Sunday, December 25, 2016

Phillip now has 0% sales charge on UT

Seriously, I am a strong Phillip supporter.


Platform fees, hehe. Is this a potshot at the already struggling FSM One, "Market Player F"?

Seriously though, when I first started my investment journey, I was looking around at just how to start investing. Unit Trusts are easy to understand, plentiful in asset classes and strategy and practically every bank sells them. But... the banks sell them at cut-throat rates of 3-5% (back in 2013).

Now, I know that I have to justify why unit trusts before I can move on. Our financial media (no help from many financial bloggers too, thank you very much) have totally slammed unit trusts in the recent years. Guys, I get that ETFs are great, I really really do, but ETFs are not the holy grail and ETFs do come with their own set of drawbacks. Do I own and have ETFs? Yes, I do. How about unit trusts? Yes, I do too. In fact, I own a lot more unit trusts and that is because of (1) super shit variety and liquidity of ETFs and (2) super wide variety of asset classes and strategies of unit trusts.

Phillips has always been either 0.75% or 0% on special funds or during special promotions. Without doing anything, you already save by not fattening up your bankers. I really still shake my head at the sorry and screwed up state of our financial industry. I don't know about you, but this bothers me so much that all the "official" ways are the stupidest and most expensive way to do it. Bloody third world country financial industry.

Phillip has it's very interesting MMF option (which was a godsend before the likes of OCBC 365, UOB One, etc), they allow CPF-IS and also SRS investing. There are other stuff that they also have, like CFDs and FX, but I keep my Phillip account nice and clean for me. It's just for my SRS, Unit Trusts and another broker with access to my CDP.

So that's right. It seems that from now on, there is going to be absolutely no sales charge when you buy from Phillip. And that also includes (if you see the small print), no platform fees and no switching fees. That is bloody awesome.

All the banks can go screw themselves. All the people that buy unit trusts are the banks, you guys better be getting some insane promotion or deal to be having to do so, or else you're really much better off just asking your bank R/M to screw off because you're going to open an account at Phillip and pay 0% instead of her this month's commission bonus.

In case you still aren't convinced about Phillip / Unit Trusts being useful if you know what are their advantages and drawbacks, here is a small case study of me going into Russia through a unit trust bought on Phillips and exiting 3 months later with 20% profits. Funny thing is that I have since bought into that same unit trust again for exposure to Russia and my current unrealized gains is about 41% now.

Phillip also has quite a few nice bond funds, and I will now reveal the best tip which I tell all my friends that want to dip their toes into investing without going crazy - check out UOB SGD Fund Cl A. This is the same fund that I use as my bond component in the small portfolio that I run for my family.

I like Phillip a lot. They are really no-frills and straight. Perhaps Phillip might lead the change towards lower stockbroking commissions, but one can only dream of such progress in our backwards financial industry.

If you pay "platform fees"  now, you might want to consider to switch to Phillip.
If you pay ridiculous sales charges through your bank (your R/M will call it "special/promotional" rate), you might want to consider to switch to Phillip.

You might want to consider to transfer out your unit trusts to Phillip. On top of saving money by not getting screwed in the future, Phillip also has transfer-in promotions, although I'm too lazy to find out the finer details. There's the link, you can probably carry on yourself from there.

If you are planning to buy unit trusts, it's really a no-brainer to sign up with Phillip.

If you think unit trusts are shit investment vehicles, I'd agree with you 80%, but I'd also say that beggars can't be choosers. If you want easy access to a specific strategy or asset class - say for example, investing in Russia (hur hur) - then you really don't have much options, do you? It's okay to generally avoid them especially when there are other alternatives (please buy the STI ETF instead if you were thinking of buying a local focused stock fund), but you have to also acknowledge that you are narrowing your options by stereotyping and avoiding this MASSIVE investment option.

