Money Muse: They gave up careers as a doctor and an engineer to educate investors

Jeremy Chia (left) and Chong Ser Jing of The Good Investors.
PHOTO: The Good Investors

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 Chong Ser Jing and Jeremy Chia from The Good Investors, where they share educational and motivational pieces on personal investments in equity markets.    

Interestingly, both did not have a straightforward journey into the financial industry with Ser Jing pursuing an engineering degree at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Jeremy doing medicine for his undergraduate studies. 

Both writers met during their time at financial advice portal The Motley Fool, which galvanised and strengthened their individual motivations to write and educate the masses on financial investments and literacy. 

They left the Fool after the site ceased its Singapore operations in Oct 2019 and have since launched their own finance blog, The Good Investors. 


INVESTING IS NOT SOMETHING THAT COMES NATURALLY FOR MANY PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY MILLENNIALS SUCH AS YOURSELVES. HOW DID YOU START OUT? 

SER JING (SJ): I grew a passion for investing in my late teens. It started when I was attending economics classes in junior college. I thought the theories - especially the assumption that market participants always acted in coldly rational ways - to be completely wrong and sought out people who actually worked with money. This led me to discover Warren Buffett and his mentors, and I found their framework for understanding the financial markets to be logical and refreshing.

I had admired the Fool for a number of years before I entered the company. I became acquainted with it as a customer in July 2010. During my interactions with the Fool as a customer, I came to the conclusion that the Fool truly cared for all its stakeholders - employees, owners and customers. 

I left The Motley Fool Singapore in Oct 2019 when its Singapore office closed. Now, Jeremy and I are in the process of building an investment fund that has a strong social element. We're building the fund with the primary motivation of enriching investors and society at large. 

JEREMY (J): I took a somewhat unconventional path to a career in investing. Instead of practising as a doctor after completing an MBBS degree, I decided to intern at a hedge fund. That's where my interest in investing developed. After my internship, I began investing in stocks and read more books on personal finance and stock-picking.

Jeremy Chia while on vacation. 
PHOTO: The Smart Investors

A few years later, I decided to dive deeper into a career in investing and started writing for The Motley Fool Singapore. As someone who also has a passion for education, I wanted to use the lessons I've learnt through my personal investing experience to help the investing public invest better. 

SO WHY WRITE? WAS THERE SOME IMPETUS THAT DROVE YOU TO START WRITING PUBLICLY?

SJ: Investing in stocks is a topic that is often made overly complex and we want to demystify investing for investors in Singapore and elsewhere. "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" is an old Italian proverb - and so it is with lighting the candle of investing. We believe that educating other investors is a worthwhile and meaningful pursuit.

It really hurts me when I read stories about investors getting burnt in the stock market, such as the recent Hyflux saga. That is something that can be prevented through education. The Motley Fool Singapore's website is no longer available, but I wrote an article back in May 2016 when Hyflux offered perpetual securities that came with a 6 per cent annual coupon. 

After looking through Hyflux's financials, I concluded that the securities were risky because the company had a chronic inability to generate cash flow and its balance sheet was really weak. Those risks sadly flared up in 2018 and caused pain for so many of the company's investors.

Though I'm no longer with The Motley Fool Singapore, I think there's still plenty more I can contribute in the field of investor education. Hence, the decision to start a financial blog.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ATTRACTS READERS TO READ YOUR ARTICLES?

SJ & J: We guess it's because we do have important things to say about the world of finance and investing. We're going to get things wrong very often - but at least we're sharing our thoughts in an authentic manner!

WRITING CAN TAKE A LOT OF TIME AND EFFORT. HOW DO YOU DO IT? WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?

SJ: In terms of finding the time and effort, it's really just having the discipline to do so. I have a passion for the topic, so I think the discipline comes naturally. The primary motivation is really the notion that our work can help to elevate the collective wisdom of Singapore's investment community. 

That alone provides sufficient fuel to keep me going. I'm also lucky to have been given the opportunity to write about investing professionally for nearly seven years - the writing process does get easier with time.

J: I think it is much easier to write about something that you are passionate about. For me, investing is something I think about on a regular basis, which makes writing on it much easier. I hope that the articles we share on The Good Investors encourage effective, long-term and socially-responsible investing.

COULD YOU SHARE AN EXPERIENCE YOU HAD THAT FURTHER MOTIVATED YOU ON THIS WRITING JOURNEY?

SJ: I'm lucky, because something happened recently which really boosted my motivation. When news of The Motley Fool Singapore's closure broke, many of the company's paying subscribers started writing notes of appreciation, thanking the team for all the excellent work done over the past few years and saying how much they'll miss us.

