Getting to know Invest editor Lorna Tan

This short Q&A series with ST's beat reporters lets readers meet the person behind the byline. These are the experts who will be answering readers' questions in our askST section.  

Invest editor Lorna Tan writes a weekly column in The Sunday Times, dispensing advice on how to better manage one’s finances.

Her personal finance articles have been compiled into two books - Talk Money and Talk More Money -  which were published by The Straits Times Press. They cover a wide range of topics from consumer protection, financial planning, insurance and investments to retirement planning.


Besides providing information on many finance-related issues, the articles highlight the pitfalls of easy money and investing. Readers will also benefit from the many tips on how you can stretch your dollars and invest prudently to grow your nest eggs. She also co-authored a personal finance book Personal Wealth Management.

She will kickstart the askST@NLB sessions at library@orchard on May 27 with her talk, Can I afford to retire in Singapore? 

1. How long have you been helming the Invest section and why did you choose to do it?

For about a decade.

Why I do it? Most people do not spend enough time planning their finances. On the contrary, I get paid to spend time focusing on money issues and trends. 

It’s a meaningful job as I’m doing something that makes a difference, empower readers and help them make informed choices. I see my role both as a privilege and a vocation. 

There is a positive spillover effect to my personal life so what I’ve learned has also helped tremendously in my financial journey. 

2.    Is your advice on managing personal finances based on your own experience?

My own experience comes in handy when I give financial advice.

As a retail investor belonging to the sandwich generation taking care of ageing parents and raising children, my financial concerns are similar to most people. For example, I have written about the importance of writing a will, and recently, I analysed my parents’ private hospitalisation insurance plans.

I’m happy to share my investigative work as well as my financial planning and investment choices, and in the process I have benefited as well. I also glean nuggets of wisdom from financial experts. 

3.    Have you received brickbats from readers on any of the advice you gave? What were they?

Brickbats are rare and they would likely be from the providers of products and services that I’m writing against. I believe in highlighting the good with the bad. Let readers vote through making informed investments and choices.

4. What are the three things you would advise your children about for their first investment?

The three “Ks”: Know what you are investing in, Know yourself and Know your exit plan.

It’s better to take your time to understand what you are investing in than to be impulsive and go into something that you have little knowledge of. It’s important to do your own due diligence. Ask what are the pros and cons, the hidden costs, check the fine print, and so on.

Understand your own investing psychology, your attitude and aptitude for risks, and your financial literacy level. Can you sleep well at night? It’s easy to make an investment decision but harder to exit an investment unless you set clear parameters or trigger points at the onset, and review along the way.

Bottom line is, you have to do your homework not only on the investment but on yourself too.

5.  What are your three best investments?

My three best investments are in property, education and health. 

I like properties because with some leverage, they can help to grow my capital through capital appreciation, and they are a good hedge against inflation while providing rental income. 

I believe in upgrading my financial knowledge continuously to stay relevant in my role as Invest editor. I’ve also invested in the education of my children because it is a way of empowering them to gain financial independence. 

Because we are so busy, it’s easy to forget that wealth is health. I have two annuities and the Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS), which will provide monthly sums in my golden years so I would like to live long enough to benefit from them.

6. What are your three worst investments?  

I’ve lost money through my investments in Malaysian clob shares in 1998, tech funds during the 2000 Internet bubble and some local shares. Losing money is painful but more importantly, the lessons have been valuable. I learned how I can ignore my common sense when I allow greed to get the better of me; little knowledge is dangerous when I invest without doing any homework; and the importance of having an exit plan and rebalancing my portfolio when the need arises.

7. What is the biggest risk you have ever taken in your life? 

When I got married at 24.

Your spouse is either your best or worst investment and you can only find out after you’re married. The power of two can either bring benefits such as pooling resources for investments, or it can cause you to lose your assets plus more.

Newsmakers who have previously divorced have told me that their worst investment was their ex-spouse. An example was investment guru Jim Rogers.

8. Name a company you would invest in and why. 

I would rather not name one company as it might lead to you taking on concentrated risks. 

It’s more prudent to diversify your investment among a few asset classes to hedge against the risks, and the allocation will depend on your objectives and time horizon.

To highlight the benefits of diversification, The Sunday Times Invest embarked on a year-long collaboration with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Singapore Exchange and CFA Society of Singapore to kickstart a Save & Invest Portfolio Series in January.  The series features the simulated portfolios of three real retail investors, ages 25, 38 and 61. The portfolios, which have different investment amounts, are tracked monthly till early 2017. The main asset classes are domestic equities, real estate investment trusts (Reits), global exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and bonds. 

There are similarities in the three portfolio holdings, but the allocation for each profile differs depending on the individual’s risk-return objectives and preferences. So do check it out!

9. What’s the most important: Money, honour, or knowledge? 

As an advocate of financial education, I would say knowledge comes first. By applying knowledge wisely, you can help yourself and others. 

10. Do you buy on impulse? Tell us a weakness? 

I’m seldom impulsive, having disciplined myself since young. My father was the sole breadwinner working as a security guard while my mother is a housewife. So my brother and I learned to be thrifty from an early age.

My weakness is indulging my two children. I’m very good at denying myself but am too soft when dealing with my kids and their wants.

More askST stories here.