Me&MyMoney: 'If you chase money, it runs away from you'

Leaving a dollar on a table is Mr Naveen Bhat's way of helping others, and it pays off for him

Telecoms executive Naveen Bhat reckons his unusual policy with money - he calls it leaving a dollar on the table - pays off in the end in more ways than one.

Mr Bhat, 50, says the approach is as simple as it sounds: Leave some money behind for someone who needs it more than you.

"Don't try too hard to get the best deal or save money. My wife and I adopted the policy, whether it's at a Starbucks or for anybody around that needs something. Feel free to leave a little bit and it all comes back in more ways than one."

It is one of the things the couple talk about in a book on marriage they launched two weeks ago to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

The Indian-born permanent residents are giving in more ways than one, by taking on the task of sponsoring one child each year for eight years - roughly the time spent on educating a child up to university. Mr Bhat estimates that sponsoring the eight children will cost $1 million.


Don't try too hard to get the best deal or save money... My wife and I adopted the policy, whether it's at a Starbucks or for anybody around that needs something. Feel free to leave a little bit and it all comes back in more ways than one.

MR NAVEEN BHAT, on his practice of leaving some money behind for someone who needs it more than him

The general manager for Asia Pacific at telecommunications firm

Ixia says: "We help needy kids and that's our way of giving back to the next generation. Our first foster child was in Singapore last week. They'll stay with us for a week or two, and we do the same, even if they live in a slum or somewhere else, so we get connected.

"Every year, we're going to bring kids here and we'll eventually, at one time, have eight kids staying with us one or two weeks in a year."

Mr Bhat and his wife Mousumi, 50, a semiconductor physicist, furthered their studies in the United States after college in India and have PhDs in engineering. They have a daughter, 19, and a son, 16.

One of Mr Bhat's biggest influences is his mother, who opened her own company. "It got close to $1 million in annual turnover - which was a lot of money then in India - and hired only women. She had no education but a lot of street smarts and taught me how to manage financials."

One of those lessons was to be debt-free, a policy that the couple followed in Texas, where they lived for 10 years before moving to Singapore. "The one thing we did was made sure to clear our debts. We took a 30-year loan for the house but, within five years, we had already paid it off. We bought cars, took a loan, but within six to eight months, we paid it off. That saves us all the money that would have been spent on interest, giving us more disposable cash."

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A Not planning the move from the United States to here, in terms of our financials. If we had planned better, our tax load would have been lower.

    When we live here, we pay taxes in the US and here, but if I buy property here and there are capital gains here, I don't pay taxes here but in the US.

    The second-biggest was selling Apple stock at US$140 a share, when I had doubled my money, before the iPad came out. Then it went to US$700.

    My daughter, who was 13 then, told me she did not think it would go any further (laughs). I do not regret it as I doubled my money anyway.

    Q And what has been your best investment move?

    A We have had some start-up exits. There was a travel app start-up we invested in that gave us a healthy return on investment, six times in about two years.

    We have also had an exit in a healthcare start-up, which was about a five times return on investment.

    There were other funds, such as unit trust funds in Thailand, India and Brazil, that did well.

    However, there is no real attachment to them.

    You write a cheque, watch the stock go up, but that is it.

    Rachael Boon

He invested the additional savings and eventually started channelling money into angel investing, with a focus on firms with a social impact.

He has been on judging committees for entrepreneurship programmes at Insead and Singapore Management University, and has funded some of these start-ups.

"It allows us to work with bright-minded people and we can help them achieve some of their goals. We've got finance and market knowledge, contacts and so on.

"The excitement and engagement that we get in return are much greater than investing in stocks."

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

A I came from a middle-class family. My dad, who produced plastic components, spent more than he earned, and could hardly make ends meet.

At some point, we couldn't pay school fees so my mum had to start working as well, starting in an advertising firm.

College life in India was spartan, the college had no power or water at times. It was not unusual for one library in the whole college to have power, and 600 kids converging there. It gives you survival skills. After that, you feel like you can survive anywhere in the world.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A I got interested right after my first job. People were giving rules of thumb such as 10 per cent of your income should go straight away into savings and investments.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A I started with mutual fund companies in the US, which are called unit trusts here, and grew the portfolio there with equities too.

After coming here, I diversified our portfolio but, over time, the passive act of investing in stocks was not exciting. There was no involvement from us.

So we made a change and started investing in start-up companies.

Then the start-up investments took another turn. We thought just investing for profit was okay, but can we do something more? We starting investing in social impact investments.

Mr Naveen Bhat and his wife Mousumi recently published a book on marriage to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. One financial lesson Mr Bhat follows is to be debt-free. For instance, he pays his credit card bills in full every month and clears loans quickly to save on interest charges. SUT PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Also, except for our honeymoon that we couldn't pay the same month, in the last 25 years we've cleared every credit card bill the day it's due completely.

We'll wait until a point where we know we're comfortable enough with signing a cheque. That way, we don't have to deal with loans. If my wife or I lose our jobs now, we're financially independent for the rest of our lives.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A After eight to nine years, in the investment portfolio for the family, I've invested in more than 16 different companies, an average of $40,000 per firm.

Besides start-ups, the others are companies that have a profit and social impact motive, such as companies that provide micro-loans.

There's one that provides early detection serum for babies or tests that tell you if a baby is going to be healthy or not, even in the womb.

The investment portfolio has moved from a capital gains objective or a start-up objective, to something that gives back to society.

Q What does money mean to you?

A Money's never meant much to me. If you chase money, it runs away from you.

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

A Our climb to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as a family was the most extravagant vacation we ever had, at US$30,000 (S$42,500), and it was hardly a vacation. It was a combination of extravagance, endurance and extreme hardship all at the same time.

We had 22 people supporting us, guides, porters, just for four of us.

Mrs Bhat: We took a lot of precautions for our 14-year-old son. Beyond 5,000m, you have challenges around oxygen. It was also important our daughter joined us as it was the last possible way to spend time together before she went to college.

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

A Not having started social impact investing earlier.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I'll have to figure it out. Now we're sitting cash-rich, we've pulled out some money from the markets.

I expect a market correction to happen, and when I sense it coming, I gradually conserve cash. When it does, we'll put money back in.

But I don't watch the Dow Jones or The Straits Times Index every day because timing the market is extremely hard.

We'll continue with angel investing, and do that on a selected basis. It has to interest us and there has to be a cause.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A If we needed to, we could retire today or even five years later, we'd be happy. We're not looking to make a lot more money before we retire. We're at the stage where we want to give back more before we do so.

We're not Melinda and Bill Gates, but we'll do it in our own little way; we're always going to leave a little bit of money on the table.

Q Home is now...

A A 2,100 sq ft condo in Woodlands, where we've lived for almost 15 years.

Q I drive...

A A Ducati Diavel, the second-fastest production bike in the world.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Me&MyMoney 'If you chase money, it runs away from you''. Print Edition | Subscribe