Me & My Money

Finance exec picked up tips right from teen years

Ms Madeline Ho learnt a lot from the life experiences of her great grandmother, like being frugal. She believes her business has a social purpose.
Ms Madeline Ho learnt a lot from the life experiences of her great grandmother, like being frugal. She believes her business has a social purpose.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

This is the third of a four-part series on women from various fields, including technology and consumer businesses. Start with own goals rather than market benchmark, says asset management exec

Finance executive Madeline Ho was already researching real estate, viewing properties, and meeting property agents as a teenager.

She would comb through advertisements of selected properties and speak to agents over the phone to narrow down viewing choices for her parents.

Ms Ho, 47, managing director and head of wholesale fund distribution for Asia-Pacific at Natixis Global Asset Management, says her parents were working and didn't have time to do all the research.

"I was still schooling, and found it quite interesting to call up agents, ask the basic questions and arrange for viewings. I'd screen everything before presenting it to my parents," she adds with a laugh.

That was how she learnt about the personal requirements people had when it came to property investment, and the same applies to your financial goals.


My only regret is not taking swift action and procrastination, resulting in missed opportunities, like investing in commercial properties for instance. But as they say, with hindsight, everyone's a genius.

FINANCE EXECUTIVE MADELINE HO, on her biggest regrets when it comes to investing

"Start with your own goals. Working in this business, I find a lot of people are concerned with the market benchmark.

"More than that, it's really about our personal benchmark - what you think is a good number, what you think you want to achieve, and try to do what you can to optimise what you want to achieve, rather than being bothered by how market indexes do."

She adds that at the end of the day, the market indexes are not related to your retirement.

Ms Ho also dispenses the same advice to her children, a 14-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son who has his own money management system.

"If he asks his father for money, the father will ask him what he spends it on.

"Sometimes he can't remember, so now he maintains a logbook, which my husband suggested," she laughingly says.

Ms Ho enjoys reaching out to retail investors in the course of her work, as she strongly believes in what she does.

"A big part of being in the business is also helping others to do well for themselves. I think there is a social purpose being in the business, to help people retire properly and accumulate assets."

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

A My great grandmother was the main caregiver because my parents were working. I spent a lot of time with her.

I learnt a lot from her life experience, like being frugal, making the best of what you have.

Given her situation at that time - she had no formal education, girls were generally not educated - she did very well for herself. She bought property and invested, so I picked these up as well.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A I started my career in asset management about 20 years ago. Before that I worked in a bank.

Being in the industry, I naturally became interested in learning more.

My first investment was in the initial public offering (IPO) at the first bank I worked at, called Keppel Bank, which was absorbed into and became part of OCBC Bank.

In the early years of my asset management career, when we launched funds, I tried to be one of the funds' first investors. That shows conviction that I believe in the products the firm launches.

I still hold investments in some of the funds.

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A It's more about missed opportunities. Fortunately, I've not made big mistakes.

    Some of the investments, at different points in time, may have lost value, but over a longer term period, they have recovered.

    I truly believe that time heals all wounds and levels up investments in the long term. Younger investors should really use time to their advantage.

    Q And what has been your best investment move?

    A You could say it's my current house. In hindsight, the market recovered very quickly after the 2008 financial crisis, much sooner than everybody expected.

    About eight to nine months after we bought it, the property market recovered and the valuation of the property went up by about half.

    Rachael Boon

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A You have to know your needs, like whether you want capital appreciation or income.

I try to maximise my diversification, reduce volatility, and try not to be distracted by market news on a day-to-day basis, but stay on course for the long term.

For the last decade, the risk profiles of some indexes have been relatively stable - while their returns varied dramatically. So when it comes to asset allocation, I put risks first as my key consideration, rather than target returns.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A I don't hold a lot of individual equities and bonds because my role makes it difficult to invest in stocks; the equities I hold are mostly from a long time ago or through my employment.

Most of my investments are either in global and Asian mutual funds, collective investment schemes or currencies.

About 50 per cent is in mutual funds, and an equal weightage for equities and currency investments.

I usually put some of my own monies into the funds I have launched and promoted.

Ideally, I would like 30 per cent of my portfolio to be locked up in illiquid assets, to help me generate income in the long term.

Over the last 15 years, my investments have come up quite nicely.

Q What does money mean to you?

A It's one form of financial freedom. One of the elements of the foundation is that it lets me do what I'd like to pursue.

It allows me to support education funds, and children in other countries. Education is quite important, especially in lesser developed economies.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?

A There's nothing extremely extravagant but we spend on annual holidays. Travelling and taking the kids with us is a way to expose them to other cultures. That's educational, as we learn about different ways of life.

In the past few years, we've gone to Europe more often. The kids are older and can appreciate what they see.

My husband has a policy where he doesn't drive on holidays. We will take all forms of public transport. He feels that he drives around a lot here every day, so he must be driven by other people - which is public transport (laughs).

Q What has been one of your biggest regrets when it comes to investing?

A My only regret is not taking swift action and procrastination, resulting in missed opportunities, like investing in commercial properties for instance.

But as they say, with hindsight, everyone's a genius. We bought our current house at the peak of the financial crisis, in January 2009.

My guiding principle was whether we could continue to stay in this property if I didn't have a job. The answer was yes, so we went ahead.

We had another property then, but in order to be prudent, we decided to sell it. I don't like to be in debt, I don't like leverage.

We didn't lose money, but in hindsight, that other property would have gone up 30 per cent. I'd say it was a missed opportunity.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A In the short term, I'm just monitoring the market. I think a lot of people forget that time is important when it comes to investing.

Over the medium to long term, investments usually come out quite well. You may be making a loss in the short term but you should see past it.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A Now that I'm in my 40s, it's time to work in my retirement planning. Aside from liquid assets, you can also put some money in less liquid assets - that could be commercial, residential property or a business - that can generate passive income.

It's important to still be actively engaged in work.

It may not be formal work but something that keeps your energy level high.

It could be something that I never had the chance to do, maybe set up something to do with my hobbies. I like decoration-related things. The floral arrangements at home are done by me.

I like the Chinese and Peranakan cultures - my maternal grandmother is Peranakan - so I always think about having a business that helps to preserve these unique cultures.

Q Home is now...

A A semi-detached house in the east.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2015, with the headline 'Finance exec picked up tips right from teen years'. Print Edition | Subscribe