Tuesday, 29 December 2015

2015 - My Year in Review (Part 3)

Moving on to the third and final installment of my 2015 review....


2015 saw a large amount of volatility on this front. I finally got out of a long but fruitless relationship in the earlier part of the year, which freed me up to focus on other things. Checked out this app called Tinder which led to some dates that didn't provide much meaning, except for getting to know some new people from varied backgrounds, which was kind of interesting, at least for a while. Met someone towards the 4Q who has been really attractive and interesting, but we'll see :)

I think at this age, given my introverted nature, it'll always be hard to make new friends. What I'm thankful for is that my close knit group of friends since sec sch and junior college got closer this year, and made more of an effort to hang out and catch up. It does help that my best friends whom I've known since I was 14 years old are in the same industry and are doing more or less the same thing, which helps in providing a stable base of support whenever you need a listening ear and pertinent advice over a few drinks.

Despite many of my friends who are already / thinking of getting married, I just don't feel a sense of urgency with respect to that. It's like woahh man ain't it a little early to get married, settle down and have kids? You want to be the guy you are working for in 10 years time? Well I mean, it's A-OK to lead a cookie cutter life, get married, settle down and have kids, but I just don't feel like living that kind of life. I guess there's some value in that which attracts folks, but somehow, it strangely (or not) does not appeal to me, at least not just yet :)

Given my small circle of friends, I've always taken great pride in having a close knit family where my siblings and I can hang out and are pretty much open to each about about everything in life. We're close to our parents too, but we're not the hugging and I love you (I guess you can summarize that into expressive) sort with them. It's a tough old school Singaporean family. And I think this year we got even closer, which is fantastic. I'm not sure how long we'll be able to maintain this level of intimacy, given we'll all probably head off in different directions and all once we have our own families, and might not even be situated in the same physical location, but I do cherish the present. My Dad had quite a major health scare earlier this year too, which came as a rude shock given he is generally as healthy as an ox. But I guess that's life, and that event has made us cherish his / and my mom's presence even more, given they're not getting any younger these days and they can be taken away from us at any point in time.

Perhaps the one thing I can do better is to exercise more patience when dealing with my parents, especially when trying to inculcate and teach them new concepts and operate new technology. It's certainly not easy in inverting your thinking process or adopting new technology when you're already 70 or so years old, so I've got to try to be more patient and think of new ways that will capture their attention and motivate them to grow out of their comfort zone even at that age.

New Experiences / Experiments

I did manage to scrounge up a modest amount of free time to myself this year as I had freed myself from the shackles of my prior relationship, which somewhat exacted a major toll on me over the year. 2015 saw myself embark on a couple of new adventures, some of which had been discussed in the categories above. The below comprises of the more interesting ones that was not discussed previously.

* Motorcycle - I finally put my license to good use and bought a 2nd hand small street bike (one where you ride seated upright) for general use during the weekends, and it has been an fantastic experience thus far. I could probably write about that experience in a stand alone article, but to summarize it's really the closest thing to flying a plane. I don't fuck around with my hand phone, listen to music or do something else when I'm riding my bike. I'm one with the bike, constantly monitoring my immediate environment, shifting up and down gears, and experiencing the road for what it is. And boy it feels good to be riding (or in this case doing something with full focus and mindfulness) even though I don't go too fast. Another step towards the dream of riding across Europe to Singapore :)

* 30 day NOBNOM challenge - I took up the challenge of no booze and no masturbation (physical not intellectual given the latter happens on a daily recurring basis hurr hurr) for 30 days straight, which was a serious mental challenge. It certainly provided additional clarity, and helped to clear my mind, and freed up additional time to focus on other things, because you're not wanking, drinking and getting hungover most times. I have some doubts about not clearing your system given there's some research around prostrate issues that comes from that, but it was an experience nonetheless. For the booze, man I had a one pint of beer after the 30 days was up and that was all it took to get me high, instead of the copious amounts previously required. I still drink from time to time (weekly) post that challenge, given the social setting, but I've cut down on the serious crazy drinking that I used to do, which is probably a good thing given the additional clarity and time I have on my hands now.

* Gaming - Probably not the best use of time and the most useful new experience here, but I managed to complete the Witcher (1 to 3) series of games over the course of the year and that was a fantastic mind blowing RPG game series that I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone who's seeking an RPG game to embark on that has a combination of a fabulous story line, invigorating combat game play and super realistic graphics and animation.

I think one facet that I could do much better would be to open myself to new challenges that requires a social aspect instead of more personal challenges above, where one gets to know more people of varied backgrounds and develop more productive interests. That however, might be a tough ask given I have my hands pretty much full at this point in time. But joining different interest groups (outside of the blogosphere) such as hiking, investing, and what not does sounds like an interesting proposition.

And this pretty much sums up a overview of what I went through in 2015. Looking forward to 2016. A new year brings about new hope and new opportunities. Pretty much excited :) I wish everyone who's reading this to be safe, healthy, happy and free from suffering over the course of 2016! Cheers :)

Monday, 28 December 2015

2015 - My Year in Review (Part 2)

Moving on to the more important things in life which fall along what I would like to call the personal development spectrum...

Physical Fitness / Health

This is the 3rd year or so that I've took up a variant of the slow carb diet that was made popular by Tim Ferriss' the Four Hour Body, and that lifestyle is something that has kept me going, given its inherent structure and the timed weekly cheat day(s) on the weekend. This year, I added a bit more intensity to the physical side of things by increasing and sustaining my mix of kettle bells and body weight HIIT workouts. I also did manage to gain some exposure to different techniques utilized in developing sustained strength through a mixture of interesting podcasts, books and the great internet of things. 

It was great to see some results even though I have put on a tad more weight (or muscle as I'll like to think ;) ). I feel stronger, fitter and less lethargic in general even though I thought my cortisol levels had increased year on year due to the more stressful work environment. A small vindication event came through my yearly IPPT test, where I somehow managed to snag all of the S$500 placed by the SGP government on the table and took GOLD for the first time in my life, running a 10 year PB for 2.4km without even doing any specific run training like I used to execute leading up to the test. 

Guess the HIIT workouts and kettle bell usage really did contribute to a increased base level of fitness that translated into those results. I guess one marker of encouragement on that HIIT training surfaced briefly back in Dec 2014, when I managed to do clock 2hr 20 min on my half marathon (21km) split into the full marathon (42km) without adequate run training in the period of 3 months heading to the marathon (hurt my ribs playing football). But I crashed and burned soon after and had to limp my way to the finish line, which was an absolute fucking nasty grit building exercise... 

Towards the 2nd half of this year, I started learning a form of martial arts (think Aikido, Jujitsu, Krav Maga), and this looks set to continue on a weekly / bi-weekly basis until next year. Content that this adds a bit more variety to physical training and fitness, whilst adding what may seem like a potentially useful skill in the event something might go wrong. Training is pretty intense, with repeated drills on a couple of maneuvers, followed by an all out HIIT session which incorporates those moves towards the end. But boy does it feel good to let it all out on the gym floor, and sometimes on the punching bag. By the way, it's actually not easy to make the punching bag move consistently in reaction to the punches you are landing on it, which I thought would be interesting to note. 

On this front, the thing which I felt I could have done much better would be to exercise restraint on the intensity and number of times I perform a workout. Sometimes I do a bit too much (double sessions in one day followed by a major one within 24 hours after... yes lonely Saturdays I am looking at you) and don't provide my ageing body with adequate rest, which leads to insane cortisol levels, overburdening the immune system, causing increased allergic response and subsequently a full blown cold / flu / sinus infection / fever.  I think I've fall sick about 4 times over the course of 2015 and those bouts required a course of antibiotics, which isn't good. So moderation and taking it easier on myself might be something worth exploring. Also, I need to pay more attention to what I am eating and be more disciplined in not only sticking with the slow carb lifestyle, but also to be more mindful of what kind of protein and fat I put into my body.

Mental Fitness / Development

This is not quite mental fitness per say, but more of developing and growing the mind. In Feb this year, I spent some time taking up meditation and subsequently attended a couple of weekend workshops and classes over the course of the year. What started out as an experiment through meditation apps (great effect of technology) worked out to be something I hold quite dear at present, as I feel that it does provide me with enormous intangible benefits that perhaps warrants another post by itself. Anyhow, although I'm experiencing some sort of lull and certain obstacles doing daily meditation practice presently, I do try to make an effort to sit for about 20 plus minutes daily after I wake, which helps to set my day right. Extremely grateful to have like-minded close friends that provided support and knowledge on meditation that formed the basis of my meditation journey this year.

In a similar vein, I've also started a gratefulness journal for about 6 months plus or so now where I'll pen in three things I'm grateful for in the morning whilst on the way to work. I probably missed about 10% of those mornings (mostly on weekends probably because of reasons for which you should have gathered a good guess by now...), but I do feel that it helps to put my mind in perspective when I begin my day. 

