Small Change

All psyched up to dabble in stocks

Investing tips from experts provide a much-needed boost to confidence

An auditorium overflowing with an enthusiastic crowd of 20- and 30-somethings was the last thing I expected to see when I arrived at SGX Centre for a seminar on a Saturday morning last month.

The event had been organised by Securities Investors Association Singapore (Sias) for people under 35 years old to learn the ropes of investing.

Eager faces were rushing to get a decent seat in the fast-filling room, where a number of financial gurus were going to spend the next hour sharing their valuable knowledge on finance and investment strategies with the audience.

The modestly sized auditorium was quickly overwhelmed by the turnout, and many young people were forced to plonk themselves before the projection screen broadcasting the event outside the main venue.

A seminar for young people to learn the ropes of investing from a panel of financial bigwigs drew a 250-strong crowd. From left are Sias founder president and panel moderator David Gerald, DBS Vickers Securities chief executive Lim Kok Ann, SGX chief
A seminar for young people to learn the ropes of investing from a panel of financial bigwigs drew a 250-strong crowd. From left are Sias founder president and panel moderator David Gerald, DBS Vickers Securities chief executive Lim Kok Ann, SGX chief executive Loh Boon Chye and DBS Group chief executive Piyush Gupta, who offered valuable pointers. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

The 250-strong crowd seemed eager to get a piece of the financial knowledge pie being dished out by stalwarts such as DBS Group chief executive Piyush Gupta, Singapore Exchange (SGX) chief executive Loh Boon Chye and DBS Vickers Securities chief executive Lim Kok Ann.

"Wow," I thought. "Why would these youngsters want to be caged in a conference hall during the weekend when they could be doing something cool out in the open?"

Savvy colleagues had advised me to try online mock trading before I got into anything real. But I had always lacked the confidence to take the first step. Now I pictured myself sitting with my laptop, opening a trading account, reading company reports and studying the stock movements. But I realised all this takes up a lot of time. One needs to eat, sleep, work and relax too. How am I going to juggle so many elements without disrupting my mental health?

A 20-something me wouldn't have been interested. At that age, I usually spent my Saturday mornings lying in bed, doing nothing but watching the rest of the world pass me by. No amount of parental scolding or enticements had the power to drag me out of bed. Meeting friends was a ritual saved for the evenings, and sometimes, that, too, was a chore.

Watching movies or cricket matches proved to be the proverbial carrot, but seminars on investment were nowhere on my radar.

Perhaps that explained my sparse savings, meagre investments and zero portfolio by the time I was in my 30s. Sheepish as I feel about it now, I remember landing in Singapore to start my job at The Straits Times big on confidence but woefully short on cash.

A strong Singdollar meant that my savings in Indian rupees were nothing more than loose change. I did not even have enough cash to open a salary account, let alone navigate the month with the cash in my pocket. The deposits on my rented room, the rent itself and everyday expenses drained me dry.

By the end of the first month, I had owed money to everyone who had the bad luck of being my acquaintance. My mother, my family and a colleague had to chip in to tide me over. Never before had I been so indebted so quickly.

Now, 10 years later, as I sit observing the crowd around me, I am amazed and impressed by the zeal and determination these young people have to succeed and to learn from the best.

For their part, the panellists did not let them down.

Starting with the basics, the trio on stage explained the importance of investing and recalled how investing missteps in their early years had tripped them up hard too. But they had grown wiser with experience.

Investing is not just a security shield for oneself and one's family, but a source of knowledge too, Mr Loh said.

For the young in the room, it was an opportunity which the older generation did not have, added Mr Lim, while Mr Gupta quoted the legendary investor Warren Buffett as saying: "Most people become wealthy not from their income but from their investments."

"Put your money to work," Mr Gupta advised.

It is not like I never received such advice in India, but it was always from family elders or school teachers - a group most youngsters love to ignore.

Moreover, I do not recall any financial bigwig taking the time to give investment advice to young, impressionable minds like mine. So more than half my earnings were spent on trivial pursuits, while a small portion was tucked away in an insurance policy which has paid me paltry returns to date.

It was only after my first scarring experience in Singapore that I stirred out of my slumber. The debts had dented my pride, and I vowed never to find myself in that position again. After paying back every cent I owed, I dropped my devil-may-care attitude and got serious about having a more secure future.

Singapore, for its part, also opened my eyes to opportunities and possibilities I could have at my disposal to build a healthy financial nest egg. After all, it is a regional financial centre, and I am part of its workforce. I found a good financial adviser who helped me build a decent portfolio over the next seven years.

Now as I listened to more good advice come my way, my mind wondered about the possibility of dabbling in equity markets on my own.

Mr Gupta, Mr Lim and Mr Loh shared a few basic rules for this: Start with local markets and familiar companies, do your homework, be sure you can afford what you stand to lose. An overall understanding of macroeconomics comes in handy, as does basic knowledge of finance, they said.

Understanding market patterns and knowing when to enter and exit are additional advantages, they opined.

Sage advice. Very pragmatic and very doable. But there were questions galore, maybe not just in my mind but among many in the audience as well. What to buy, where to buy, how much to buy? As if on cue, the panellists put these doubts to rest.

Mr Gupta said: Look around you. Whatever is popular with young people like yourself, that company's stock is worth buying. Mr Lim advised that the money should be spread over five to seven stocks. Don't put all your eggs in one basket, Mr Loh said.

All this was new to me, but very exciting. Savvy colleagues had advised me to try online mock trading before I got into anything real. But I had always lacked the confidence to take the first step.

Now I pictured myself sitting with my laptop, opening a trading account, reading company reports and studying the stock movements.

But I realised all this takes up a lot of time. One needs to eat, sleep, work and relax too. How am I going to juggle so many elements without disrupting my mental health?

Mr Gupta said there are two types of people in the money market: investors and traders.

Investing is for the long haul while trading is usually about taking short positions, being on the ball and going with the flow. Not everyone has the temperament to be a trader, but 98 per cent of people in the room can be good investors. "Decide which category you fall into," he said.

That solved a big dilemma. I have the basics, I have good advice, I have the platforms... but I need some training before I take the plunge.

After the talk, I was fortunate enough to get to talk to Sias founder president and panel moderator David Gerald. "Sias runs many workshops for the young, the middle-aged and the old to help them learn the ropes of investing to grow their money," he told me, and extended an invitation for an informal chat if I wished to know more. That was encouraging.

A quick check with Sias, SGX and DBS revealed that they have various avenues, workshops and programmes to help investors start early, not to mention the various investment blogs in Singapore that share their expertise with young investors.

I left the venue feeling ready to try my hand at investing.

I was sure many in the audience shared my sentiments.

Now, if I could only impart some of this knowledge to my young cousins back in India, it could help them avoid the same mistakes I made.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'All psyched up to dabble in stocks'. Print Edition | Subscribe