June 25, 2017

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Authors Posts by Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong
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L-R: Ms Charis Low, Mr Edmund Chen, Mr Mervyn Hoe

by Ryan Ong

SINGAPORE is a country of opportunities; but opportunity also means tough competition. It takes more than just talent or working hard to succeed. We spoke to some of Manulife Financial Advisers’ (Manulife FA) top financial consultants, and some shared qualities emerged.

In this article, we spoke to three successful young Singaporeans, financial consultants Mervyn Hoe, Charis Low, and Edmund Chen from Manulife FA. Be it ensuring the financial stability of the clients in their care, or gaining a place in the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), these top Manulife FA financial consultants display similar traits that took them to the top.

While their roads are different and uncommon, they all lead in the direction of extraordinary success. The key factors that set them apart are:

 

Success Factor 1: Thinking beyond paper qualifications

Ms Charis Low, Manulife financial advisor. Image by Mohamad Aidil.

Ms Charis Low, who was a Singapore Airlines cabin crew stewardess, graduated with a Degree in Business Marketing. Becoming a financial consultant would seem like an unlikely career trajectory; nonetheless, in the two years since she joined Manulife FA, Ms Low has already become part of the noted Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) circle.

Ms Low believes education has to be backed with the willingness to step out from one’s comfort zone: “Qualifications do matter, in Singapore’s competitive environment; but it’s not the only way to success. There are life lessons that you don’t learn in any school, outside of lectures and books.”

Mr Edmund Chen, another leading financial consultant who became part of the prestigious Court of the Table (CoT) in his first year with Manulife FA, had a more “traditional” background. He began his career in financial planning as far back as 2007, with a degree in Banking and Finance from SIM. He also believes the right qualifications mean little without persistence, and the willingness to keep learning.

“Having a degree is beneficial, as it gets you into many job openings. However, I strongly believe that that is not the only way to get opportunities in life. Being intellectual without having the right attitude will not bring you far,” he said.

“The hard truth is that a degree doesn’t necessarily result in higher earnings.”

“The hard truth is that a degree doesn’t necessarily result in higher earnings.”

“Self-discipline and persistence are imperative qualities to success. And in today’s competitive world, regardless of your line of work, lifelong learning is paramount for building a successful career.”

Mr Mervyn Hoe, another entry into the MDRT, graduated from NUS with a background in Material Science and Engineering. He only got started as a financial consultant when he helped fill out an empty spot at an orientation camp (and even then, he only sold pet insurance at the start). Today he’s a successful financial consultant at Manulife FA, and he values the ability to connect as much as he does a degree: “Academic qualifications are important in Singapore, especially if you want to climb the corporate ladder,” Mr Hoe says, “And I’m quite happy I graduated with a Bachelor in Applied Science. But the ability to meet friends in University was just as important.”

“In NUS you can meet people from all different faculties and disciplines; and it’s important to build good networks. You need to the ability to build friendships and get along with people, as you never know when you’ll need their help later.”

 

Success Factor 2: Knowing when to keep going, and when to quit

A common quality among the successful is their seemingly perfect timing – they know when to stay invested in something, and when it’s time to try something different.

For Mr Chen and Ms Low, persistence has to be balanced with the costs they’re facing.

“It’s a mistake to give up prematurely – nothing worth doing comes easy, and the middle of the road to success is always messy. But persistence doesn’t mean being to obstinate either,” said Mr Chen.

“We should evaluate the positive trends we see in our efforts. If there are none, and the price of restarting or trying a different approach would be more cost-effective, then perhaps it’s time to cut losses and move on to a new method.”

Ms Low considers the consequence of failure, when it comes to pushing on. While she agrees persistence is important, she takes the view that: “There is no right and wrong in making such decisions; you just have to weigh up the consequences of further failure. Can you manage those consequences? If your instincts and gut feel say you cannot, you should try something different.”

Mr Hoe also suggests that you need to draw a line, when it comes to work and family: “Draw a line and don’t overwork. Don’t forget about your loved ones.”

“Draw a line and don’t overwork. Don’t forget about your loved ones.”