It was also a goal of mine in 2015 to start and maintain a blog where I can pen, distill and share my thoughts with the general populace, but more of a medium to express myself, note how I'm feeling at different stages of life, which may be useful for future endeavors. This isn't the prettiest blog, nor the most frequently updated one, but I think I did generally fine here, and this would be something I look forward to continue on a more frequent basis over the course of next year. 

On sharing, I've also set up an informal book club where I'll share articles, books and information that I find useful with friends and family. I've probably sent out about more than 15 emails this year, which puts the frequency at once a month or so. I do get replies from friends who share their thoughts and recommendations on other books, which helps to develop my mental network. 

I find reading a great form of pleasure and mode of personal development. This year I must have read an estimated close to 30 books, some of which were re-read. However, genres were pretty limited to philosophy, religion (meditation), mental development, biographies and self improvement. Would probably share my top finds of the year in a separate post, if it warrants so. 

I think one thing I could have probably done better would be to go deeper into the books I have read, instead of just thumbing through and taking notes using Google Keep on my phone. You know, like really assimilate and make use of the information instead of just scratching the surface. At least that what it feels like to me, that I'm doing more of the latter. Another couple of things would be to do more break through events in terms of mental development. Say like a boot camp or meditation retreat, a tough sporting event to instill mental grit, or even undertaking a tough task such as the CFA Level 3 (oh boy I've been putting this on the backburner for years...), which would take the mind to another level. 

To be continued in Part 3. 

Saturday, 26 December 2015

2015 - My Year in Review (Part 1)

The best thing I like about December ain't much about the festivities surrounding X'mas and the New Year. It ain't about the perceived break that one gets when people wind down at year end. In fact, I've been pretty busy over the last couple of weeks, as you can see from the lack of activity on this medium.

The best thing about December is that my favourite DJs such as Armin Van Buuren, Gareth Emery and Above & Beyond would finally release their much anticipated best of 2015 podcasts, where these can fantastic playlists can last up to 3 hours, making for an extended time to get your groove on and put flow into whatever you're up to. 

In the past couple of years, these mixes acted as salve for the soul during the long financial modeling and power point sessions during those late nights, but this year, they've become welcome company during hours of reflection over the past couple of days on how my year has developed.  

Similar to past years (unpublished), I would divvy up my reflections according to different life categories, with individual categorical milestones, the good and of course the areas that could use some improvement. 

With all extensive reviews, be warned these thoughts will translate into a long enough article that warrants a break-up into several parts. 

In short, 2015 marked my 30th birthday on this realm, and was a pretty tough year at that. A year of suffering and changes. A year of transition and growth, for use as a launchpad into 2016 and beyond. 

Let's start with the less important facets. 


When I was an intern, I remembered the wise words of an Associate who had been at the business for more than six years or so. He wished me all the best on my last day and uttered these words: "This job never gets easier, in fact it gets much harder the further you progress..." It didn't really register with me back then, as I was just in the mood of going to get wasted and celebrate the end of a grueling 10 week stretch of 80 to 100 plus hours per week, but looking back, those words have certainly rang solemn and true. 

2015 career wise has been punctuated with a series of starts and stops. Amidst the malaise in the Southeast Asian banking sector which saw many banks cut their workforce, I'm grateful to still be holding on to my job, working with a team that I look up to. I've had the good fortune of helping to close a fair number of transactions this year, and had lead roles in a couple of them, running those deals with MD level supervision and input whenever required. 

The good side is that I've picked up quite a bit of knowledge to know that I still don't know a lot, and have really up-ed the ante to be throwing down and sorting out shit by mostly myself these days, with more direct input, client interaction and decision making autonomy. With that, I gained much more confidence and have developed a reasonable level of skills (technical and soft) to deal with situations that arose. And despite working on similar products, it struck me that each transaction was situation unique and required different bespoke inputs, which was perhaps the more interesting side of things. 

The bad side of this is that I've probably never been more stressed about work during the year as compared to the last couple of years. There were more than a couple of nights where I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning having "work anxiety", my mind actively searching for solutions to the problems that were facing me at work. Some of those nights, the solutions would actively surface to my conscious self, but most of the time, it required more time to think through those and arrive at that "ah-ha" moment. 

Some specific attributes that I think could use some improvement would be the ability to take a step back, gain perspective and be emotionally detached from all work specific situations. And of course, that could involve being more professional about situations (i.e. giving my best shot instead of doing just a tad above enough, learning how to switch off) and taking more pride in the work that I do. I do admit that it does feel like a struggle sometimes when philosophically speaking, I feel that I'm not really creating something but moving sand from one pit to another whilst skimming some for myself. A little bit more on that existential crisis later. 

That being said, I do think that there's a balancing act that is required in this regard, which is something I need to focus my efforts toward, in order to be more efficient and minimize burnout. And perhaps re-framing working in banking from my current (what can seem to be a little myopic at times) lens of pure drudgery to something which should be incorporated with other more important aspects of life as a challenge to surmount and master - that's something that I think I can improve on. 

Investments / Personal Finance

This year has been just brutal on the markets. What was looking to be a sweet year back in March / April turned to dust come 3Q 15. I managed to luck out on this front and did okay so far, obtaining passive YTD returns of c. 5% on a substantial portion of my investments. If the markets remain the same in the month of Dec, I should have a year end net worth of c. 1.3 bucks, whereby a substantial part of it is in the equity markets across Asia. 

Going by the rule of 25, this provides me with c. S$52k p.a. of potential spending amount if I decide to flip the bird at banking and explore other alternative lifestyles - something I'll come to later. I wasn't sure if S$52k p.a. was going to be enough, so another decent thing I did was to start tracking my personal finances back in 2Q 15 on every freaking cent that goes out of my wallet. On average, after deducting for one off extra-ordinary and non-recurring items (limited to purchase of a vehicle), I spent about S$4,000 to S$4,500 per month. 

So the conclusion would be that I need more moolah, or I need to cut down on discretionary spending. 

Given I do not intend to purchase any property over the next couple of years, I've also started to make use of my CPF ordinary account and put some cash into index funds and some blue chip dividend yielding counters back when the markets were trending down in 3Q 15. If things goes pretty smoothly career wise over the next 2 to 3 years, I'll be a in a strong position to call it quits for good before I turn 33, something I am thoroughly grateful for.  

Those were the good things, on to the "things for improvement". 

Well, as mentioned above, I think I really do need to cut down on discretionary spending. Granted 25% of the monthly spending goes to my parents in the form of unnecessary income support that can perhaps be adjusted downwards to a level befitting nil job income, and 25% to 30% of the monthly spending goes to reimbursable claims for overtime meals and taxis which I probably would not be spending on if I were not working in this industry, I still think perhaps one goal for 2016 would be to look into my spending habits with a sharper lens to see how to optimize this. Maybe some tools such as waiting two weeks before purchases might help.

Now that we've got these two parts out of the way, it's time to move on to more important facets of life that revolve around personal development, which will be continued in later parts. 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Runner

5 AM in the morning;
A figure cuts a lonely shadow by the ember street lights;
He moves down a long straight road;
With open and wide strides;
That are full of purpose and a hint of pride;
His brow is etched with sweat;
Which soon gathers by the buckets;
And starts dripping off on to the road;
Leaving a mark, no matter how transient that is;
His breath comes hard and fast;
A subtle reminder of improvement works required;
But more importantly, that he is still alive;
The only sounds he hears are of his track shoes crunching the gravel;
That and the sound of his pounding heart which threatens to burst out of its seams;
The kilometers tick by, though not as fast as he imagines them to be;
And his legs burn with lactic acid;
Threatening and imploring his brain to cease all motion;
But all he thinks about is left right left right, this is still worth striving for;
Oh it seems so tough;
Running a 10K before dawn breaks;
But this is the easiest part of his day;
For when dawn breaks;
It's back to reality and at least 12 hours in a seat;
The perfect seat to put this training all to good use;
As he trains hard for a sole purpose;
That is for life and a future worth striving for.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

On Gratitude

As the date that marks my 30th year of life draws closer, it becomes even more apparent that there's just so much over the last 30 years that I am grateful for. I thought it might be a good idea to etch these thoughts down in digital ink as a reference point down when the going gets hard in the future. This is going to be a long one sided ramble without much proof-reading or editing (if any at all), pretty much straight from the heart and shooting from my hip stuff, so be forewarned. 

