Saturday, June 20, 2015

Time as an asset class.

Initially the title of my blog post today was supposed to be about RGS and billionaires, but fortunately (or unfortunately),  a series of events has allowed me to interrupt my article planning for something which is more useful to readers. ( Although I think many readers want to know what I think about the assortative mating between RGS and Billionaires as well... )

Two events serve as a catalyst for this post.

Just today, I had a great honour of having breakfast with a reader John Smith, we spoke about many things but one idea stood-out and I felt that it is useful to share that with readers today.

The second incident concerns blogger 15WW. 15WW has written an excellent post about an old JC alumni gathering which went horribly wrong. You can read all about it here.

The essence of the problem is this : 15WW was sharing about his family's approach to life and his very successful JC classmates ( who would be considered assholes in my book ) hinted that by downshifting one's lifestyle is tantamount to lacking ambition and I felt that 15WW's feeling were hurt after he did some thinking about the words exchanged on his JC gathering.

My stand has always been clear about other financial bloggers. 15WW remains, financially, one of the most successful bloggers out there who has accumulated a mind-boggling huge portfolio for someone his age. The idea that he or his wife lacks ambition is ludicrous and a should be a cautionary tale on JC reunions more than about financial independence. After reading the post, I was thanking my lucky stars that  a secondary school or JC class reunion for me would be very tame as most of my peers are doing IT work.

The insight on this problem coincidentally came from friendly breakfast I had with John Smith (which clearly shows that bloggers do learn a lot  from readers).

John Smith was commenting to me about the nature of jobs like that the in public service. His insight is that the stability and predictability of jobs in the civil service can be source of allowing someone to take on bigger risks and innovate in other areas of his life. 

I think John is onto something really important when he shared this insight with me.

A steady job in a company which takes up a reasonable amount of one's time is not the lack of ambition but a pretty prudent life strategy. A civil servant with a steady track record has a job which looks very much like an investment bond. Moshe Milevsky, author of Are you a Stock or a Bond ?would say that this allows him to take on more equity investments and even use some leverage in his financial portfolio. Vicki Robin, author of Your Money Or Your Life would also argue that this person is optimising the exchange of his life energy with money.

This is a buildup into a more interesting idea that Time is an important asset class which I had been harping about but could not develop the idea further in my writings. As of now we do not have the tools to manage Time like a portfolio yet. Certain life philosophies like Getting Things Done might allow one to succeed at the tactical asset allocation level, like how to save time when going through email using the GTD system to prioritise work, but there is no formal discipline on allocating your time around careers which maximise the exchange of time for money at the broader level.

So one things for sure, not all jobs are created equally.

Some office jobs end on time and you are assured of reasonable amount of leisure time per week. Other jobs may exhibit time volatility in spite of low contact hours at work : An IT engineer on call may be lounging at home, but he cannot plan his leisure time as he may be interrupted to resolve a server outage. It also makes it hard for the same engineer to sign up for investment seminars in the evening.

I would probably need more time to come up with the framework to show folks how time can be managed at a strategic portfolio level which would probably require that I think about the arcane statistics of various careers choices. For example, what is the standard deviation of the duration a litigator spends in the office ? Datasets such as these would start to become available once devices like Fitbits are used to track employees in the office. Ideally, employees should be compensated for absolute time spent in office as well as variability.

So in conclusion, I would say that the doctor who snubbed 15WW is pretty sad idiot who was fixated with the idea that ambition is the optimising of career capital, as downgrading to being a GP is being less innovative or useful to society, that is a very limiting belief.

I would even argue that 15WW has even more ambition as he is trying to optimise his financial capital as well as his human capital / temporal capital assets.

Conflating 15WW's financial independence as a lack of ambition is likely a accumulated problem of Singapore's singular obsession with only one dimension of success. It is sad that a doctor, someone who should know better, can adopt such a parochial stance on success.


  1. This was an excellent post. I look forward to reading your follow up. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Time is the biggest asset one can imagine. I do envy all those younger people in their 20s who have a much bigger asset than me. They have more time - among other uses - to let the magic of compounding work out so that at an 'advanced' age they might not have to worry any longer about money.

    As Carl Sandburg put it so neatly "Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."

  3. Thanks Tacomob.

    I share the same sentiment but I lament the lack of useful models and frameworks for time management. I believe that someday, some expert would be able to create something more strategic than GTD which would integrate real-world data into the framework.

    Hopefully, by then folks will be able to appreciate the amount of planning that allows someone to reach financial independence.


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