“If you get too into your job, your job will control you, and you won’t be happy. I don’t work on weekends, even if on weekdays I have no choice and have to sacrifice time with my children.”

Ms Low also draws a clear line on when to stop. “Don’t sacrifice your health”, she said, “Because without it, you can’t do anything. And don’t sacrifice your principles.”

 

Success Factor 3: Setting separate and targeted goals for work and life

Mr Mervyn Hoe, Manulife financial advisor. Image by Mohamad Aidil.

Mr Hoe separates his work and personal goals: “For work, I set a new goal every year after a conversation with my boss. We set the targets to reach, as well as milestones that are broken into specific days, weeks, and months; that’s the way I’ve worked for the past six years.”

“For personal goals, I have three children and aim to spend sufficient quality time with them. I set goals to spend time to teach them and play with them, and for myself I set goals to exercise daily and learn God’s word.”

Ms Low divides her goals along broadly similar lines, although family, career, and financial goals are separated. Each goal is specific and measured: “For family goals, I set a minimum of one family trip per year, and one family dinner per week. For career goals I got into the MDRT last year, and the current one is to set up my own team. Financially, I focus on saving $150,000 a year at minimum.”

For Mr Chen, effective goal setting goes beyond the self. Success comes from also ensuring you bring others with you: “My goal is to help grow the branch, improve the personal growth of newer colleagues, and assist my clients in growing their wealth. My personal goals are to achieve financial independence, and to enjoy life to its fullest.”

However, Mr Chen acknowledges that motivation is important in reaching those goals, and one source of motivation remains: “Having the desire to contribute to and draw inspiration from others.”

 

Success Factor 4: Cultivating a sense of empathy

Life inevitably brings confrontations and disappointment. What creates exceptional people is the ability to face such situations, and defuse them with empathy.

Mr Chen actively reminds himself to cultivate this behaviour, saying: “I am very adaptable and independent, and I can act in ways that sometimes seem aloof or uncaring. So I make it a point to go out of my way, to be as sensitive as possible; to have more open communications with people around me.”

“We will face awkward or difficult conversations. We have to understand where the other person is coming from, and understand their point of view. Most people are quick to talk, but it’s important to listen,” said Ms Low.

“Most people are quick to talk, but it’s important to listen.”

However, this doesn’t mean agreeing with everything: “There are times when I’ve had to say no to my bosses as well, because of things that clash with my principles.”

Mr Hoe says besides having empathy, the key is finding solutions amidst the tension: “Every now and then I need to tell someone their insurance claim is denied, or that they do not have the right coverage. But even then it’s important to focus on helping them, and keep looking for alternatives.”

 

Success Factor 5: Being disciplined in routines

Mr Edmund Chen, Manulife Financial Advisor. Image by Mohamad Aidil.

As any NS man who has been on a route march can tell you, rhythm and repetition do wonders to combat fatigue. Having productive routines can help to steady your mind, and keep you focused.

Mr Chen is a big believer in discipline, of which routine is a part.

“I have a practice of waking up four hours prior to my work schedule. I include a daily run, to train my endurance and give me the capacity to keep focused with a sharp mind,” he said.

“My other routine is giving my wife a goodbye kiss in the morning, before I leave for work; and then a kiss when I return. My family, especially my wife, is a pillar of support that makes my career successful.”

“I make it a routine to spend quality time with my children, to know about their day. Engaging them through play is important- carrying them, spinning them around. Before I end my night I catch up with my wife, have a Milo and some cookies, and allow myself a short television session after the children turn in.”

Mr Hoe has a fixed schedule.In the morning, I send my children to school, and I then go jogging and do whatever marketing I need. From noon I start work, and I begin the work day by thinking of client profiles and working out the plans they can use,” he said

“Routines help, and I follow them day by day. They also give my children a sense of comfort.”

Ms Low keeps a routine that prepares her at the start of the day, and winds down toward the end: “I wake up at 9am for breakfast with my husband. I read the newspapers, create the day’s to-do list, and then keep updated (usually on investment or Forex-related issues).”