* Grateful to be born in Singapore in the 1980s, where there was sound infrastructure, a stable and appropriate political system, and a decent economy that, coupled with global technological advancement, allowed for development opportunities;

* Grateful to be born into my family, with my parents and siblings providing a nurturing environment and all manners of support that fostered my growth into an adult;

* Grateful to have no major congenital defects, to be born with a healthy body and a sound intellect that could be used as a base for development; 

* Grateful to have real life mentors who have provided a philosophical stance on how to lead one's life;

* Grateful to have had a bunch of close friends that I've grown up with since secondary school days, who have been a positive influence in my life;

* Grateful to have experienced love, and to experience lost love, a few times; 

* Grateful to have a job that's nothing short of consistently challenging and intellectually stimulating, which pushes me to the limits, develops my character on a day to day basis and at the same time pays good money which allows me to fast track my journey to be a capitalist; 

* Grateful to have a bunch of super smart colleagues that I interact with on a day to day basis, who readily illustrate mental models and soft skills that I can potentially adopt; 

* Grateful to have come across the main concepts of investing and FIRE when I was serving the nation, which gave me a clear path on what needs to be accomplished and done instead of dicking around for a few years after graduation and then realizing that there's much more to life than work and consume, which would subsequently, but naturally cause an extension of the FIRE age; 

* Grateful to have had all sorts of experiences, ranging from discovering interesting ideas through reading books, making and being able to appreciate and enjoy music, being able to take part in different sports, learning how to ride a bike, traveling in style, backpacking around the globe, interacting with different characters and individuals, etc.; 

* Grateful to have been a positive influence to at least a few people's lives (I hope);

* Grateful to be able to contemplate these thoughts; 

* Grateful to be alive, and feel alive; 

* Grateful to have the opportunity to improve myself as a human being again today; and

* Grateful to have lived a life of no regrets thus far; 

Pretty sure there's much more specific details and thoughts on gratitude that I have, but the above represents the main causes that I feel extremely grateful for. 

What are you grateful for in your life? 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Sounds like multiple lifetimes of focused self development to me... :)

"There has been a lot of discussion about whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, and the question has never been decided one way or the other. In these terms, it is a question that makes sense only to a Westerner.

Only in the West is philosophy just a branch of knowledge like mathematics or botany, and only in the West is the philosopher a person, usually a professor, who goes through particular doctrines during his courses but, once he goes home, lives exactly like his lawyer or his dentist without what he teaches having the slightest influence on the way he lives his life.

Only in the West is religion, for a large majority of believers, a small compartment that only gets opened on particular days, at particular times or in certain predetermined circumstances, and is firmly closed again before actually doing anything. Although there are professors of philosophy in the East, too, a philosopher there is a spiritual master who lives what he teaches, surrounded by disciples who want to follow his example.

His teaching is never based on sheer intellectual curiosity, for its value lies only in its realization. In this light, there seems little point in wondering whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion. It is a path, a way of salvation, that which led the Buddha to enlightenment; it is a method, a means of attaining liberation by working intensely on the mind and spirit.

So I think that the simplest possible way to define Buddhism is, first and foremost, to see it as a path. The goal of that path is to attain what can be called ‘perfection’, ultimate knowledge, enlightenment, merging with the absolute, or, technically speaking, the state of Buddhahood."

- Andre Migot, from his book titled "Le Bouddha"

Monday, 26 October 2015

A Buddhist saying

All the joy the world contains;

Has come through wishing happiness for others;

All the misery the world contains;

Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself;

Is there need for lengthy explanation?

Childish beings look out for themselves;

While Buddhas labor for the good of others;

See the difference which divides them?

Monday, 21 September 2015

Improving Your Self

I've always been a big fan of self-improvement ever since I was put through the paces @ the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers workshop back in my sec school days. In fact, I do think I have more books on the self-improvement and development genre as compared to any genre.

Over the years, I've come to realise that I have drawn a strong sense of personal achievement and character development through the undertaking of sporting activities. Somehow, the result of say, completing a marathon, vis a vis the process of implementing some new logical thought system, seemed more tangible and real back then, and possibly even at present. Well, the only "self improvement" sporting activity that I have completed since I started out in banking was a 42.2km run last year, which was a death shuffle given the lack of training and a hurt back.

While my past self would have marveled at that result given a lack of training and perhaps given myself a big pat on the back together with a pint of beer, my current self feels more disappointed that I didn't gain much through the event, as I didn't put myself through the entire wringer of the process to maximize the potential gains.

One of my current fears now revolve around not maximizing my potential. To kind of summarize how I feel, I do think this can be distilled into the potential to be a better human being. To be a more improved version of myself when I go to bed each day, and to push myself a bit harder each day. It's like I do feel I'm cruising at a certain altitude now, and I need to up the ante. Which maybe a good thing to feel this way, because slowly the motivation that has been beaten out of me through adopting a solely survival mode tactic when starting out in banking is making a come back.

I've always been fascinated with the human body and its limits. The ability for an individual to control his thoughts and effect this control in normal hormonal responses, the ability of an individual to run a 100 miles straight out carrying a backpack, the ability of an individual to adapt and live off the land, the ability of an individual to maintain equanimity in dire circumstances.

These challenges excite and invigorate me. Not so much maximizing my bonus and getting a top rating at work. I suppose I still do enjoy a certain bit of what I do and I do [bluff myself to] think of work as a challenge, but I guess with this capitalism challenge and financial independence mostly on cruise control till it's automatically sorted out over the next 3 years, it's about time I throw in some other physical and mental challenges in life to gain new perspectives.

Thus the 30 day teetotaler (amongst other things done concurrently) challenge that I had recently completed successfully, and a new challenge to really run (not just survive) an ultra marathon over the next 2 - 3 years. It'll be tough given my hectic schedule, but it'll be a fun challenge to undertake. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And this time, it'll be largely focused on the process. Eating right, sleeping right, training, etc.

Wish me persistence and luck. And I do hope you find some inspiration to push the boundaries of your life too.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Investment Banking in Bear Markets

A couple days ago, amidst the rout in the global stock markets that have been plaguing us through the summer, one of the Managing Directors walked around the banking floor, and announced: "This is it boys, the summer of 2008 is repeating itself. Embrace the fun times, for you wouldn't know how long it lasts".

For the uninitiated, 2008 saw the closing down of bulge bracket investment banks Bear Stearns (bought over by JP Morgan) and Lehman Brothers as global markets were brought to their knees. Countless bankers were laid off in several rounds across the industry globally as the contagion spread. I remember the mood on the floor was quiet and sombre, bags were packed, desks were kept tidy. folks hung out hoping for the best, but fearing any phone calls, especially those whose caller ID displayed something along the lines of "meeting room [1]". That probably meant goodbye . I remember the some banker's desk line would ring, that banker would pick up, put down, suit up, take his bag and then send all of us an email via his personal mail to gather for drinks at 1200 at the nearby bar to commiserate and say farewell. That was hardly a fun introduction to a noob-cake in the scene.

Fast forward 7 years. Is this really 2008 all over again?

Fair enough, Southeast Asia capital markets and M&A have had what I would call, a really lean year so far. That would probably be an understatement, but potential IPOs have totally gone off the radar. At least you don't see elephant transactions happening in the near future. Malaysia market is suffering from an overhang of the 1MDB fiasco, Indonesian markets are reeling from wayward commodity prices. The Singapore market has poor volumes and lack-lustre listings. Thailand ain't doing well themselves, and the recent terrorist attacks have enhanced its negative bearing.

From a work perspective, things haven't actually eased up (at least not that much compared to 2008 where most things ground to a halt). Lower prices bode well for buyers flush with cash, aiming to take advantage of over-leveraged targets. That means more buy-side and less sell-side M&A work, which I particularly like (or at least prefer on some days given "like" might be too strong a word here) given you actually have to run certain valuations / returns analysis as compared to packaging sell-side marketing materials (like an info memo and teaser). On a side note, it would probably be worthwhile to give an introductory write up to the M&A process from a process of a practitioner one of these days... Put on the shelf are those countless pre-emptive banking committee memos for block trades, which I feel are a fucking waste of my time. I have seen more pitching as restless senior bankers stalk their prey to edge in on whatever deals they can get their hands on. So it hasn't exactly been a quiet summer. I have had some fucking hard weeks recently as well, but as summer goes, it is definitely quieter for sure, but not quiet per se.

But things can change in a jifty. Back in 2009 where the summer was slow, the last couple of months saw a flurry of activity on the capital markets front. That period was fucking insane - 100 hour weeks for a couple of months aren't a joke. So it can be just a couple of weeks before things turn. Yes, it is that fluid in this industry. One minute you're counting the days left to the unavoidable cull, the next minute you're inundated with more than you can feast on. Ahhh the extremes of life, isn't that what we live for? :)

From a personal perspective, I am fucking overjoyed that the markets are taking a beating. Nobody ever made their fortune betting towards in a bull market. People make their fortunes taking advantage of lower prices. Just from a general valuation perspective, STI and HSI indexes are trading close to their 5 year lows, and I do feel this warrants putting the dry powder to use :) Please do not be a fucking fool and sell your stocks. But if you prefer comfort to growing your money, sure go ahead and follow the herd to perceived safety. This is a opportune time to double down, and make the best of the opportunity. Career wise, sure it this malaise goes on, there is a chance I'll get laid off too. But yeah I don't give two shits actually, given I'm not leveraged on anything, but living life itself. :)

I guess these are some of the advantages of having fuck you money. So you don't have to worry like the rest of your peers on whether there is a layoff coming or not, and you can actually use it to make money in these types of situations.

