University studies can wait

PHOTO: University studies can wait

Ms Michelle Qiu, 20, has bucked family expectations by putting her studies on hold as she pursues a career as an oil trader.

Despite scoring straight As for her A-level examinations in 2011, the Raffles Girls' and Raffles Junior College alumnus passed up offers from a top college in the United States and a local university.

Ms Qiu said literature was her favourite subject. But she gave up the chance to study liberal arts in the US for a shot at an internship with an oil trading firm.

"I worked as a part-time waitress during the eight-month break before the college term opens when someone offered me an internship at a bunker oil trading firm," she said. "While many have heard of the oil trading industry, not many know what goes on in it. So I thought, why not?"

Ms Qiu started her internship doing administrative jobs but that was enough to pique her interest.

At the time, the firm was looking for a new hire, which allowed Ms Qiu to get a full-time position.

But the next step proved tough as she had to tell her parents that their eldest daughter would not be going to college as planned.

"My parents are the traditional sort who believed that I should get my degree before working full-time, so they were naturally concerned," she said.

"But I'm quite stubborn and told them that I'm still young and can further my studies a few years later if this doesn't work out."

Eventually, they relented and gave Ms Qiu their full support.

But her stay with her employer was short-lived as another opportunity emerged: cargo oil trading.

Since June, Ms Qiu has been an oil trader with Horizon Oil, which deals with the physical trading of crude oil, fuel oil and gas oil.

"There's so much to learn from my colleagues who know how to recommend the right oil blends for the customers," she explains. "And I look forward to executing my first trade."

Being an oil trader is a job that requires Ms Qiu to be on standby 24/7 as any potential deal will require the team's attention.

But that hasn't stopped her pursuing her other interests and hobbies. These include championing animal rights as well as modelling. Ms Qiu was recently crowned the first runner-up at the Miss Singapore Global competition, where contestants get to speak up on a cause.

Q: Are you a spender or a saver?

I'm more of a saver and will try to save at least half of my salary, especially since I'm still residing with my parents.

Like most girls, I did go through a phase of buying lots of clothes, shoes and accessories but I've grown out of it after entering the working world.

Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?

I have a supplementary card from my mum, which I use to charge most of the business entertainment expenses and restaurant bills to. It can therefore hit a low four-figure sum. I'd also try and take advantage of credit card promotions whenever possible.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

I've a unit trust-linked savings plan which gives me an 8 per cent return annually over a seven-year period. This allows me to draw out the cash in my late 20s when I may need the money to buy a property or start a family.

I also have some money in stocks although the bulk of it comes from my parents.

My interest is in the US stock market with its bigger volume and movement than the local market.

I keep an eye out for biopharmaceutical shares in particular. Although their price movements may be more volatile, if you do your research and understand the company, there are pockets of opportunities to make some money.

Q: Moneywise, what were your growing up years like?

My dad is the sort who believes in working hard and bringing home the bacon. He sells software in the automation industry. My mum was very thrifty, but always believed that she should work her money harder than she did. That's when she began looking at investments.

I grew up in a dual-income family where my parents made sure my younger sister and I had enough pocket money. They wouldn't spend much on other things, so I picked up those values as well.

Q: How did you get interested in investing?

My mum, a former accountant, taught herself how to invest over the years through books and watching investor guide programmes. I've watched her try her hand at stocks, foreign exchange trading and saw her strike gold with some property investments because of the right timing.

So when I gave up the opportunity to further my studies abroad, my parents set aside what should have been my college fund, a six-figure sum, for my investments.

My mum and I would make a joint decision on what to buy and put our money into before taking the plunge.

Q: What property do you own?

None at this point. But hopefully I can save up enough and buy an investment property when the property prices correct over the next few years.

Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?

A $6,000 ring which I saw last Christmas and couldn't get out of my mind. So I caved in when there was a sale and have received many compliments for its unique design.

Q: What's your retirement plan?

I probably hope to have a more relaxed pace of life in my 40s or 50s. But in the next 20 to 30 years, I'll be working hard to make sure that I can support myself financially in my golden years without depending on my children.

Q: Home is now...

A 1,200 sq ft, three-bedder condo in Sengkang where I live with my parents, younger sister and our domestic helper.

Q: I drive...

I've yet to obtain my driver's licence so I commute via public transport and usually take the MRT.


Q: What is your worst investment to date?

It has to be the $5,000 I lost in foreign exchange trading when I bought some US and euro currency last year. I'd been curious at the quick movements of the forex market and people say that if you can read market sentiments and catch a long position on a currency, you are bound to make some money.

But as it is more volatile, one must have the guts and iron constitution to stomach the currency movements.

Unfortunately, I'd bought into it in a "trigger happy" mode and lost some money.

My learning point from this is that one must pick a financial product that moves at a pace you're comfortable with, and always take a step back to evaluate your investment's position against market sentiments.

Q: And your best?

That would be shares of United Kingdom's Lloyds Banking Group, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, which I bought a few months ago.

I first bought it in the US$3.80 and US$3.90 range. But we sold a portion of it as the price gradually went up. It is now worth about US$5 apiece.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.