And just BTW, Phillip doesn't pay me jack for writing any of this. Which I guess it's fair since I don't pay them jack for their services too. It would be nice if any of these clear-cut better financial services that I use come and approach me to continue using them and also write about why I use them. A nice few hundred as credit into my account would be sufficient payment... Do you hear me Phillip? EMBRACE ME. Oh wait, I forgot that they are no-frills and probably don't have any social media marketing campaigns, haha. Oh well.

Keep staying dirt cheap Phillip, that's what I like about you.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

FSMOne and the our crap Financial Sector

If you don't know what is FSM One, go browse their website yourself.

After that, read this great primer by D&S (I got to say it again, I'm absolutely awed by the quality of the content, and also the edginess of the content from D&S!).

Honestly, it is a bold move.

Singapore has a SHIT financial industry.

Why do I think so? While being highly literate with supposedly genius population and 5/10 younguns sporting some sort of "degree" (read this to see why I call them "degrees"), we are still so lacking.

1. Mainstream acceptance of financial advisors as the FIRST and PROPER way to buy insurance
2. Complete willingness to pay $2500 a month to drive yourself, sit in traffic and do your own valet parking
3. Belief that insurance is savings
4. They have this thing continuous expense called "face" that constantly requires endless amounts of money to maintain

etc, etc. If I was making a list about how bad the financial sense of Singaporeans are, you can print it out and quiz all your relatives and friends. Obviously, if you read financial blogs, you aren't a basket case. You're in the good basket of un-deplorables. For the general population, they are lacking. You might grudgingly admit it, but you would admit it. You know you would.

With such willing lambs that are pretty much self-fattening and self-walking themselves to the slaughterhouse, why would any of the traditional financial institutions stop themselves and their greedy hands?

It's funny how FSM One can no longer do SGX trades.
It's also funny how the only top insurer they have on their platform is NTUC income. (they have TM and Manulife, but not under the search and comparison. You need to contact them for a quote)

Not a surprise to me given that all the brokerages would be pissed at the $10 trades.
And that only NTUC is willing to work with them. It is the NATIONAL trade union after all.

Without access to the SGX market (well played OCBC), the FSM One offering falls apart. Their 0% fees on UT is similar to what they were previously offering, with just quarterly platform fees, so it's not game changing at all. Their insurance platform is a joke until they can get more providers and products. How do you compare if you only have 1 product by 1 provider? Anyone who is already planning to do it online can just as easily go to CompareFirst and buy Direct insurance or go through DIY Insurance and get a premium rebate. Choices are not aplenty, but there are other choices.

Singapore has a shitty, crappy and backwards finance industry, make no mistake about that.

Are things improving? It's hard to say. They did have the fintech expo in Singapore, but there is nothing to show for it - yet. (I'm STILL waiting on Smartly to launch, though I'm afraid that they are pretty much going to launch - if ever - at the peak of most global assets. Their last update was 13 Dec with a year-end launch target, but that doesn't seem likely.)

I'm still surprised by the proliferation of cash usage in Singapore. I know so many people who are "afraid" of credit cards. Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay have all been major flops. Perhaps over the next 1 or 2 phone replacement cycles then things will pick up, once more phones and more people have access to such services. Paywave (Visa) and Paypass (MC) are actually moving along quite well. NETS FlashPay and EZ Link still confuses me. Why are there 2 standards? One of them should be consumed by the other. I vote for EZ to be killed off and absorbed into NETS.

Seedly actually has a very good offering, but it's more to do with the personal backend of stuff - tracking, spreadsheets and all. It is nice that it is linked to the major banks so that you can see all your stuff together. I can see how this would help really lazy people. I personally still update all my accounts at the end of the month. It takes just 30 minutes and I get to test out my memory with all my variation of usernames and passwords. I'd encourage people to at least use Seedly, if not just manage it personally with a simple spreadsheet. Why?

I personally do not believe in expenses tracking. I think it is extremely time-consuming and it is only useful for a handful of people. If you've spent $500 this month on Uber/Grab and another $500 on drinks and parties, I'm pretty sure you know why your bank account is down $1000. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that expense tracking is useless. I'm saying that it's too much effort for not much reward at all. I'm starting to find out slowly that time is becoming the main limitation of things that I can / want to do, rather than any other resource.

