Wednesday, September 23, 2020

To have a chance of competing against Raffles Institution, wear your Armor of Dividends

I had a lot of fun yesterday making a brief one-hour presentation to about a class of Raffles Institution students. These students are in a special program that allows them to pick an area they are curious about and attend talks in between academic semesters, so the students I was exposed to had already determined that they are interested in Finance. 

In short, RI exceeded my expectations of just how smart they were. They were silent after the presentation, but then the questions starting coming out after a moment of hesitation. All the classic moves of a thoughtful and conscientious crowd. At least one question gave me the impression that the student might actually know a bit about Mean-Variance optimization. 

What was equally interesting was not so much my talk but the reaction from social media on the talk I was about to give. 

The reaction was not saltiness but a sense of dread and profound negativity that I am reinforcing the folks who are likely to become big winners in Singapore society. I did not come from an elite secondary school so I had a candid conversation with teachers I worked with about the reaction, and they commented that society tends to spare a thought for the underdog and I just seemed like I was doing the opposite of that.

For better or for worse, I'd like to provide a deeper context of what I tried to do and what I found out.

a) Not all RI boys come from wealthy families 

The teacher who invited me told me that he has students on financial support and RI boy cannot be simply clumped with the upper crust of society. I did not even take his word for it, so I conducted an experiment of my own.

The above diagram shows the distribution of pocket money within the class which was freely shared by my participants. A majority had $40-$8 a week, but similar to our society, there are RI boys who have a stipend 15x times that of some of their classmates who have to live with $10 a week. 

While certainly not reflective of the wealth of their parents, I would like to think that we should never lump all elite school students into the same category.

b) It was RI that asked me. I did not ask RI.

The teachers were actually folks who attended one of my ERM previews and thought my story was good enough for their esteemed institution. 

That being said, I am a businessman and would not let the opportunity slip by. My materials can be slowly shaped as I get more speaking opportunities to other secondary schools regardless of their elite status. It took me years of free speaking engagements under BIGSCRIBE before I was able to parley it into a career as an investment trainer. I gave more than 8 free talks before I started my career!

So I will accept any invitations from any secondary school. I already have a first draft of materials to present but I suspect I need to water it down a bit for government schools. I did promise RI that I won't hold back on the maths when I presented to them. 

c) RI is very decentralised. I suspect most government schools are not.

In this engagement, I was concerned that using League of Legends, a popular MMORPG to make my points on financial management may not fly well with school authorities so I volunteered to let RI teaching staff scrub my slides. This was my experience in Government - I hated scrubbing slides submitted by vendors. 

To my shock, my slides were approved without amendment. 

So if you represent a government school, you have to recognise that RI is possibly more progressive than your organization. Will you let a financial trainer teach your kids about money using concepts from an MMORPG?

I would imagine my own school Swiss Cottage having problems of me speaking to my juniors. The kind of bitching I would have about my time in St John Ambulance Brigade may make them baulk. 

So I suspect some teachers will propose this to their HODs but there will be massive delays. I am gunning to speak to a Polytechnic next, I suspect that may happen sooner. 

Finally, I initially had the impression that staff of RI might have Oxbridge qualifications and talk like Professor McGonigal of Hogwarts. 

Turns out they are down to earth uncles and aunties like me. 

They don't think their kids will have an easy time with millions of folks with their intelligence coming out and competing with them from China and India. 

The final question I have the reader is that you or your kids will be competing in a country with brilliant kids of not just RI but ACS and HCI as well. If their 16-year-olds are being based on their academic interests beyond the A level exams, how can you compete?

I have no answer for that. But I hope as a society, we don't hold back our best talent. 

I was bitterly commiserating with RI teachers that in Swiss Cottage 30 years ago, we spent weekends doing foot-drill when RGS is already conducting courses on lateral thinking. In fact, my secondary school refused to offer a triple science class to my cohort because the administration believed that we would not make it as doctors. On top of that, they even got Poly lecturers to give us some speech about why we won't make it to University and Poly would be a more practical choice. 

So if my kids have to compete against Singapore's best. I will take a page from Batman and use my prep time to maximum effectiveness.

I will suit them up with an Armor of Dividends. It'll defend against RI, ACS or HCI. In fact, IIT and IIM can give me a shot. 

An Armor of Dividends may even sustain you without a job in the future economy. 

I will be repeating my presentation tomorrow to my ERM alumni, you can sign up here: 


  1. Auspicium Melioris Aevi

  2. Don't fight them on their turf or strengths. They have the brains, but almost all of them don't have the stomachs. They won't become billionaire entrepreneurs or FIRE investment maestros. But they'll still be highly paid multi-millionaire workers e.g. lawyers, judges, specialists, surgeons, CEOs of local banks/GLCs/ stat boards, perm secs, ministers etc.

    The mentality to grow a million or 3 in the financial markets before 40, is vastly different from what is required in S'pore to achieve the above professions.

  3. Dude, if you ever get to give a talk at ACS, please blog about it.

  4. I am also very curious how the pocket money distribution of ACS will look like.