Ahhh, the life. Time for a solid cuppa coffee :)

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The 30 days teetotaler challenge

This week, albeit a short one, has just been insane. Getting hit on many fronts, plus executing current transactions, made for a pretty intense work week. Not to mention the day trip a couple of days ago. Day trip meant getting up at 0500 to catch the first flight out, and taking the last flight back, getting home only at 0130, and hit the restart button less than 6 hours later. A couple of times I felt like Gimli fighting against the hordes of orcs that were threatening to encircle and crush my soul, rendering my very own existence worthless.

But alas, I've passed through yet another week on the job battle scarred and weary, but more experienced and hopefully wiser. The best thing about this week so far is that I've actually managed to avoid taking in any forms of alcoholic substances, which was in line with the goal of going 30 days alcohol free. A bit of history of my alcoholic imbibing tendencies, I believe that ever since the summer of 2008, I've never gone more than a couple of days where I did not chug down a drink of sorts.

Since the summer of 2008, the most number of days where I've cut the booze out of my diet stands at hmm yeah probably a grand total of 5 days. This intensified when I started banking right out of school, with a bunch of colleagues hitting the last call at the office bar mid week to hang loose, unwind and de-stress, which frankly wasn't a great idea, because.... it solidified the habit of boozing. And you know, calories pile up and you start putting on the wrong kind of weight.

Mid week drinks soon turned into going all out partying on Friday night, where shit would get real with hard liquor such as vodka and whiskey. Pretty ashamed to say that I don't remember the conclusion of some nights. Granted, that was a few years past, and I've mostly cut out the weekday and going all out hard drinking on the weekends, I do indulge in social drinks at least once or twice during the weekend. Red wine, white wine, dessert wine, whiskey, vodka, craft beers, shit beers, gin, liquor (Campari, Pimms, Choya, Baileys, Amarula etc), you name it, I love it, and there seems to always be an occasion on the weekends to indulge in them.

I've noticed over the last couple of months a general retardation in my mental capacity. A dulling of the senses. Could my brain cells be dying? Alas, might it be a result of the sustained drinking through the years? Alcohol, after all is a depressant and I do notice the feeling of general retardation occurs when the week kick offs, after a weekend of taking in drinks. Perhaps it might be because work is a non-callable non-redeemable perpetual bond that pays suck all in interest, but yeah there should only be one way to find out - to undertake a challenge to reboot the system. That meant that I mindfully decided to cut out the drinking from Monday (10 August) for next 30 calendar days. This experiment would end on Tuesday (8 Sep).

Some quick thoughts over the last couple of days. It felt strange not indulging in a beer on the flight back home and during dinner last night. Instead, I had hot chocolate and a coconut during those occasions respectively. Strangely, I'm beginning to feel more aware of my senses and focused as I bang this piece out before heading for my next activity during the weekend. It did feel, and will probably feel a bit strange over the weekends (at least the first two or three I think) not taking in at least a couple of beers or glasses of wine, but I do hope that I'll get some good feedback from under-taking this challenge, and perhaps develop some of my lost mental acuity and resilience levels at the same time.

 Wish me luck!

Monday, 10 August 2015

What does it mean to possess the "pioneering" spirit?

This year's NDP was a remarkable and momentus event. With Singapore celebrating its 50th year of independence, all stops and expense caps were lifted, and the festivities were launched in full flow.  The propaganda machine was cranking overtime, with celebrations (rightly so, in my humble opinion) focused on the development and progress of our island nation since its humble inception, the efforts of the pioneer generation in establishing and contributing to Singapore's progress.

Much has been said about the spirit of the pioneer generation, and how it has enabled Singapore to notch its laudable achievements in a relatively short span of time. So what exactly is the this "pioneering spirit" that the foundations of this country was constructed with?

Like any other concept, I do feel that there are many facets to this "pioneering spirit", but my interpretation is that this spirit revolves around the fundamental premise of "daring to fail". No doubt lots of determination, hard work, blood, sweat and tears ensued from our pioneers, the striking thing is that the leaders of that generation dared to pursue their vision for our country. Essentially, they went forth with a "nothing to lose" spirit, so why not go full steam ahead, do your best and see what happens. If it doesn't work, then let's head back to the drawing board and let's see what we can do to solve the issue.

(Look, obviously there was something to be lost then, it's not as if Singapore was a new settlement in your version of Sid Meir's Civilization 1965, but when you are pretty much a somewhat nascent political party that has been through massive political upheavals and turmoil during those times, I would think that might make for a rather qualified opinion as a party with "nothing to lose".)

Perhaps the circumstances at that time allowed for that motto to be widely adopted. After all, if you possess neither riches nor reputation, chances are you'll be more open to attempt and scale new challenges, to grasp issues by the neck, in order to progress. I guess with the advent of politics and the overall progress we have seen over the last 50 years, there's much more to lose than if you try something and fail miserably. The labels that Singapore has been accorded (first world country, high education standards, etc) have not made it easy for business, political and societal innovation as well. What if our leaders try out something new and it fails? It doesn't help that the incentive system makes sense for folks to adopt a "don't rock the boat" mentality, but that's another topic for another day...

Yes, I do acknowledge that there have been new policies that have not worked out so well, but what I'm attempting to convey is my sense that our country has become either more afraid, or apathetic towards the notion of developing themselves, for the sake of maintaining a facade, that you know says, "look, we've solid, we've not failed before". You can see pervasive examples all around you. Why choose a neighborhood school instead of a brand name school? Why try your luck at launching your business instead of being a corporate lawyer? Take the safe route that has proven to yield success at the end of the day. Conform to societal expectations. Don't end up a failure by trying out this new path, These are the messages that have been instilled in the younger generation of Singaporeans these days.

It's hard to change the way society has been programmed. You can't change the societal fabric and culture, you have to set the right incentives and punishments in order for the culture to evolve naturally over a couple of generations. And how should one do so? Well I'm not paid S$2 -3 million dollars a year, so let our top dollar ministers figure it out. :p that's a common rebuttal from any political critic, and is very much an easy route out to take, but hey, seriously when you get paid that kind of money, you expect top drawer results and things not to mess up. Like when you buy Robin Van Persie for GBP20m, you expect him to produce the goods, which he did. The problems of incentives, expectations, and the natural selection of executable actions - we'll come to that some other day. Anyhow I digress.

I don't have readily available answers on how to effect change towards a more "daring to fail" spirit that our pioneer generation possessed. What I do have are some possible solutions on effecting change as a personal level.

One is to constantly develop your thoughts on how you would react if you happen to lose everything overnight - yes, everything. Your capital, your family, your friends, your little luxuries. How would you react and feel in that situation?  It's tough and calls for what may seem like a ludicrous fantasial thought process, but one would eventually start to live more simply, which would allow you to take massive chances whilst protecting your downside (which would be way less expensive to maintain. Hey, a man who could live on beans would be able to have explore much more opportunities than a man that needs to live on a diet of grass fed michelin starred steak no?). The other side benefit is that one would be more grateful for what he currently possesses, which may increase his standard of living.

Another is to adopt more of a growth oriented mindset, instead of a fixed mindset, towards living. Instead of the natural focus to protect ones ego and keep your reputation intact (at least to your own self in most cases), developing a growth oriented mindset calls for the focus on the process and development of ones skills through undertaking challenging tasks, instead of just focusing on the end results. By doing so, you'll end up leveling up different facets of your character and personality and gain satisfaction from doing the work that allows you to get there, instead of a more binary satisfaction granting process when you either get the result you want or don't. Ever hear of the phrase that says "the process is always more important than the result" - yes, that's the hallmark of the growth mindset. With this mindset, failure is just one more rung up the levels of development, instead of an attack to your current status.

I don't endeavour to change our society. My only drive is to be a better person when I go to sleep each night, hopefully through learning something new each day, from every interaction and every chance that I have. That, itself, is a big enough task for any individual to undertake. And with that, I do hope to be able to instill some of the "daring to fail" spirit the pioneer generation possessed in my character, to push my boundaries and live life more fully.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Thoughts on the SAF's new IPPT system

Recently I had the "privilege", given forth to me as a Singaporean son, of undertaking my yearly pilgrimage to a SAF fitness conditioning centre to test my physical mettle in the mandatory individual proficiency fitness test. Now this test has gone through a major revamp over the last 12 months.

It used to comprise of four static stations plus a 2.4km run. Four static stations being pull ups, sit ups, shuttle run and a standing jump. Now it's just sit ups, pull ups, and a 2.4km run. The change was widely applauded by the mainstream media as being realistic, and providing full time national servicemen and reservist personnel with the incentive to push themselves physically, given that these stations are noted as "easier to train for".

I do agree that it has provided me with more incentives to go hard, especially during the 2.4km run. The standing broad jump has been an obstacle for me since secondary school, one that I have failed to hack ever since, and the format was set up such that if you do not clear a certain distance, you'll end up being limited to a certain award. I.E. if you do not clear more than [220]cm, you'll be limited to silver award and a S$400 cash reward.