Then again, the main reason why I am saying this is that because I am very aware of what I spend my money on. If I bought something, it's because I need it. If I spent money on a want, it's because I've actively decided that I'm going to save less this month and enjoy more. But that's also because the way that I treat my income might be different from most people. Once my income comes in, I DO NOT PAY MYSELF FIRST. I pay all my recurring expenses, then all my one-off expenses, then 100% goes into my emergency fund (which is full), and then overflows in my savings & investments.

I don't understand why people limit their savings. I have heard of people that do budgeting and realize that they have some "excess entertainment budget" and then goes out and spend the extra on whatever. They are forcing themselves to spend more money. It doesn't make sense to me.

Anyway, I went a little off topic there in the back, but oh well. I guess I'm just gonna wrap this up and post it since it's been a draft for like 2 weeks.

TL;DR - FSM One is bold, but meh.
Our finance industry is greedy and shit.
Expense tracking takes up a lot of time. If it doesn't help you much, having a $100 accuracy of your expenses is good enough (ie. I spent $600 this month - I spent $617.52 this month)
Don't turn budgets into spending #goals

Friday, December 23, 2016

#GivingWeek 2016 Update

This is the update from my previous post at the start of the month.


Anyway, this is just me showing my accountability that I do what I said I'll do.

I found out that the giving.sg offers a much better and smoother user experience compared to when I was using it last year. It's really very easy to donate. Just sign up, add charities to your cart, check out!

I was looking back at my update post about this last year and I remembered the comment that J left about the earning-to-give strategy that some people have when it comes to charity.

I have a friend that volunteers weekly out of pure kindness, so sometimes I feel horrible that I'm not doing anything more for society. Donating kind of feels like the least effort way of contributing. In a sense, I like the concept of the earning-to-give strategy because it kind of helps me justify why I am not out there at the frontlines volunteering for any of the above charities whose mission and programmes that I support.

But then again, the case for earning to give is really quite strong. Even GiveWell, which is one of the most trusted and respected sites for charitable donations weighed in on it. They even mention how it sort of feels like the "easy way out" (just like what I said in the paragraph above), but their view is that earning to give is a good additional route for people to be proactive in their charity, instead of reactive and I do agree with them about this. Having more people with the mindset of being self-involved definitely makes things easier than trying to constantly convince or remind people about their charitable cause.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm not dissing volunteer work at all. I'm just bringing this idea up again to examine a more fringe way of thinking with regards to charity work and donations.

Anyway, that was a rather long rambling about nothing financial at all.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I wish everyone Happy Holidays! Have a great end of the year everybody!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

POSB 1.38% 4 Months FD

Don't say got lobang I don't share.


POSB is having a 1.38% 4 month FD promotion with no minimum amount and a max cap of $100,000. Only thing you have to do is to apply and open up a Fresh Fund account and deposit in the money before end of 15 Dec (next Thursday).

Can read more about the promo here.

Personally, I think this is a pretty attractive short-term promotion, especially if you have any money lying around in any accounts that is yielding less than 1.38%.

I might give it a shot. I've been very messy with all my accounts lately. I have too much money hidden all over the place in so many different accounts. If I can consolidate, I might be able to scrape some stuff together to give myself a small little surprise in 4 months time!

Friday, December 2, 2016

#GivingWeek 2016: GMGH Annual Charity Donation

It's that time of year again.


I'm a bit late to the party, but anyway better late than never. #GivingWeek is a national movement that encourages people to give back. I like how it is at the end of every year and near the festive seasons. It's a good time to take stock of how your life and the year went, count your blessings (and accounts) and see if you have anything spare to give to others.

