Monday, December 28, 2015

What is the risk of NOT doing something ?

Leong Chan Teik was a great benefactor of mine.

Close to a decade ago, Leong helped me promote my first book Growing Your Tree of Prosperity by featuring me in the Sunday Times "Me and My Money" section. Thanks to that interview I had with him, I was able to just make it into the Straits Times non-fiction bestseller lists at tenth position for just one week  - not bad for a rookie who never published a book in his life !

So Chan Teik found that he update I wrote during my birthday was interesting enough to be featured on his website NextInsight. This had the effect of doubling my traffic over the past week. Naturally some questions were raised in the NextInsight article so I thought to generate more traffic, I would attempt to address those question on this blog.

The original allure of the article is probably the mention of the two "first world problems" financial independent people experience. It is quite novel that a person who lives on dividends would need to overcome more bureaucratic obstacles when sponsoring his spouse for citizenship. It is also unexpected that investment income would to be of much use to apply for a domestic helper. I think that I would face more problems of  nature if a procedure required income tax records or records of my CPF contributions so it might just be good that I move on in my life and become a rookie lawyer after  I graduate from my JD program.

More interestingly, the question in NextInsight focused on whether it is rational for someone of my advanced age in trying to become a lawyer. Lawyering is lucrative but it is mainly a game for the younger and more energetic dudes. Because of the lack of work-life balance, many lawyers eventually burn out and end up running cafes. It is too early to say that I would not end up like that, but I will do my utmost to get called to the bar at least before finding some other kind of vocation if legal work does not suit my personality.

The maneuver to qualify and get into law school is not a trivial one. My opportunity cost is around $550,000 if you factor in my lost income and fees. Expecting to recover those losses is not reasonable unless I can spend 15 years in the legal industry. A large part of deciding to become an SMU student came from the realization that I have reached financial independence and can choose not to work for anyone if I choose not to. This effectively makes the opportunity cost bearable because it is also a short 4 year break to consider my (or lack of ) career options.

So the pull factor of law is trivial. I just get a kick knowing that I can code, manage a finance portfolio and litigate a case. As yet, no one in Singapore has experimented with the kinds of business models can arise from a synergy of all three fields. But training in law is valuable on its own, I know what kinds of trusts I can establish for my kids and can advise my family over property ownership. The knowledge is really practical and legal training makes a person's mind sharper when dealing with other areas of our lives.

But enough about me...

Readers need to ask themselves what is the risk of NOT doing something ?

Put your money in safe banking accounts and you get eaten by inflation. The downside of money market accounts are just as bad as equity portfolios once you lengthen the time horizon.

Similarly, older engineers in theirs 40s are obsolete. The world is now driven by big data and hard core statistics, programming is less so about structures and records and more about  random forests and principal component analysis. Servers have moved into the cloud allowing one administrator to maintain thousands of virtual machines. Do you still program in .NET and not moved into R, Ruby or Python ? Even taxi drivers are disrupted by Uber who will in turn face driverless cars.  

If you want to see your future, just look at your bosses in the tech firms who were stars when they were much younger.

Watch them get escalated at 2am along with you when servers fail.

Watch them get a pay-cut when revenues are down.

See them get retrenched when the company decides to kill off their most expensive staff.

Watch them retreat (or fail to retreat)  into a government agency or statutory board.

Your bosses got kids doing the PSLE and some have aged parents.

Do you want that life ?

In your youthful arrogance. you think about why the company would hire such lethargic managers with no corporate vision. But the truth is that your bosses' life is likely to be your future if you maintain the status quo.

( Actually they are better than you because they needed to be stars in their 20-30s to become managers in their 40s. )

So I don't like to stay still. When people are thinking or partying, I like to take action and I want to disrupt myself before someone comes along and do me in.

Because I can't be like my boss. He was a superstar.

I have to invest my money and ensure that in my 40s, it provides my family an alternative to an engineer's pay-check.

Now I have an investor's paycheck which replicated most of previous salary, its time to let go of my engineering paycheck and replace it with a smaller lawyer's paycheck but the possibility of a good upside if I can just think of a way resolve a law firm's productivity woes with some software that I either write or resell.

So that's my current game plan for law school.

It has some risks but I think over the long term, I get a better sense of control over my life.


  1. thought provoking!

    for the "hordes" of john and jane does with jobs that may be made redundant, who consist most of the middle class in SG -- where do they fit in the near future, as the economy moves (or actually still moving through) from a knowledge-based economy to something more advanced? (ie: the padawan bank employees & engineers of today)

    i hope we don't turn into a rentier society like HK nor a neo-facist state like US. i suspect the critical mass of the middle class populace being hamstrung might bring about this.

  2. looking forward to hear how you think the law industry can be disrupted with technology.

    read about recently but i understand nothing about law so i don't know how much value it creates.

  3. Zhenling : Actually, neither do I. Software to predict legislation might make sense in the US, but I'm not sure whether it would result in any competitive advantage in Singapore because we have a very pragmatic government which is almost immune to lobbying.

    H : I am reading a few books about what to do with the middle class. Save utopian solutions which require a "mindset change", the middle class is practically doomed as much of the work will be replaced by automation or AI. Only a select few will qualify to tinker directly with the AI or provide expert knowledge.