“At the end of the day I do sports; I exercise two to three times a week. Then I spend time with my husband, maybe enjoy a movie together.”

 

Looking ahead with Manulife FA

Many of these success factors are straightforward and easy to understand. But it takes effort and discipline to cultivate them, and it’s an everyday process, as these Manulife FA financial consultants have shown.

But the sooner you begin, the sooner success itself becomes a habit.

 

This is an editorial series done in partnership with Manulife Financial Advisers.

Featured image by Mohamad Aidil.  

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Ryan Ong

A LOT of Singaporeans think Financial Advisers (FA) only sell insurance, but that isn’t all they do in this day and age. While insurance is part of the financial planning they do, most FAs take a holistic long-term view. Many prefer to work at building lifelong relationships, helping their clients all the way to retirement; and that means they need to do more than sell policies. Here are some other things you can get them to do for you:
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What exactly is a Financial Adviser (FA)?

In Singapore, FAs are licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) under the Financial Advisers Act.  Depending on the qualifications they’ve received (FAs do plenty of tests and exams to qualify), different FAs are authorised to offer different types of financial products, and dispense different types of financial advice. Insurance policies are just one aspect of their work.

Most FAs can also do the following:


1. Compare insurance products to give you the best s
olution for your needs

It might surprise you to learn that some FAs don’t just sell products from one insurer. Because insurance is just one facet of what they do for you, some FAs are willing to compare different policies for you depending on your lifestyle needs and affordability to suit your needs and get a better deal.

Some Manulife FAs, for example, will compare different insurance policies to make sure you get the right products within your budget. They can end up recommending or selling policies from other insurers, if they feel it’s a better fit for your portfolio*.

This isn’t to say FAs who work with specific insurers are bad; they are just more focused on helping certain demographics. But if you’d feel better with an adviser who will compare across the industry for you, know that there are many who will.

(*That’s why a lot of new FAs, who often seek to help families and friends as their first clients, tend to end up with the Manulife Financial Advisers; it lets them pick from a wider range of options, to deal with the individual cases that they’re intimately familiar with).

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2. Help with your retirement planning

For most Singaporeans, retirement planning is quite straightforward (just decide who gets the house, the car, and nominate someone to get your remaining CPF monies).

However, FAs would be around to help if your legacy planning is more complicated. For example, if you pass away unexpectedly and your 15-year-old child is to inherit the house. Or if you own a business, which is to be inherited by two or more children; and you want to establish rules on whether and when that business can be broken up and sold.

Most FAs know the proper safeguards when handling retirement planning, and can at least refer you to the most appropriate and cost-effective experts to help.

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3. Check up on other investments you’re considering

Different FAs will, depending on their network and qualifications, offer different depths of service. However, all of them understand how to build your portfolio for retirement or other purposes. They will know the right level of risk, and whether a given asset fits your portfolio.

This makes FAs a useful source of advice, if you are considering different investment opportunities. For example, if you want to invest money to help your children open their own café, your FA can determine how this will impact your portfolio, and make changes accordingly (or frankly advise you against it, if that’s what must be done).

FAs can also research alternative investments you’re considering, such as gold exchange-traded funds or property investments, and determine if they are viable additions to your portfolio.

Due to their extensive involvement in the finance industry, FAs are also more aware of potential scams, or entities on the MAS watch list (these entities often rebrand themselves to confuse the public).

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4. Continuously rebalance your portfolio to fit life’s changing circumstances

Proper retirement planning is not done in a single session. You’ll need to rebalance your portfolio (the various assets that make up your wealth) on a regular basis.

One example of this is age: As you get older, your portfolio should shift from growing your wealth to protecting it. This means exchanging riskier, high return assets, such as equities, to safer assets like Singapore Savings Bonds, or even simple fixed deposits.

Also, your changing financial situation can require quick, drastic changes. If you’re suddenly retrenched, for example, you may need to change your insurance policy to something with lower premiums.

You can get your FA to do formulaic and calendar based rebalancing, to deal with these.

Formulaic rebalancing means your FA can recommend changes to the assets in your portfolio, when they no longer meet a planned asset allocation (this happens as a result of changing values among various assets, from stocks to cash).