What's different from last year is that the SG50 fanfare is over, so the additional dollar-for-dollar matching by ComChest is over, and the special 300% tax incentive has been reduced back to 250%, the same ol' good number it normally has been since 2009, and it will stay this way until at least 2018. You can of course choose to donate to registered charities that are not approved IPCs, but you will not get any tax deductions. I donate to IPCs because they are held to a higher standard for regulatory compliance and governance, it's easy for me to find the list of IPCs and what's more beautiful than a win-win situation for all?

Last year I made the astute observation that the new giving.sg website looks set to replace SG Gives, et viola, here is the release by NVPC that giving.sg has indeed replaced SG Gives as the online portal for donations. So if you used to use SG Gives, don't be alarmed that it isn't there anymore! Go over to giving.sg and you can do the same as you always do!

Similar to what I did last year (and the year before), I plan to donate all my blog advertisement earnings to charity, as well as match it one-for-one and top up to round up the final donation amount.

The amount of AdSense earnings that I have this year is: $246.57
Add my personal donation of matching it one-for-one is: $493.14
Rounding the amount up to the nearest $10 for easy contribution is: $500

I'll be going overseas, so I might not make the 5 Dec #GivingWeek deadline, but I'll definitely be doing a follow up post as usual.

Although this is what I personally do, I don't encourage or expect other people to do the same. I think that it is very important to have a philosophy and reasons behind why you do something. I'm going to share (re-post) my thoughts from last year, updated with some very minor edits. I still think it's one of my greatest literary works yet.

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Having money isn't a crime to the society

One of the few ires about being an Asian financial blogger is swimming against the tide of taboo that is embedded in our culture, which is that money shouldn't be talked about openly. However, since financial bloggers implicitly do so, apparently it is suddenly okay for observers to tell us what we should do or should not do with our money.

There is a certain notion that people who like to talk about finance are capitalist pigs with no hearts. All we apparently think about is how we can amass more fortune by allegedly screwing over other people. Apparently, we are also ungrateful for the society that we live in that have enabled us to be financially successful. Those who are successful and on the top could have only got there by stepping on other people along the way. Since we are so focused on becoming millionaires, we need to pinch and save ever penny that we can get our hands on and we don't have any human decency to spare a thought for the less fortunate or those in need.

Sure, you can think that, but I don't believe so. That seems to be more like the logic of a sour person who is frustrated with their own lives instead, especially if they keep on making comparisons to others. Everything is everybody else's fault and they are just perfect. Pfft. They are just projecting their own problems onto other people.

Karma and "Fairness"

I have friends from different religious backgrounds and I also have friends who do not follow any religion. However, quite universally between my friends who are religious and those who are not, they all seem believe in a simplified version Karma, which is "Good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people", or "What goes around, comes around".

I know this might come to a shock to most people, but I do not believe in Karma. I don't think that anybody is keeping score and hatching a devious plan to "balance" out the bad, or even reward the good. It is a great way to encourage more positive social behaviour, but I just don't see how that works in any sort of semi-practical way (I admit, it could be argued that it is much too complicated for my feeble mind to understand). In fact, after learning more about philosophy of life, I would quite firmly place myself as existentialist which accepts the absurd and is striving to live life authentically and without bad faith. (all philosophical ideas that I would encourage anyone brave enough to put their entire understanding of the meaning of life up to the test to read up on)

However, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate or understand Karma. It is a great way of thinking. One of the things that I do believe in is that people should treat other people the way they would hope to be treated. The notable difference here is that just because I treat other people nicely, it does not mean that I myself would be treated nicely by others. It's a two-street and I only control one direction.

Is life "fair"? Obviously it is not, and I don't think it can ever be fair. Whether we should strive for fairness is a different debate altogether.

Capitalism and Meritocracy

My non-belief of Karma and my support of capitalism and meritocracy surely conflicts with the idea of charity then, does it not? Surely someone that thinks there is no such thing as divine retribution and also thinks that what people have got is somehow a culmination of what they deserve can't possibly care about others, right?