Chong Ser Jing giving a talk on value investing. 
PHOTO: The Good Investors

People in the investing business have told me that "nobody thanks you if you make money for them, and if you lose money, they'll start cursing and swearing at you". That  was definitely not the case with The Motley Fool Singapore's members. 

Most of our investment newsletters produced excellent market-beating returns, and our members actually thanked us for the results we produced.

J: The Motley Fool Singapore enabled me to reach out to a wide audience and I would occasionally receive questions or feedback on email. I would also occasionally get messages on Linkedin or via email commending the work that I have done. Knowing that my writing has had an impact on my readers, even in the slightest way, has been a big motivator for me to keep going.

ON A PERSONAL LEVEL, WHAT IS THE BIGGEST FINANCIAL ISSUE YOU ARE CURRENTLY FACING? HOW DO YOU INTEND TO OVERCOME THIS HURDLE?

SJ: Now that I'm in the midst of setting up an investment fund with Jeremy, I have to watch my expenses more carefully. Jeremy and I are setting aside plenty of capital for the formation of the fund, and to meet the estimated expenses for the fund. We want to give the fund the highest chances of success since it could be a really important vehicle to better the financial lives of many Singaporean investors!

Fortunately, I do have savings and can feed myself relatively comfortably for a solid amount of time even without any income. Starting a fund can be challenging in the early years, so it helps that there's a cushion I can rely on.

J: I am lucky that I grew up in a financially-comfortable environment. Even so, I've taken nothing for granted and have always been a prudent spender. I think the greatest financial challenge will, however, come in the next few years.

Starting a fund will not only require a large capital outlay but will also mean that Ser Jing and I will not be taking any salary until the fund is profitable. Thankfully, I have enough stashed away to last me a good few years while we attempt to build the fund's track record.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU COULD DRAW FROM IT?

SJ: Having a simple lifestyle, and the ability to be truly contented with it, is wonderful!

J: Plan your finances accordingly. If you want to start a business, make sure you have enough stashed away for living expenses for a few years.

WHO DO YOU ADMIRE THE MOST IN THE FINANCIAL/INVESTMENT SPACE? 

SJ: I shall be greedy and name two! The first is Warren Buffett. He has been selflessly sharing all that he knows about investing to the public, for free, for decades. His integrity, and the way he leads his life (the frugality and the simpleness) is inspiring. I will be truly sad the day Buffett leaves the world.

The second is the late John Bogle. I believe Bogle had a net worth of around US$20 million (S$27 million) or US$30 million when he passed away in January 2019. That's a tidy sum, but it is insignificant compared to his achievements in the world of investing. 

Bogle brought low-cost index investing to the world and his vehicle, Vanguard, has benefitted countless investors! Bogle very likely could have kept more for himself, but he did not. Instead, he was relentless in trying to lower investing costs for investors. 

To me, Bogle was actually a supreme philanthropist, but in disguise! I hope that my legacy in the investing world can be in a similar vein to Bogle. To the extent of gifting the world an investment vehicle with low costs, the investment fund that Jeremy and I are building will also have a contractual structure of having fees that fall as its assets under management grow.

J: Peter Lynch is perhaps my biggest inspiration in investing. As the manager of the Magellan Fund, Lynch achieved a mindblowing 29.2 per cent annualised return. The beauty of his market-beating performance was that it was achieved with a relatively simple investing principle: investing in fast-growing companies and letting them compound over a long time frame.

Lynch looked for multi-baggers that could really make a meaningful impact on his portfolio returns. Best of all, Lynch was an extremely generous man who shared his investing "secrets" in his book One Up On Wall Street which was also the very first book I read on investing.

IF THERE IS ONE THING YOU CAN TELL YOUR AUDIENCE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

SJ: Investing in stocks need not be complicated. Stocks rise over time if the underlying businesses do well over time - it's that simple! (It's simple, but not easy!) At The Good Investors, I've shared the investment framework I'm using. 

Here's an excerpt: "The very first stock market in the world was established in Amsterdam in the 1600s. A few hundred years have passed since, and a stock exchange today looks very different even from just 20 years ago. But one thing has remained constant: a stock market is still a place to buy and sell pieces of a business."

Having this basic but important understanding of the stock market leads to the next observation: a stock's price movement over the long run then depends on the performance of the underlying business. 

In this way, the stock market becomes something easy to grasp. A stock's price will do well over time if the underlying business does well too. The next logical question then follows: is there a way to find companies with businesses that could do well in the years ahead? From experience and logical reasoning, I believe the answer is yes!

J: Investing works best the longer you let your investments compound. With that in mind, I want to encourage all young people to start their investing journey as soon as possible. I think Warren Buffett summed up investing best when he said: "Time is your friend, impulse is your enemy. Take advantage of compound interest and don't be captivated by the siren song of the market."

The Good Investors 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!

simeonang@asiaone.com

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