Calendar based rebalancing is often done annually or semi-annually. Your FA will rebalance your portfolio, will deal with your changing age, along with new needs such as sending your children to university, or buying a new house.


5. O
ne-stop value-added information source

What are the implications to your housing loan when the American Federal Reserve imposes an interest rate hike? What does it mean for Singapore Savings Bonds when the Singapore Government Securities Yield falls?

If you don’t have the time to find out, your FA is a quick source. Besides being able to explain how current events are going to impact your portfolio (or your wallet), FAs are the most common intermediary between the finance industry and the lay person. They’re a good way to get smart about fluctuations in the market, and to better understand the financial world.

In personal finance, bad decisions often come from a lack of understanding; FAs explain situations, which reduces drastic mistakes like selling off your assets in a panic.

If something in the news alarms you, be sure to call them before you react.

 

This is an editorial series done in partnership with Manulife Financial Advisers.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

skillsfuture_300x250

By Ryan Ong

ALTHOUGH they’ll never admit it, a large part of the finance industry aim to convince you that what they do is very complicated, and impossible to understand for anyone short of a NASA scientist (that’s why you better pay them to manage your money for you). Over the past two decades, one of their secrets has been the ETF – a straightforward financial product that makes them look like geniuses, while actually proving the opposite. You should at least have a basic grasp of the concept:

By Ryan Ong

NEW private home sales (excluding Executive Condominiums) more than doubled in February 2017, to 977 sales from 382 in January. If you think that’s dramatic, wait till you compare it to February 2016 – there were only 303 new private home sales at the time. That marks an increase of over 222 per cent over the same time last year. In fact, February 2017 sales volume was so good, it was the highest ever recorded for a February since 2012, just before the last property peak in 2013:

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by Ryan Ong

AFTER two World Wars and several centuries of armoured men trying to stab each other to death, you’d think Europe could finally be unified. It was kind of on its way to doing just that; then in 2016, UK Prime Minister David Cameron held a referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union (EU). It was to prove some point or other, which nobody now nor ever will care about. Now, current UK Prime Minister Theresa May had exercised Article 50, which will bring the UK out of the EU, and have longstanding repercussions:

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by Ryan Ong

BUSINESS Times just published a report on how Singapore may be experiencing a two-speed economy. By that, it means our entire economy is not operating at the same pace; one side of it is doing very well, and the other side is about to grow its hair long and drop out of school. The divergence seems to be between export oriented businesses, which mainly make money from customers abroad, and domestic businesses that rely on a local customer base. Here’s what it all means:

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by Ryan Ong 

LATEST tweaks to property rules are not going to cause prices to shoot up again. There, everyone can relax now. Contrary to the rumours you’ve heard, the cooling measures are not lifted, banks are not giving out loans like door prizes, and you are not going to get a mortgage by replacing your income statement with a pinky swear. The changes will have a positive effect on property prices, but nowhere close to the sudden surge we saw between 2009 to 2013.

by Ryan Ong

EMPLOYMENT regulations have come a long way in Singapore. Earlier in our history, this was a country with a strict “no-strike” policy and a lot of power vested in employers; all part of an early-days survival method. But with the step into first world status, Singapore’s employment scene has become more progressive by the year:

 

1. TAFEP and the Fair Consideration Framework

In 2006, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) was set up to promote responsible employment practices. The “tripartite” element refers to co-operation between employers, unions, and the Singapore government to further this goal.

You, our readers, are the reason we exist. Your contributions allow us to bring fair and balanced news to everyone, regardless of the ability to donate. Support us by being our patron.

One result of having TAFEP is the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF). The FCF ensures that hirers stick to merit-based hiring, using competence as the deciding factor instead of elements such as age, gender, and nationality.

One example of this is the Jobs Bank. Before hiring an Employment Pass (EP) holder, a company must* advertise the job on Jobs Bank for at least 14 days, making it available to Singaporeans. Only after this period can the company apply for an EP.

This ensures that companies cannot show an unfair preference for hiring foreigners. They must show they tried to hire a Singaporean first.

