to want to hang out with you, which comes back to appreciating things with existential value. 

And in my portfolio of existential assets, a large part of it is invested in Dungeons and Dragons. I should add that fantasy role-playing is on a huge bull run all thanks to Stranger Things and live-streaming. 

C) Lack of structure in your life

I think this problem does not plague those who FI-ed by personal exertion because you need to lead a pretty structured life to attain your independence at a reasonable age. It is a serious problem for those who inherited their money because they simply do not understand what it means to accumulate wealth on their own so they drift endlessly from moving into one silly and pointless project to another.

It is this point that hits FI losers the hardest. 

You have already won a battle that perhaps 95% of the population would lose in Singapore, and yet you have no structure in your life, might even have problems engaging with other people, and boring as fuck.

But unlike 95% of the population, you can’t blame it on lack of wealth, networking contacts or family support.

The problem lies genuinely with you.

Anyway, I just want to impress upon the FIRE community in Singapore that in light of our successes in Personal Finance, we can still become losers so a does of humility will be helpful when we deal with those who have yet to complete the FI journey. 

Perhaps, with our newfound financial resources we can double up and put in more effort into promoting our hobbies. And achieve the next step in our personal evolution - Existential Independence. 

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Before Happiness #5 : Positive Inception

In this last article on Shawn Achor's Before Happiness, we talk about scaling happiness.

This is also a very practical chapter and I think fresh law graduates should pay attention to this article as they are going to very possibly end up in a fairly negative workplace. There has always been reports that the depression rate amongst lawyers are one of the highest amongst all the professions. I remember visiting a fairly prominent legal outfit and one grizzled associate got us all into one room, and when none of her colleagues are within earshot, whispered to us :" You know all those horrible stories you have heard about this place ? It's all true. "

a) Scale your positivity

Managers might be able to create simple rules of thumbs to create a more energized workplace. The books proposes a really nifty 10/5 rule - When a customer is 10 feet away, achieve eye contact and smile. When a customer is 5 feet away and not engaged with anyone else, greet him.

I still find the courts rather intimidating, but I think I will try to smile every time I am there to do my traineeship.

I just hope that this will not be interpreted as a weakness.

b) Power Lead

The first loud mouth who talks is always perceived to be more credible.

This is why being an extrovert amongst mostly introverted financial bloggers is fun even though most of them are better investors and smarter than I am.

Be the first to lead a conversation and make sure that it always begins in positive territory. Start the conversation with a compliment to the other side and talk about something positive that have occurred in your life lately.

I think the second part will be a struggle in the Asian context because it might be misconstrued as bragging.

Still, do it anyway.

c) Create a shared narrative

Perhaps among ourselves as trainees and associates, it might be helpful to start thinking about the kind of help we are providing for our clients and what our advice means to them. We need to construct a story of why we do what we do. But I know myself to be of a fairly cynical bent and will find it hard to see beyond billable hours when I start work next year.

( For quite a while, I kept thinking that engineers exists to cut operational costs, so I think  the problem lies with me rather than the environment I work for. )

But the practical benefits of having a shared narrative are astronomical - Salespeople who find meaning in what they do can increase sales by 700% !

This principle can be used in reverse. I now believe that the grand mission of unbiased financial bloggers is to band together to put up truthful articles on the problems with ILP investing and shed light on unrealistic financial products because the finance industry has found to way to motivate their personnel through expensive motivational programs.

The psychological truth is compelling - An insurance salesperson who sells products just to earn a commission can harm society in small ways. A salesperson who is motivated to believe that his work is helping others and is meaningful in the grand scheme of things can do seven times more harm to society !

Thus, we need to have a shared narrative to disrupt the shared narrative of others !

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Personal Update - Just Finished the Bar Exams

Wow ! I am finally free ! For the next one month, I have no obligatory readings that I have to do and papers I need to prepare for. Beyond some projects which I have promised myself that I would do, I am practically free to game role-playing games the entire month. 

A) Bar Exams

Completing the Part B exams is not as euphoric as I thought it would be. This was a tough but enjoyable series of papers because it was set by pretty cool geeks. I had to crack cases inspired by characters in Futurama, Rick and Morty and even Wonder Woman. It made doing a tough paper much more enjoyable. My regret is that my answer could have contained pop culture references of its own. One answer should have said “In contravention of ethical guidelines, Rick could have gotten himself into a Pickle” But 16 hours of exam over 4 days is stressful. I hope I will pass.

I made my contacts with the LLB folks and really enjoyed engaging with them. The young and upcoming lawyers to be have one thing we Gen X folks lack - a future life that is full of possibilities. While they will be entering a hyper-competitive marketplace that has, in my opinion, has too much talent, there is at least a possilbility that they will become industry leaders one day. For us Gen X folks in our 40s we’re more likely to be stuck at our current life circumstances. 

This closing of possibilities is one of the reasons why many of us get a mid-life crisis. I will not say anymore because...

B) Bloggers Moot 

BIGSCribe is still arranging a closed-door affair for the creme de la creme of the financial blogosphere. If you are not in the know, you are not likely to receive an invitation. For this event, I proposed the idea of a TED like conference for us to speak for about 5-10 minutes on any topic we think bloggers would like to hear. I will be sharing some the latest on mid-life on mid-life crisis and will working out with the expert crowd what this means for our personal finances.

For those who are not invited, rest assured that I will share as much I can about the event when I do an AAR here.

C) Special Projects

Just because I no longer exams does not mean that I no longer have projects. My first priority is to get put some SEO magic into this blog and try to push for more book sales. More will come later. 

Beyond serious stuff, I expect to be doing as much gaming as possible.

D) Travel and Leisure

This exam season has been psychologically draining. For some strange reason stretching exams to early December is painful because a lot of folks are travelling and putting smiling pictures on Facebook while I am trying to figure out how to help a hypothetical guy ensure that his mistress can get something in the event that he dies. 

This year it’s particularly bad because we had a good 2017 and folks have some disposable cash to burn. I will be going to Johor Legoland next Monday with my family but so far, it’s only to Malaysia for me. 

E) Financial Markets

My portfolios are not doing all that well because of the correction in local Tech counters. Fortunately I have built my margin account to minimise the damage as hospitality trusts are still doing ok. There will not be too many market movements in December.

F) Books

I will be shifting my focus to fictional works. During Part B, I completely missed out Dan Brown’s Origin and Brandon Sanderson has released his next book in the Words of Radiance series called Oathbringer.

As the year comes to a close, in another personal update, I will talk about leaving retirement. On January I will begin my training contract and will likely find ways to survive in the legal industry moving forward while keeping my mind open to any interesting offers from the IT industry.