My recent experience was such that post clearing the two static stations, all I had to do was to run a 11.30 or below for the 2.4km run to obtain a gold award and a S$500 cash reward. Wow, all that glitters is gold huh. I've never actually obtained a gold award for an IPPT test before, despite having what I would like to think of as a reasonable level of physical fitness. So I went all out during the 2.4km run and achieved a time of just below 11 minutes, giving a holla back to my JC years and pocketing the S$500 cash reward, which if you think about it, is a pretty sweet deal. Then again, if you do not pass your IPPT, you'll have to attend freaking time consuming remedial physical training sessions, which would be a pain in the ass. Anyhow, I digress.

Training for the IPPT

To be honest, I've actually not done much IPPT specific training. I used to do a bit of the swim bike run thing and some longer distances back in the day, but since starting banking, I've not had the time to pursue those time consuming events.

What I do recommend for folks who are pretty time strapped is to focus on high intensity interval exercises. Such high intensity exercises typically do not take up more than 20 to 30 minutes of your time from warm up to cool down, but be warned, they'll cause you so much pain that at the end of each training session, you'll literally be dripping sweat all over your floor, even if the fan switched on at full blast. No pain... no growth... no gain right?

You can start off with a plethora of body weight only exercises and then move on to either do free weights / gym / or the use of my favourite instrument, the kettlebells. Check out YouTube, it's literally a live gym session with lots of variety of different high intensity interval training sessions. Just mimic the instructors, but do take a lot of care in trying to obtain the perfect form, especially when dealing with weighs. One of the channels I do frequent quite a bit is FitnessBlender. They have got some really good instructive videos in there.

Do this once or twice a week, and throw in a 5km run every other week or so and you should be golden. It does feel quite good to ahem, get hard (no puns intended) at the same time. Not hard in that sense, but hard in the right sense. ;)

To my readers, what kind of physical training plan do you embark on, and how do you train for the IPPT, if applicable?

Hope this article is of some use to all IPPT warriors out there.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Is [Facebook] the new TV?

I've grown to become aware that I do spend a substantial amount of my time daily checking in on various social media platform. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name it, I probably have it. When reality gets dull, one could always use a distraction no? When work piles up, what better antidote than to perform a quick swipe down to refresh the Facebook news feed, or check out the latest Instagram posts? You'll get an immediate rush of endorphins to the brain as the latest, bestest and sweetest posts come up. Yay! 

In the age of super connectivity, one is really never truly solitary is he? Or is he not? I do find that mindless inter-netting and social media is fast becoming the new television. Only more dangerous, since it takes a tremendous amount of willpower and discipline to limit access given increased accessibility across the age spectrum.

Social media is truly a double aged sword. It allows people to be connected and up to date on what's happening to their social circle, providing one with increased access to new materials and ideas, which could be useful from an exposure standpoint. The problem arises when one spends too much time on a particular platform, just absorbing these materials passively instead of curating ones thoughts and carving out what's useful and what's not. 

I find that the most dangerous thing about using social media as time fillers and an antidote to boredom in life is that you are never truly present and focused on the present moment. You don't maximal rewards from the tasks you're executing as you're not all in, all the time with your efforts. It's a bit like doing your homework with the televisions streaming LOST (no puns intended) in the background. Through continual immersion, you'll gradually lose the ability to develop yourself and lose the focus on continuous improvement. 

Look I would suppose that putting a temporary pause of one social medium would invariably lead to another taking its place. Perhaps the best antidote to it is to develop your awareness and be mindful of what you're doing to obtain the most benefits. To be conscious of what ideas / media / material you're exposing yourself to and to seek to curate and develop your brain and personality. 

All in order to be a better man, [banker], [brother], [son], [friend] and [insert role of your life] at the end of each day, every day. 

Readers, what do you think of social media? Boon or bane? How has it been helpful in your lives? Or how has it impacted your lives negatively? 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Managing Oneself

If you're not motivated by status / power / glamour like myself, you'll soon come to realise that all jobs suck, with some jobs sucking more than others. So the best job to do is one that pays you the most money on an expended effort basis, in order for you to maximise your savings rate, invest your money wisely and get to living life asap.

The key to being able to get to a position where you can kiss your job goodbye is simply to, as trading parlance goes, "keep your seat". You want to be there to collect a monthly pay cheque, grab your yearly bonuses, and the other typical benefits that come along with that (overtime meal and taxi allowances, health insurance, etc.). Keeping your seat is a little similar to keeping a relationship going. There must be a desire on both ends of the relationship to keep the flame alive. Your employer must want to keep you, and you must want to keep your employer.

Let's talk about the former first. Simply put, you've got to be competent enough to execute your job well and be likeable (i.e. get along well with your team members, be a team player, that kinda stuff) to prevent your employer from terminating your contract. Sometimes even that isn't enough, the Volcker rule which was implemented post Lehman brothers saw many proprietary trading jobs being wiped out "overnight". More often than not, you'll need an element of luck on your end. That being said, internal locus of control ya.

Now to touch on the latter, which seems a little strange to discuss, given most people would only focus on the former. Well, an upfront thought is that this might not apply (I am leaning however, to the notion that it does apply) to situations where you are trying to jump to a better ship, to a higher paying gig, or if you think your team/employer are fucktards in general and you can't wait to get out of the house before it crashes and rains burning embers all over your already tired soul.

Essentially, what I'm driving at is that you've got to maintain an even emotional response to your job, and not burn out in the long run. Two schools of thought for maintaining equanimity in the workplace. The first school of thought is to not give too much of a fuck and just do the necessary in order to maintain your perceived competency. The second school of thought is to throw yourself into the role that your job requires and yet be able to maintaining a strong level of detachment from your job once you're done for the day. In other words, being able to manage yourself, your emotions and desires when you're working daily such that you become adept at compartmentalizing and develop grit through the process.

People do think that the first school of thought is an easier proposition. My own experiences have led me to come up with a differing opinion. If you hang around the fringes as opposed to being wholly immersed in the process, time passes a lot slower, your personal development (in terms of soft skills, general character attributes, hard knowledge (not generally enthused about hard knowledge given it's mostly non transferable)) gets stunted and you just end just treading water instead of slowly moving forward.

But when you go all in all the time, you tend to get burnt out after a while. The key really, is to manage yourself, to manage your responses to daily events and stimuli. That, I do feel, is really a never ending process of daily personal development and self improvement. How to do so? I'm still figuring things out, though I have benefited a lot from stoical perspectives and self meditation.

The more experienced and wiser personal financial bloggers might have better tricks up their sleeves. Care to share?

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Joseph Schooling - His unquantifiable achievements

I believe in the use of role models in society. Having someone you're able to look up to, an inspiring individual who has paved the way and shown that what he has achieved, is a possibility.

Sports would be one facet of modern society that provides for the sustainable deployment of role models. Sporting achievements has always been a mainstay in society and typically transcends most geopolitical issues. So to have a 20 year old Joseph Schooling achieve what he did over the last week or so provides inspirational goodness on a platter not only for Singaporeans, but for citizens of ASEAN.

If you were living in a cave with no access to media, 20 year old Joseph Schooling blitzed a perfect score, with 9 gold medals and 9 Southeast Asian Games records in all of his nine events, setting a standard that few would be able to surpass. And the kicker is this is part of his training regime for the FINA world championships in August 2015. Meaning the boy wonder is not at his "peak" yet, which makes me shudder.

I do feel that the best thing about Joseph Schooling's achievements over the past week is not just limited to re-writing the sporting books, but also in serving as a role model, and beacon of inspiration to the young Singaporean swimmers coming through the ranks. His achievements clearly spell out that it too, is possible to arrive at his level. You may or may not have the innate talent that Joseph has, but if you work hard and smart, be consistent and put yourself through the grinder, you may stand a fair chance at grabbing some honors. And even if you reach for the stars and fall short, you won't end up with a pile of mud either.

The lives he would touch, sparks of inspiration that reinforce the platform for other swimmers to move forward. These are some of  his unquantifiable achievements that in my humble opinion, would matter more than his tally of gold medals.

And strangely enough, each of us has that innate ability to provide inspiration for our loved ones, for our friends and immediate colleagues. Through the proliferation of the internet, this ability is immediately amplified. You can google for different "role models" through blogs, not just the old school way of learning through studying the classics. In fact, setting the standards and providing some much needed inspiration may just be the motivation to keep ourselves pushing forward.

Which is one of the main cornerstones for this, and I would say, probably many of the other personal finance blogs around. As long as I have affected one life for the better, my work would have been done. If future generations of junior investment bankers / professionals kick start their careers and are in need of some advice, I do hope this series of blog posts would help provide some guidance.

That would be my largest contribution to moulding the future of the Singaporean society. haha :)

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Sanctity of Productivity


A buzzword that has been instilled in all Singaporeans since nursery. You probably see this word used more often than a public bicycle gets taken for a ride, and definitely more daily than a KTV hostess can play "butterfly" on a nightly basis. Through various outlets, we have been told to be more productive, to work harder, better, faster and stronger in all facets of life, be it at home, at work, on your relationships, on yourself, which might have provided the spark of inspiration for that awesome Kanye West and Daft Punk remix of "Stronger".

In all honesty, I don't think there's anything wrong with that ideology.

Given the only natural capital Singapore has is its people, I would think it's absolutely rational for the administration to want to beat the productivity drum 24/7. And for the citizens to continue dancing to that same beat (only faster post each round of music :p). After all, if your only asset is a milk bearing cow and you're trading milk for other goods, you would want to squeeze the cow to its maximum, to the thin red line that separates it from death, in order to generate maximum milk production, and yet keep the cow alive in "good enough" condition so it wouldn't "burn out".

I do identify with this as an investor, where I want my dollars to be working 24/7, with employees of companies I have partial ownership to be working like dogs to generate higher profitability and better returns on my capital. "Do more with less" seems to be making a come back these days, especially with banks cutting ranks of front-line grunts. Oh wait, that has been in vogue since 2008. My bad.

You've got to be learning 24/7 to be ahead of competition. Take as many "co-curricular" activities as you can to boost your resume. You don't have to be interested, just get it done (thank god I had natural inclinations towards finance since I turned 17 or so. I shudder at the thought of what I would have been doing now if I was not). Push on, or someone else will have your lunch. Do all these gibberish sound familiar?

As an adult who has been through the Singapore education system for more than 12 years, the "productive" word has been drummed into my thick skull, so much so that I've had to fight off the hordes of self-conjured monsters hell bent on inducing guilt in myself if I'm not doing something "useful" with whatever free time I have, say during commuting, on "holidays" and on seemingly down time, such as the "weekends".

I admit, a major part of it is personality driven. Which has been made functioning along the lines of maximum productivity something that I do find somewhat enjoyable as I've always viewed that as a personal challenge. However, for some unknown reason, in recent times, I've been questioning the means which has got me to my current state of play. Questioning the sanctity of productivity, of whether it really makes sense from an individual perspective.

And the conclusion I have come to is a resounding fuck no. My theory is that humans are essentially animals. Do you see a cat working 9 to 6 daily in the office, trying to attend countless meetings which are seemingly productive but leaves much to be desired? Do you see a dog thinking it has to do a daily 5 km run for exercise? A cat does what it pleases. If it feels like sleeping, it sleeps. If it feels like hunting for rats, it hunts. If it feels like mating, it just goes ahead and does it. In essence, it does what it is interested in doing.

Granted, humans are "somewhat" different from other animals, among other differences, a more scientifically attuned one would be that humans are blessed with the ability to control their primal needs (err most of us do I think). But don't you think this productivity concept is somewhat flawed (at least at the individual level)? I would like to think that a human being has the right to pursue his/her own interests.

He should be able to pass an entire week watching reruns of Breaking Bad Season 1 to 5 if he so desires. He should be able to plan and execute a trans-national motor bike riding adventure if he would like to. He should be able to learn Spanish or French if he so desires. In essence, he should be able to call the shots in his life, to direct his precious life essence towards things that matter to him. Not meddle about and marching to the "productivity" beat being drummed out by someone else, regardless of whether he is conscious of it or not.

But he can only do so if he is free of the shackles of society. The very shackles that he has unwittingly tied himself with, through a culmination of past decisions. The very shackles that he can rid himself of. All he has to do is to make the right choices and stick with them till those shackles disappear. Only then, can he ignore the concept of "productivity" and partake in activities of his sole interest. Such as spending an entire week slaying monsters in Dragon Age: Awakening.

Boy I certainly feel the time used to pen this post was productively spent. Did you feel that you had a productive use of your time reading this? :)

Sunday, 24 May 2015

I could flip the bird and "retire" now, but...

(This is going to be a long post. I did think quite a bit over whether I should actually do a post on this, given this essentially is a first world problem, but I figured articulation of my thoughts might prove helpful to myself and it might be useful to folks who are embarking on the FIRE path in realising some of the challenges and downsides FIRE might yield.

Oh yes by the way it's my blog (like it's my life). So please hit "back" if a whimper of disgust has arisen in your soul. I don't really care. Or do I care by writing this disclaimer up top? Hmm... nah...)

Ever since I started out my FIRE journey back in the summer of 2008 with my first peanuts paying corporate gig, it has always been a life long dream to be able to flip the bird to the "Man", ride away into the sunset on my harley davidson, all guns a blazing, never to return to corporate town and the shit it stands for.

Before I got educated on the nuances and strategies required to sustain an FIRE path, my initial target for my FU stash was set at S$500k. Somehow that became S$1.0m along the way, then S$1.5m, and at this current point in my life, it's contemplated to be S$2.5 - 3.0m. Large does of pure dumb luck, coupled with some discipline, loads of hard work, sleepless nights, and a persistence to drudge along the path less taken has resulted in a decent stash of S$1.3m before I turn 30 years of age, which comprises of pure liquid investable assets without any form of leverage. 

In case you think I'm some trust fund kid, when I started out in the corporate world, I only had less than S$7k from pocket money, savings through scholarships and liquidation of a life insurance policy that my parents had bought for me when I was much younger. That being said I'm extremely thankful to my parents for paying off my tuition fees in college, which I estimate at S$35k in total, and for providing me with a base to work on.  

S$1.3m - certainly a result that the 14 year old version of me would have never thought of being possible in my wildest dreams when I was just mucking around in secondary school chasing skirts and pulling hokey pokey BS around town, and a form of catharsis that the 24 year old version would feel as a result of putting faith in my abilities and choices over the last couple of years, which were somewhat fearful to make in hindsight. 

Using the results of the trinity studies and from other pieces of analyses, a typical 4% p.a. withdrawal rate would result in c.S$52k of passive income a year, which means c. S$4k of free cashflow a month. Technically I could call it quits now, but I realise the further I go along this path, the nearer I get to the end result of my FU figure, the more uneasy I feel. And this comes as a surprise to me, as I would have thought that I would feel much better as I progress towards achieving my goals. 

I spent some time ruminating about why I would have felt this way. And I also spent time trying to draw some form of vicarious experiences through other FIRE websites and forums (special thanks to LivingAFI for providing some guidance on this through his piece on his experience with a therapist). And I kind of figured that my uneasiness revolved around the below themes:
  • Focus (Goal vs Progress approach): I've spent the last 7 years totally focused on a goal. Delaying gratification, pushing ahead and against the consensus view. Now that some of it has come to fruition, I'm going through a phase where I feel a loss of drive to progress, as if the carrot does not taste that sweet after all. Similar to the law of diminishing marginal returns, or how one would feel where after chasing a chick for 6 months and realising hey I've placed the girl on the pedestal. It wasn't that good after all. Or maybe delaying gratification and saving money have been providing the endorphin rush and now that there should be less emphasis on saving and instead experiencing life for what it has to offer, I feel lost.
  • Identity: Although being a banker ain't fun at times, I've managed to tough things out and ride the waves (though I do admit that there were some monster waves that I thought would cause my demise) in a proficient enough manner that I have become good at what I do, ranking at the top of my class since I've started out. Trust me, for most things, if you apply yourself wholeheartedly and mindfully to it, you'll eventually become good at it too. But undoubtedly, you'll find yourself drawing a form of your identity to it. Honestly, I started off in this world with a huge chip off my shoulder, wanting to prove myself that I could excel in this role even though I thought it sucked balls, but I think I've actually grown to enjoy some aspects of this, such as the analysis involved and decision making process. In some senses, it has become a parasitic relationship where I need to find a replacement outlet for throwing myself into if I do leave. I thought of living in a different part of the world for 6 months at a time, experiencing different cultures and pushing through several hardcore physical endurance goals such as the four desserts ultra marathon series, but somehow I do feel like I'm tethering on the edge, the edge of either lifting off or engines down.
  • Worries: Anxiety over whether my lifestyle is going to blow through my free cashflow. Anxiety over whether my portfolio is built to last for the next 50 years. Anxiety whether I'm adequately covered from an insurance perspective. Anxiety whether I'll be able to take care of my parents in the future. Anxiety over what I'll eventually be doing. Anxiety over whether I'll be able to contribute any value to the immediate society next time. Anxiety over whether I'll just be sitting on my ass watching TV serials 24/7. Anxiety whether I'll degenerate mentally and whether I'll lose my drive and focus that has kept me well heeled since graduating junior college. Anxiety over being anxious about the above. Perhaps it's easier to be a lemming and follow the herd instead of branching out. That way, you could blame someone when you turn 60 and realise your life has been a "template" and you've wasted it.
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): If I leave the finance industry, there's going to be little chance to turn back. Am I doing myself a disservice when my path to being a senior banker is pretty clearly laid out. In 3 - 5 more years, I'll be able to make "Executive Director". Am I letting my parents down by choosing to FIRE? Am I wasting the first 22 plus years of my life getting educated and then beating the capitalist game in less than 8 years? Am I missing out on the finer things in life by leaving now? What if my stash runs out? This is as good as it gets for a middle class boy made good, why would I want to leave the gravy train? 
I never did think much about these issues when I first started out. It was all guns a blazing and a head first endeavour into the great challenge with much relish, but it's obvious that these are pertinent issues and probably needs more analysis and experimentation with over the next couple of years as I move towards FIRE.

What do you want to make out of your life? My honest answer is I have yet to find out. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Thoughts on leading a template life

Have you ever thought about how your life is panning out and developing? If you have, you're most likely at the stage of bridging towards the self actualization phase under Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is what I would like to term as a first world problem.

The truth is being able to actually entertain such thoughts on a regular basis means you actually are in a pretty decent position right now. You have the basic necessities fulfilled and are looking towards self fulfillment and really building a life worth living. I met a couple of banker friends for a round of drinks this week, and most of them were lamenting that now they had some sort of free time given the crappy markets and their even worse pipeline, they were really bored with their current lifestyles. Putting the unpredictability of banking aside, where you won't know what you'll be doing on nights and weekends, they mentioned the predictability of leading a typical existence, AKA living life according to a template. 

The typical template of a seemingly well heeled life in the corporate system typically starts when individuals are mere tadpoles, with life milestones put in place via societal and inter-generational expectations through scoring well in nationwide examinations, getting into the best schools and colleges, getting lucky and obtaining offers for internships / full time positions, and then starting corporate life with much enthusiasm and vigor, only to realise what's next. 

For most of my friends, they then fall in love, purchase their first property and before you know it, some kids are popping out and then it's groundhog day everyday. And you know what, most of my friends are actually "resigned" to experience life like this, and I can totally understand why. From well meaning relatives, and expectations that are both subconsciously and consciously imposed on us by society, it seems like the perfectly normal response to follow the herd. 

Though I would question if life is really worth living by through the motions via following the herd instead of pushing for what makes you really happy. The more dangerous, unpredictable and insecure path of padding through the snow as a lone wolf, living life in a contrarian, unconventional, and exciting manner. The way I see it, you get to be proficient at what you do after 7 to 10 years of doing so with deliberate practice, assuming a typical 40 hours a week based on the notion that you'll become an expert with 10,000 hours of practice. 

So if you live till 80 years old, that means you get about 6 chances to reinvent yourself, to build different facets of your personality and character. Doesn't that excite you, to know that your current job is only a small part of the grand scheme of your life, and no matter how exciting or tiresome it is, you'll eventually move on to more fulfilling experiences? Ultimately, life is all about choices, with some choices mattering more than others.So start making those choices that will yield dividends in the future, with the knowledge that you are the sole captain of your ship and the master of your fate. You can choose what kind of life you can live, and it is your responsibility to take charge of that. Yes you can be a MMA wrestler by night and a equities trader by day. You can be an investment banker and a triathlete. You can be an accountant and a adventure racer. 

Beware of the pitfalls that might throw your scheme into disarray though. These pitfalls typically include revolve around you providing a form of commitment that you aren't ready for, be it on an emotional or financial commitment. I.E. kids, mortgage etc. But the most commonly overlooked pitfall would be to live life in the past or in the future, and not being in the present. I feel that focusing on the present, and being mindful in an objective manner in observing present reality, is perhaps the only way to save us from swinging between the cycles of unhappiness and happiness, and to experience everything with the knowledge that regardless of our preferential bias, it is impermanent. The moment we avert or crave something, someone, or a particular sensation, we are left feeling anxious about the situation internally. 

That last paragraph of prose might run contrary to what I've been saying about the exciting future one can have, but if you do read more in depth, living in the present moment would have more of an impact on how your future pans out, as you become more aware of what you do on a day to day basis and the impact that has going forward. Think about it. 

Oh the decisions we make. And the choices we have. How exciting it is, to live, to experience, and to strive forward. Carpe diem and may you find happiness in life :) 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Thoughts on blogs and insurance

Have been pretty busy over the last couple of weeks traveling for business. Thank goodness for this long weekend. Counting thy blessings.

Came across a blog called LivingAFI which I would rank as one of the top three financial freedom blogs that I've come across. Have been quite a fervent reader of the The Financial Samurai and Early Retirement Extreme since commencing my "career". The Financial Samurai feels very relatable as we basically come from the same industry and Early Retirement Extreme seems like a hardcore straight out logical thinking fellow who's pretty impressive -I could never do what he has done to get to where he is. 

But LivingAFI, at the risk of sounding like I have a man crush, boy I've hadn't such an inspirational feeling from reading a blog since goodness knows when. Have gone through almost all of his posts and his attitude towards work, though in a different industry, is strikingly similar. Although the effort taken to elucidate our blog posts are rather different - I literally just regurgitate my thoughts all over blogger instead of taking the time to do nice illustrations and frame my thoughts in a coherent manner.

I think most financial blogs in Singapore generally comprise of investments, analysis on what to buy next and what not, but I seldom see local blogs portray a strong attitude to championing FIRE, nor provide a how to FIRE description in a local context. Fucking boring. I honestly think the investment concept is pretty simple - for folks just starting out in investing, a low cost Vanguard (or similar) index fund that tracks say the S&P 500 index or a global world index would be your best bet. If you want to do stock picking, I suggest starting a mock portfolio first and tracking your performance over 5 years before actually implementing it. There would be a high probability that you'll generate lower alpha on a portfolio basis as compared to low cost indexing.

On a side note, I think the worst place to start learning about investing, money management or FIRE would be from the "Me & My Money" series on the Sunday Times. That used to have a few gems, but I would say almost every single article that has been published in 2015 lacks character. You'll be served better following the blogs linked above or I would probably go out on a limb and say this blog.

So I managed to meet with my insurance agent over the last couple of weeks for a yearly "catchup". It's been three years since we've caught up because I didn't see the need to do so. I've got this term insurance policy which costs c. S$600 p.a. for a payout of S$200k on death or suffering caused by total/partial permanent disabilities or sickness (I think there are 30 plus of them). I bought this when I began working sometime back on the pretext that my family could be taken care of with S$200k, with the assumption of some form of medical insurance from my employer. Now I've accumulated a certain net worth which covers the insured amount by [ ]x and I am thinking of discontinuing this term policy. After all, if I pass, or fall ill, my family gets to inherit that net worth, and past a certain inflexion point it wouldn't make sense to pay out that S$600 p.a.

Question to the internet: What would be the net worth that you'll be comfortable with prior to discontinuing term insurance?

Further to that, assuming ceteris paribus, I think I'll have a maximum of 5 years in banking left before I can call it quits for good. To do that I estimate a net worth of S$2.5 - 3.0m, excluding property (i.e. investable net worth that can generate passive income through dividend distributions or portfolio rebalancing). Thus I've begun to explore hospitalisation and medical insurance, with the whole idea of complementing the government's medishield life such that you won't have to pay for any hospitalisation bills at all. I'm not yet 30 years of age, but I think these are important concepts from an FIRE perspective. If I've missed any other types of insurance (please don't get into life insurance with ILPs proponents...), kindly hit me up.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Thinking of "investing" in the next IPO?

Back when the markets were going hot in 2006 - 2007, just before the Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns collapse took centre stage, the common water cooler topic was whether you managed to get allotments for shares in the latest IPO on the SGX. It seemed like the gravy train was running full speed ahead on wards to nirvana for retail investors. Not a bad move isn't it, getting some allotments and then selling onto the market, after all in a red hot market the only way is up up and away. It certainly was, till the music stopped and most investors found themselves without the proverbial chair. 

Maybe if you had a better understanding of the IPO process, you probably would have stayed clear of the entire she-bang, so perhaps I can provide you with some insight of what an IPO process is all about, after working in investment banking for a good number of years. Maybe you would then have a better understanding of whether subscribing to allotments in the future would make sense. 

Rationale for an IPO

The IPO exists as a method for either one or a combination or two things. Firstly, to raise new equity for the incumbent shareholder - typically the incumbent tries to tap the equity capital markets for US$[ ]m in exchange for a [ ]% of his company through the issuance of new shares, called a primary issuance. The enlarged company would then be worth US$[ ]m plus the additional US$[ ]m raised through the primary issuance. 

Secondly, to raise proceeds for the incumbent shareholder - typically the incumbent tries to sell down a portion of his shareholding in his company through the equity capital markets, called a secondary issuance. The incumbent sells [ ]% of his company through the exchange of his existing shares for cash. There is no enlargement of anything but the incumbent shareholders' wallet. Sometimes this is called cashing out (exiting) or raising liquidity for the incumbent investor. 

Now... an IPO is most likely a combination of both a primary and secondary issuance, on the pretext of raising capital for expansion (growth story anyone?) and providing the current shareholders with some liquidity as well. There might be many reasons for an IPO, from government privatization exercises to a form of exit for big boys (private equity investors), to a more genuine form of capital raising for expansion purposes by normal businesses. 

Do think about it in more detail though, equity is the most costly form of investment as opposed to debt, so if you are raising capital for expansion through an equity issuance such as an IPO, it probably means that you are tapped out on your leverage and your capital structure really needs some equity. Common sense would dictate that is hardly a good sign... but then again common sense is not really common is it? 

The Investment Banks and your interest do not go hand in hand

The sole job of the investment banks underwriting the IPO is to maximize value for their clients through selling the share issuance. A small technical point is that these days, banks seldom fully underwrite (meaning the banks take the entire risk of the IPO on their books and then tries to sell down in the public market later) IPOs, they do them on a best efforts basis. 

The key word is "selling". And when you sell shit, you want to maximize value for what you get, so there is nil chance of something being fairly valued, or even under-valued. Nil. Donut. Kosong. And that is totally aligned with the investment banker's thoughts, as he wants to maximize deal size in order to generate more fees. Typically these guys are paid 2 - 4% of the total proceeds brought in. 

Ah yes, one small caveat is that if you want recurring customers in the form of institutional investors, you might price down your share issuance a little to provide some "perceived value" so that there is some money left on the table and every one gets rich. But that to me, is pretty much gambling. From a retail investor's perspective, you are betting on the next dude in line bidding your price up as you unload. 

You surely don't get anything at a discount to value, because the sole job of the investment banks are to maximize price for their clients. So if you are thinking of "investing" the next IPO, maybe you should just go play blackjack at MBS, might be a more exciting way of "investing" since you are gambling anyway :) Huat ah! 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Decluttering for the next chapter

Spent pretty much the last two weeks tidying up my life and gosh I haven't felt so at peace with myself in awhile. 

On the physical side of things, I've cut out the usual weekend alcohol after falling ill this week and my mind is starting to feel more lucid and aware instead of the post-week numbness that it usually entertains as a result of a combination of draggy crap it's been saddled through work together with pints of Guinness or drams of whiskey. Have also cleared up the room and literally thrown out bags of trash, cleared out magazines, papers, articles, irrelevant letters from before, and the entire barrage of gifts that ex-girlfriends have sent my way. Somehow managed to put myself through a hard kettlebell workout despite being ill, and suddenly I'm beginning to feel more alive. 

On the softer side of things, I've decided to do a massive clear-out of "friends" on Facebook, the culmination of the last 10 years of acquaintances that I've crossed paths with. Reduced the "Friends" list by c. 70% and it certainly feels pretty good to have some form of control over that to reduce the amount of junk and clutter that you'll have to deal with on social media. I went with the rationale of if I ever saw you on the street and if I didn't have the intention to at least stop and say hi and ask about you for at least a couple of minutes, like a friend would show some concern, I don't think we'll be considered friends. Key word there is "intention". Most people would advise that one should attempt to expand their network and you'll never know when that would be good for your career. 

My thinking on that is to fuck that shit, maybe we should start talking about what it means to have a career instead. Career networking is such as bullshit thing and linking up with potential acquaintances just so they might be of some help in the future smells like such a careerism idea that it makes me gag. I believe in making friends with folks who have similar interests, and if you're interested for career reasons and not because of who I am, what I like and the areas my interests lie in, then yeah I don't think we should be friends. But wait a min, those career networking folks have similar interests - careerism. Oops... 

I guess I like to think of myself as a lone wolf moving through the pine forest in search of nirvana, and sometimes to meet with a pack of like-minded wolves once in a while to have some fun and to bond over some prey. Okay, going on an off tangential spiel now, so I'll end here. 

I've also started meditating a little. Check out this app called "Stop, Breathe, Think". It's pretty helpful for beginners and is a good platform to get started on. 

Boy I feel like a chapter of my life has now closed for a good and a new one is just beginning. Perhaps there is some veracity to the saying "Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life". I feel like an animal whose cage doors have just opened and I'm raring to go. 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Kindle Element

If I could highlight one thing (I hope it's not the only thing) that my parents did right for me when I was growing up as a kid, it would be their belief that their children should have unconditional access to reading materials and literature. 

We would had to earn our way through a mix of savings from pocket money to achieving a certain set of grades in order to purchase luxury items such as a walkman, mp3 player, etc. but we were never denied the books we coveted. Unfortunately, I was more of an active than smart kid who preferred to get my hands dirty at the local playground rather than being holed up somewhere reading a book, thus comparatively to my siblings, I didn't take much advantage of this offer until I started to develop my reading habit in secondary school. 

I remember being recommended James Patterson by a kind auntie from Sunny Bookshop in Far East Plaza (wonder if that place is still around) and I started reading about Alex Cross even before it was turned into a movie. Trust me, the books are way better than the movies. I began to realise how great books for an imaginative mind. The authors did well to transport me to another realm, and there were many a good time I had with these fictional characters and plots. 

As I moved up to junior college, I started to explore the non-fictional genre and discovered the interesting realm of self-help, personal finance, investments and autobiographies. I would say I've been through quite a thick stack of self-help books, but I find that the one which really stood out to me, with its time tested principles, is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. We were put through a course on that back in school and I would say that was my first introduction to personal development books. To be honest, despite having the opportunity to read that once through in secondary school, I only did really catch on with the principles in University, having messed around in my secondary school and junior college days. 

And I guess that's the beauty of books. They provide different perspectives at different times of your life when you re-read them. Especially the books on personal development and investments, such as "From Darwin to Munger" by Peter Bevelin - that book is one I try to go through briefly every 9 months or so. Or those books on philosophy such as "This Ugly Civilization", "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World" or "The Selfish Gene" - they do provide interesting perspectives you probably would not be able to glean if you went about on your merry way through life without every adopting reading as a priority activity. As you can see, I'm a firm believer in investing in yourself through reading. A mind once expanded never goes back to its original shape and size. 

I have to say that the best thing about this decade is the development of technology to accommodate active readers. Prior to the invention of Amazon's Kindle, my house was pretty much stuffed up with hordes of books I had to kinda think twice before I bought anymore. Well it still is filled up with books now, but I haven't had to think twice about storing more books (electronic copies), no thanks to this nifty device. Mind you, my Kindle was one of the earlier versions of the Kindle Touch, and I purchased in in 2011. To date, that has been my best "luxury" purchase over the last four years, thanks for the sheer pleasure and adventures I had through it. 

These days I try to put in some reading on the train trips to and fro from the office, which can take up to an hour each day. Most days I do non-fiction and some days I'll load up some trashy novels to ease off the knowledge expansion project. ha ha! How about you dear reader? If you're reading this piece right now, chances are you'll like reading too. What are some of the best books you've come across that have impacted your lives? And how much heed do you pay to reading? 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Thoughts on Physical Training

One of my biggest fears is the wasting away of my body, and along in that, the wasting of my mind as I continue to plod along the path in search of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

We've all heard stories of fellow schoolmates who were in their prime, the most outstanding and natural sportsmen during our teenage years. Envied by the boys in the compound for their sporting abilities and idolized by the girls from the nearby schools for mainly, their developing bodies (at least on a subconscious level). Well, I've never been an outstanding model of physicality, and had always been a late bloomer in that aspect, suffering from bouts of childhood asthma together with a strong penchant for a "Happy Meal" or "Zinger Burger" on the bus trips home.

Gradually, I decided enough was enough and thus started developing my physical fitness, undertaking certain endurance events through my JC and NS days. Now that I'm more than halfway there to my goal of financial freedom, I've started to dream of the things I'll do once I'm done with investment banking, and I realise from past experiences that I do love pushing the limits of my physical endurance levels, trying out different events would pit me against myself. Definitely one particular realm I'll like to focus my attention on would be adventure racing and self sufficient ultra marathons.

The main takeaway since beginning my journey into developing myself physically is that with the right mindset, discipline and plan, you can pretty much undertake any physical challenge you want to. Go from couch potato to marathoner in 60 days? Drop 30 kg in eight months?  Complete a 10km swim in one continuous attempt? These are all possibilities, as long as the right plan is in place and there is a strong will to follow through and execute your plan.

And little did I realise that was actually a transferable "skillset". You start believing in yourself and your abilities once you've completed those physical goals that hey perhaps I can do something like that in the corporate world, or I can actually retire by 35 with a few million in the bank. You draw strength from your past victories to keep you moving forward in search of future victories. Your goals might not always be reached, but hey, shoot for the stars and even if you don't reach them, you'll at least reach the clouds.

These days, I try to put in at least 3 HIITs (high intensity interval trainings) that lasts anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, together with a run of  6 - 8km over the weekend. I do have a pedometer (think something like fitbit) and I try to cover about 4 to 5 km through walking daily. Hopefully that will put me in a good position to embark on my sporting adventures post calling it a day in the corporate world. And you know what, I actually feel much better and more effective during the day comparatively to a period where I was just slogging my guts off at work. I bet my heart and body agrees with that to some extent too.

Simple habits that translate into effectiveness in other aspects of life. I think there's a word to describe that - keystone habits. Maybe lacing up your shoes and heading out for the run might do more for your life than just generating endorphins.