I believe that individuals or groups of private owners (capitalism) is the best form of economic system that we have so far because the rewards that it offers (money) is a pretty effective motivational tool for most people. The capitalist system also allows socialism to exist in pockets within its ecosystem, but not the other way around. The best example that I can think of are not-for-profit (different from non-profit) co-op credit unions that provides services to their members, such as easier loan approvals at lower interest rates. (FYI, I am a member of a co-op and there are many co-ops in Singapore, but that's a different story for a different day.)

To me, meritocracy seems like something that follows after a system of capitalism has been established. When there is a sense of ownership over assets, which people will then accordingly maintain and look after, it allows meritocracy to thrive. People now have ownership over their own skills and time. Between two people with similar skills, the one who clocks in more hours will get the better reward. Between two people clocking in the same hours, the one who has superior skills will get better rewarded. This isn't rocket science and I think this is pretty much the closest we can get to a universal agreement about the concept of fairness (but like I said, life ISN'T fair). Rewarding people who cultivate and improve their skills and are willing to spend more hours working to produce a final product - be it a good or service - is a good way to motivate them to continue their good performance, and also offers peers a glimpse of what their futures could be. Meritocracy would not exist without capitalism, because people would not be recognized for the different levels of skill and time committed.

I believe that the "skilled and hardworking" should be rewarded the most. This is different from being "skilled" or being "hardworking". Working 12 hours a day on a farm sure is a bitch and it is hard work, but try convincing anyone that a farmer should earn more money than a doctor (not talking about drug farmers). Yes, I took the 2 extremes, but that is just to make the point clear. Hard work counts for nothing if you're not applying that hard work well. Hard work is extremely overrated. I wish people would stop saying, "if you work hard, anything is possible" because it clearly isn't. If you have a smart plan and have realistic steps and actually work to complete those steps (note: no mention of hard work), you can achieve your goals. "Hard work" is too simplistic of a concept. It propagates the fallacy that all you need to do to achieve your dreams is to do it more times. Harder. Faster. Sheer insanity.


Being such a cynic and, so far up to now, heartless, how is it possible for charity to reasonably exist without conflicting with everything else that I support and believe in?

Fitting in the concept of Charity to help those who cannot help themselves

Firstly, let's acknowledge one thing. In a capitalist system, poor people DO exist. In fact, in any economic system there will always be some people who are poor and some people who are rich. The existence of a lower class is not proof of a flawed economic system, because show me a system where there isn't any distinction? Show me a system where poverty doesn't exist. Or at least justify your stance why poor people should not exist!

I believe that we were all dealt difference cards in life to begin with. To think that a son of a billionaire and the average person have the same opportunities and privileges in life is naive. Of course the son of a billionaire is starting the race way ahead of everybody else. Born in a rich family? Great, put in half the effort and get the same outcome. Born into a poor family? Unfortunately, you need to work twice as hard to get the same outcome. Ain't nobody said that life was going to be fair.

However, the world that we live in now isn't so unforgiving and harsh as that and I think that's a good thing. I believe that people who are handicapped just because of the luck of the draw should not be penalized and have no social mobility. Many governments are already "equalizing" the playing field to their own perceived notion of what is "fair" and what is not. I don't necessarily think that this is a bad thing. If the system is already stacked against them to fail before they even start, that to me is not something that I would like to see in the society that I live in. People should be able to determine to at least some degree to how they want their lives to pan out, rather than it already being predisposed from birth. But I'm also not saying that anyone can be Bill Gates.

Personal obligation to give to Charity

With many of my readers below the age of 40, giving to charity is a very confusing thought. Almost nobody is prepared for retirement yet. There are bills to pay, family to look after and raise. How can money be spent on others when there isn't enough for yourself yet? That's a great question. If you can't afford it, don't give to charity. Nobody is forcing you to give to charity, especially if you don't have enough for yourself. Look after yourself first.

However, the next question is... how much is enough that you feel comfortable parting away with some of the excess? After you buy a car? After scrapping the Japanese car for a continental one? Buying a second car? Upgraded to a condo? 2nd property? Overseas property in Malaysia / Thailand? And then London? How much stuff and money do you need so that you are comfortable to give some excess to charity? If the answer is that it is never enough, perhaps now might be a good time to realistically think about what it is in life that drives you and what do you what to achieve in life. If not having a yacht and the latest Apple gadgets makes you unhappy, you have way bigger problems in life then "Should I give to charity?".

Perhaps I have come to this conclusion rather early in life, but I figured out how to be happy, what I want in life to be happy, how to create happiness from different outcomes, what steps I need to complete to work my way there and I'm doing it. Since I'm a hedonist, all that works out great for me. I'm not just talking about doing it, I am actually doing it. With the ground already broken and I can see the work in progress being done, I'm quite confident that I know how things would end up for me. Sure, nothing in the future is confirmed, but I give myself pretty good probability that I'm going to end up in a comfortable situation. And that means that I will have some excess that I can afford to part with.

It's hard to say whether in the future as I become more successful, my lifestyle would also accordingly move up and my "needs" gets upgraded along the way. Personally, I hope it doesn't, but there really isn't anything wrong if it does. You've got the money in the bank, you want to buy a Rolex watch and that would make you happy? Go do it. I'm not advocating a lifestyle of selling all your worldly possessions and living simply and in the rough. I'm not advocating any lifestyle at all. I'm just verbalizing why my views on how seemingly conflicting topics can exist is a framework harmoniously.

As long as you can answer the question, "How much is enough?", you would be in a good position to examine your current status to see if you are suitable to donate to charities. If you know how much is enough, and you don't have enough yet, don't worry about it, next time maybe. If you don't know how much is enough, by default, it is never enough. But that's just my thinking about it.

Conclusion

I should wrap up my thoughts because what I wrote is a rather big web of ideas that are all over the place. I think that if you want to be happy, you need to look at yourself, not other people. If giving to charity makes you happy, give to charity. If giving to charity makes you miserable, don't give to charity. The tough part is figuring out if you'll actually be happy or unhappy!

Just like my non-Karmic belief that I cannot control how other people treat me, but I can only control how I treat others, I believe that all you can do is be the change that you wish to see in the world. Whether or not that change does eventually come about, that is beyond our control. But it is a bit comforting knowing that you at least did something instead of nothing.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

EXCLUSIVE TELEPHONE ONLY PROMOTION FOR YOU!


"Hello Sir,

I'm from XXX and I'm calling to let you know that you have been pre-approved to take up this special offer that is exclusive only for you!

Benefit 1)
...
...
...
Benefit 100)

How do all these benefits sound Sir?"

That sounds fantastic. How about you send me an email with all that information and I can get back to you with my decision?

"I'm sorry Sir. This promotion is only by telephone. Maybe I can help you clarify anything that you are unsure about..."

Wait. Wait. Wait a minute.
This is a telephone only offer and you will not send me anything and I just verbally agree over the phone?

"Yes Sir, it's is a special telephone-only offer!"

So I will not receive anything? I don't even want a mailer, I just want an email to look at the terms.

"I'm sorry Sir, we can't do that."


You can't send me an email?

"No, we can't send you an email. However, I can explain the terms again..."

Okay stop. We're wasting both my time and yours. If I don't get anything in black and white, I'm not going to agree to anything, okay?

"Sir, I can explain any terms that..."

Thanks, but no thanks. Bye.

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Holy bloody shit.

First it's all the personal loans, now it's all these weird ass insurance.

My opening line is going to be "Is this a telephone only offer? If it is, then I'm not interested".

I'm not against telemarketers or buying insurance, but this is just a screwed up way of doing so.

Honestly, I feel sorry for the operators and I really don't blame them for having to do this very unpleasant job. I would hate doing their job too.

But fuck this process and companies that do this.

I've got 2 of these calls in the past week.

I was trying very hard to be empathetic, but if these phone operators don't want to get verbally abused, they really shouldn't work for these kind of companies selling these kind of products.

Thanks for wasting 10 minutes of my life on the phone and another 20 minutes to write this post.