(*Some exceptions exist, such as if the company has fewer than 25 employees, or only needs to fill a temporary position for no more than one month. You can see the list of exceptions here.)

In addition, anyone can report to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) if they see a discriminatory job advertisement. An example would be an ad that says “only foreigners”, or imposes restrictions irrelevant to the job (e.g. requiring a worker to have certain religious beliefs, for an accounting position).

Furthermore, TAFEP has an online system for complaints about workplace discrimination. Employees who feel they are treated poorly, or penalised for non-work related issues (e.g. age, gender, religion, political views, sexuality) can raise a complaint (their confidentiality is protected).

 

2. The Human Capital Partnership Programme, to encourage good workplace practices

The Human Capital Partnership (HCP) programme is an initiative open to companies with a good track record in employment and workplace practices. Companies that are part of the HCP (called Human Capital Partners) commit to investing in the development of Singaporean employees across all levels.

In return, Human Capital Partners enjoy priority access when having work passes processed, and have a dedicated hotline for transactions with MOM. Human Capital Partners will have privileged access to government support and resources, and have the right to display the “Human Capital Partner” mark, which helps to attract needed employees.

Human Capital Partners, for example, have account managers assigned to them from HCP to cultivate good workplace practices. This ensures that the concept of fair employment cannot just be a temporary front.

This is in stark contrast with old-school methods; traditional systems of employee protection just use penalties and fines as threats, which places the burden of fair employment on government regulators.

HCP instead provides positive incentives for companies, to encourage the hirers themselves to maintain good practices.

 

3. Skills Transfer Initiatives

One of the HCP’s goals is to turn foreign workers into a complement to our workforce, instead of competition. The formula is:

1/3 + 2/3 > 1.

That refers to how one-third of our workforce is composed of foreigners, and two-thirds are Singaporeans. By having the two complement each other, we develop synergy and results that are greater than the sum of our parts.

One example of this is skill transfer programmes that HCP encourages. 3M, the manufacturer of the famous Post-It notes, is engaged with this initiative. The manufacturer has several programmes in which foreign workers can teach or transfer skills to local employees (and vice versa). This ensures that each worker is more versatile, and can be moved into new roles quickly. The result is a more nimble and adaptable company.

Endorsing skills transfers is a progressive take; rather than set up an adversarial relationship between locals and foreigners (the old “they’ll eat our lunch” argument), Singaporean employers are instead encouraged to merge the two, to make our companies more competitive.

A more competitive company means better wages, more room for career advancement, and greater job security.

 

Building the workforce for the new era
The Singaporean worker today is, by and large, no longer an easily replaced resource. As we see more talented programmers, engineers, managers, and salespeople, it is clear the dynamics of the workplace will change.

No longer are employees wholly dependent on the whims of their employer; rather, the reverse is often true. Many companies are now dependent on the skills and talents of their workers, who have no shortage of options when it comes to finding work elsewhere.

In light of this, any adversarial relationship between employer and employee will be a tremendous disruption to local business (and by extension, the wider economy). It’s time we discard outmoded notions of “worker versus employer”, lest all of us fall behind.

The simplest way to do that is not with over-regulation and fines, but to ensure that companies themselves see the value of treating employees right.

 

This article is part of a series on employment in partnership with the Ministry of Manpower.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

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by Ryan Ong

SINGAPORE has had an expansionary budget two years in a row now, so it’s not surprising the budget surplus will shrink a little. Most of it is caused by an urgent (read: expensive) need to upgrade our workforce; as we head into a future of further automation and digital trade, it’s unlikely that Singaporeans can manage first world costs of living by being an assembly worker or cleaner. But where does this money come from, what are the Net Investment Returns that supposedly fund it?

by Ryan Ong

BUSINESS survival is usually measured on a sliding scale of how many bad cheques your boss writes you. Once you get three in a row, you know the corporate vision of a DIY vasectomy kit in every home is doomed. You see, no matter how smart a business idea seems, or how much it could pay off in the long run, it’s the near-term support that matters for everyday survival: