Money Muse is AsiaOne's maiden series of profile interviews with financial and investment bloggers where we learn more about what they do, how they started writing, their motivations as well as lessons gleaned through their writing journey.
We recently caught up with Kyith Ng from Investment Moats, a finance blog started in 2005 that aims to help readers make sense of money and how to grow their money.
Kyith believes in an iterative process to financial planning and investments, having shared experiences across a broad spectrum of financial topics such as wealth management, dividend income investing, technical analysis, and more.
An IT engineer by training, Kyith went from ensuring IT systems don't blow up to doing the same for client's finances (but flourish instead).
We delved deeper into Kyith's motivations to write and share about his adventures in finance blogging and how he thinks readers should approach money.
15 YEARS IS A LONG TIME FOR A BLOG. HOW DID YOU START?
Kyith (K): The blogging landscape may be a bit different back then. We did not have people to look up to. I got started because I was interacting with people, discussing investing and finance stuff in forums.
Suddenly, there was this very cool online service called Blogger that came along and I decided to give it a try.
That was how I got into writing. I also realised that there were some differences between being on a forum and blogging. There are some things that you would like to put out there, but maybe… you are not looking for a response. It will also be weird to start a new thread to talk about it.
Investment Moats became a diary to show how much of a noob I was in making money. But I realised that the more I wrote, the more my thoughts on things get clearer. Clearer thoughts allow you to invest better.
When I put things out there, people read. People will criticise you, even make fun of you if you make naive and stupid mistakes with your money. So before I make a big decision with money, I know probably I need to write something — and if I do not want to get laughed at, I better make sure I know what I am doing.
WHO DO YOU THINK SUPPORTS YOU BY READING YOUR ARTICLES THESE 15 YEARS?
K: Long time ago… there wasn't a target audience like most who start writing now. I write and hope that there is some sifu (mentor) who would tell me if my stock pick is right or let me know what is wrong with the way I evaluate stocks.
In a way, your readers come to read your stuff because they are also searching for the same thing. They may also think that Multichem was an undervalued stock. They just want to find out what another person thinks.
Perhaps they are not even looking for an expert opinion.
Nowadays, I tend to write less about individual stocks. I do write about the more important aspects of wealth-building that investors might miss out. I came across investors with splendid results but when it comes to wealth management, they don't fare so well. They were able to amass their wealth because they are so good at what they do.
While not everyone can attain such spectacular investment results, everyone can take simple and significant steps to manage their finances better.
So I write more about such steps as well.
WRITING CAN TAKE A LOT OF TIME AND EFFORT, ESPECIALLY GIVEN THAT YOU HAVE A DAY JOB. WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING?
K: I actually earn some income from my site so it is like a third job to me (after my day job and investing).
But I would say… after writing for such a long time, writing is not that big of a problem. Finding time is the bigger challenge and as I grow older, with more things in life, you really start to understand why so many of us eventually gave up.
A large part of writing is that you have to have ideas in order to write. To get ideas, you need to be pinged with more ideas. If we embark on a path of financial discovery, there will always be things for you to write about. If you read enough stuff, you will have more ideas as well.
Ideas become harder to come by often because of our day jobs. Life gets busier, we immerse less in the subject, we have fewer ideas, and we find it tougher to write.
There is also one other thing that motivates me. I like to look at nice things. There was a period of time when I end up spending a lot of time tinkering with the fonts and themes of WordPress. As a trained engineer, it gave me immense pleasure to see my content on a well-presented site.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST FINANCIAL HURDLE YOU HAVE FACED AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
I am probably not facing any major financial issues now (touch wood) but if I recall, I might have faced a hurdle when I was in my early 30s.
Back then, I had been trying my hand at DIY individual investing for five to six years. I read a ton of books, from value investing, various fundamental investing to technical analysis books.
At the end of the day, all I had to show was a mixed bag of results. Particularly after emerging from a financial crisis with nothing to show for it but unrealised losses — it was not a good position to be in.
What I told myself back then was, "Kyith, you spent the past six years messing around. You cannot keep messing about for the next six years. If not, you are going to end up in a financial wasteland."
So I reflected on all my past experiences and thought: "Which one does your heart agree with the most?"
So I picked up on one specific discipline of investment and went down that rabbit hole.
The rest, as they say, is history.
WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU DREW FROM THAT EXPERIENCE?
I think we can read a lot of books and not learn much from them. The path to getting better involves a lot of reading, failing to understand, clarifying, then executing, making mistakes, and searching for the answers to why what was written didn't work.
Many of the answers to my mistakes were in the books I read but because I just glossed over them, I wasn't able to execute good investment decisions.
I think this applies to other crafts that you wish to master as well.
It requires you to really invest time and effort. It is by delving deeper in that craft that you are able to graduate from being a novice to someone who is more competent. Competence in the investment space is good enough to give us positive results.
COULD YOU NAME A PERSON FROM THE FINANCIAL/INVESTMENT SPACE WHOM YOU ADMIRE THE MOST?
There are a lot of people in Singapore's finance space that I admire but what makes them admirable cannot be put out here because most of them are quite private people.
Nonetheless, I like this writer on GuruFocus called Geoff Gannon. I think his work might still be published there and on Seeking Alpha.
I would credit Geoff for helping me understand some of the fundamental investing things. He is probably one of the reasons why some of my content is now 2,000 to 3,000 words long.
In stock investing, books will explain some of the terms such as Free Cash Flow, EBITDA and PE. They explain it based on the writer's interpretation.
But using these terms as they are in investing can be suicidal sometimes. Geoff takes what he has read, his experience, what he understands and explains them to us by looking at why EBITDA is the best cash flow out of earnings, free cash flow and a few others.
You might agree or disagree with him that EBITDA is the best but to an investment noob, the nuances he explains and the examples he uses really help.
Geoff might not have the best investment record, but I wouldn't get to where I am without his works.
The best teachers for your kid sometimes might be the kid who got promoted to the next level. That kid may know how to learn things and do well because just prior, this kid was in the same position as your kid.
IF THERE IS ONE THING YOU CAN TELL YOUR AUDIENCE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
There is this guy on the Financial Independence subreddit that mentioned this: "Build the life that you want, then save for it."
The person who provided this quote graduated from university and was privileged enough to work in an IT job with a good salary. He was not 100 per cent in love with his IT job but became aware of the financial independence retire early (FIRE) movement early in his career.
He had a focused goal on working towards financial independence. Some months later, he met a girl. The girl was pretty good with money and had a good job as well. He taught his then-girlfriend how to manage her money better. Unlike him, her goal was more to pay off her loans and get a home.
Two-and-a-half years later, they broke up.
He took stock of how he lived his life and realised that his focus to retire early had affected his life. He was too focused on the future and neglected his health, his relationships, his overall well-being today.
The thing about money is that if you learn these things early and set them up well, a lot of the wealth comes from waiting for it to eventually build up.
But if you do not make the most of that "waiting" period, you might be missing out on a lot of things.
This might sound very negative for the FIRE experience, but I think the bigger lesson is that we sometimes fail to be conscious about the life that we want to live.
We let society or our friends tell us that there are only one or two life templates when there are many others.
Wealth is an enabler.
Design your life and figure out how the money supports it.
Investment Moats will be part of an increasing and growing stable of bloggers whose writings we will feature in our money column. Look out for their stories!