Saturday, October 12, 2019

Lessons from my Dad #1 : Never let anyone count your abacus ( 打算盘 )

Right now my biggest priority in my life is to resolve my father's probate matters so that me and mother can move on in our lives. Naturally, it is going to take me a while to unpack all the lessons my father has imparted to me from an investment perspective so over the next few weeks or even months, I will share whatever I can about my father's very large influence on me as an investor.

One of the lessons I learnt maybe even as a primary school kid is that my father hated folks who "beat his abacus". He used to say in Cantonese that you should never let someone 打你的算盘.

I was doing some research just now and it seems to be related to the idiom "to beat a small abacus" or 打小算盘 which has a totally different meaning which is to be very petty-minded about money.

To understand the context of my family growing up, I was influenced by largely by two polarizing forces. My mom's family was very poor and never found a proper way to manage money. My maternal grandmother engaged in an old practice called tontine - even today we suspected that she was some kind of tool used by her neighbors. An uncle recently commented that my mother's family lived on a perpetual system of deficit and lived largely on loans and only did OK because of the high inflation in Malaysia that actually made this a feasible way of life for the past 30-40 years - maternal family was living like US citizens ! My father was the opposite, his finances were like a black hole singularity, once money is made, it never goes out - he can earn money, but good luck convincing him to spend any part of it.

Like all couples, my parents fought about money because they have different financial values but nothing makes my dad's blood boil when some impecunious relatives and friends suggest to him what he does with his finances. Sometimes I imagine myself in my father's shoes, fiscally ultra-responsible, with better educated in-laws telling him what to do when he towers ahead of everybody else in net worth. It must have been really irritating for him so this was one of my earliest influences when it came to my own financial awakening years later.

The imprint on me was undeniable. I was very indignant growing up in an era when insurance agents retooled themselves into financial advisers and suddenly an entire industry wanted to beat my abacus. Naturally I went on to take on drastic steps to in-source financial expertise within my own family.

I was determined to ensure that no one beats my abacus.

Ironically, once I started getting really serious finance credentials on my resume, my father started to give me a fairly big influence over his investments. I rewired his portfolio to provide him dividends while he maintained his ability to day trade with an old school broker. As he got older, I established more control, reducing his trade frequencies so he could enjoy seeing his money trickle into his bank account. My father just wants to see dividends trickle into his bank account. He has no real material goals in life other than to clown with his grand-kids.

I guess you can never be too dogmatic about your principles about finance. My dad let no one beat his abacus, but eventually I became his only abacus, working with him to address complicated rights issues and cycling his money into better investment opportunities.

1 comment:

jason said...

deservedly so that you should be the only one to manage his abacus!