Saturday, December 31, 2022

2023 is the year I hope for the best


I will do a more thorough financial article and ERM portfolio review on the Dr Wealth blog for 2023 in the upcoming week, but I will briefly talk about what I hope to happen in 2023. 

The current backdrop is that interest rates are still rising. While the rate of interest rise is slowing down, we are not sure when the rates will stop and how long the increased rates will be sustained. The current projection is around 5%. The pace of rate rises can be affected as China opens up and production ramps up production again, which should spike oil prices worldwide. 

This will have an impact on what will happen to me in 2023 :

a) Investment outlook for 2023 does not look great, even for defensive investors.

The first impact is that I will have to brace for poor returns for up to three quarters at the very least. There is a risk no matter what you invest in. A slowdown can reduce the amount of loans banks give out. The gearing ratios rise in US REITs as tech workers get retrenched and companies figure out that they may not need this much space. 

The only blessing is that I do not have leverage. If things remain calm, I may leverage again for my next batch of students in February 2023. But these moves are risky.

Also, I am more conservative about spending my dividend income in 2023 because it may need to be allocated to pay off higher mortgage payments in 2024. 

b) Investment training business is going through a bad winter.

Investment training is like the tech sector. When interest rates rise, it becomes more expensive to delay gratification, and folks prefer to have their money at hand. The wealthy excesses and hubris will damage folks in the tech sector, and I expect the 4As kids to return to medicine and law and give computer science a miss. 

The most significant disadvantage of investment training is that ticket sales correlate with investment returns. If markets do not improve, folks would support their rising home mortgages rather than pay for investment courses because eliminating a 4-5% floating rate loan is more practical than buying Palantir. Even though dividends investing in Singapore is doing better than many competing strategies.

My crypto course is deader than dead, but I will enjoy dancing over the graves of the crypto dumpster bros in 2022. 

I'm bracing for sales figures to halve again in 2023. My conviction is so firm that 2023 will be bad for investment training that I have pre-allocated my 2023 expenses after liquidating my student portfolios. And my family had to endure some psychic damage watching other folks travel at year-end this year.

c) My legal career is unlikely to pay off in 2023 

This is where I'm the most conflicted about my career decisions. No sane law firm will give me the time to run a side hustle and pay me a fixed salary, so the best way I can start clocking my practice hours is to do so on a profit-sharing basis. The elders in the industry tell me that it takes at least 3 years to build a reputation and start finding clients on my own. 

So I'm in a career limbo with one boat on two different sectors. While I'm enjoying every minute of my legal work and learning practical skills, I've yet to turn a profit beyond clocking a few hours of my time.

As bad as the situation is, I can't imagine playing my cards in a better way than in 2022. There are several long-shot ways my different interests will turn a profit in 2023. 

My immediate challenge is to survive running an ERM class in the evenings while working in a law firm during the day on the second week of  February 2023. Preparation work for this tough hell week begins as early as tomorrow. Well-meaning readers even predicted I would fall sick if I did this, so I'll ensure that I get adequate sleep. Gone are the days when I could author three books on personal finance while doing IT certification and doing 24x7 IT support. 

If 2023 turns out to be a good year, I plan to have a sunnier report next year.

Otherwise, I may regret not executing my alternative plan for 2023, which is to quit everything, walk away, and just do nothing for a year. 

Sadly my ENTJ nature will not allow this.

So there's no rest for the wicked.

I hope that readers of this blog will have a Happy New Year! 

Friday, December 30, 2022

Who does ChatGPT actually disrupt?


The most exciting new tool this year is ChatGPT, and I've been playing with it quite a bit. While I've not seen an actual use of the application in the corporate world, I can imagine how powerful it can be if it gets incorporated into a search engine. 

The most potent usage of ChatGPT is in software engineering. I have tried describing to the engine to write a RESTful API in Python to perform some operations, and it was able to generate code for me and even walk me through how the code works. I imagine a programmer using ChatGPT to build subroutines and increase productivity by 200% -300%.   For finance, it can explain basic concepts but cannot make actual stock recommendations based on the current market situation. ChatGPT is still not useful for lawyering yet. The best I can manage is to get it to explain complex terms like renvoi, but it's not sufficient to get any work done. 

In about 3-5 years, specialised GPT AIs covering domains like finance and law will become a reality, and professionals in all fields will experience a massive boost in productivity. I can now imagine describing a factual situation to a search engine, and the system will point me to the possible cases or statutes on which I can base my research. The system cannot replace the human touch we bring to give clients advice, so I expect to earn more revenue in the future as smaller firms can scale faster.

But one of my observations is that technologists don't panic about ChatGPT. It could be because technologists eat disruption for breakfast. ( Technologists also cut and paste from stack overflow )  

The negativity comes from academics who work in the humanities and are worried about cheating in essays. Maybe there's some fear that the work of a GPT AI is starting to get a B- grade, which can be better than the crap the non-honours humanities graduates produce. The answer to ChatGPT is simple, just make sure you run the essay question through ChatGPT and ensure that all students do the same before starting their homework. To pass, they need to add a human touch and some novelty to what the AI produces. 

In fact, the ability to critique a ChatGPT essay and provide alternatives to the essay question should be a future skill graduates should have. 

Finally, if you've noted what our leadership has been talking about, I see some work to improve the rewards of blue-collar or hands-on work. The question is whether new AI technologies will widen or bridge the income gap between white and blue-collar workers. 

The opposite will occur.

I think the gap between professionals and blue-collar workers will widen. With better productivity, the gap in salary between professional and general degrees will widen even further. This is something that our government should take note of. Suppose a cluster of liberally educated local graduates cannot find well-paying jobs. In that case, they will form an alternative voice and have every incentive to topple everything we've built. Just wait for Epigram to have a book fair and measure the size of the crowds browsing those books to get a feel of how mutinous the young people have become. 

MOE is wise to shut down the Yale-NUS Liberal Art program, but they should take painful steps to limit seats in the Humanities programs to have a small elite intake that will get assured jobs in the civil or uniformed services. 

Those who don't make the grade are better off picking up a plumbing certificate and emigrating to Australia.

[The art accompanying this article is done by Dall-E using the search terms "Paladin in Hell". It was generated in seconds, and I no longer have to deal with talented but unreliable artistic types.  If I ever publish role-paying rules again, I no longer have to worry about splitting my revenue with a low conscientiousness flake. ]


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Inflation and the Chemical Castration of Singaporean Men

 I was really tickled pink when I read this hilarious article about the latest dating trends on Today Online. 

You can access the link here:

I don't have an issue with more straightforward and cheaper dates. That's bad for business, but simple dates force everyone to focus on basic communication skills, which can't be bad given how transactional relationships are these days with dating platforms.

What I don't understand is young guys prioritising their mental well-being. In the article mentioned, this dude got ghosted and took a step back from the dating world due to being ignored over a chat app. 

I don't ghost people during my time, but I had plenty of dates that did not meet my expectations in the looks department, so I refused future dates. After 2-3 tries, folks get the hint and move on. 

But I had my fair share of nasty rejections too. 

I was matchmade to a Citi banker who deliberately came late for a movie date, forced me to buy earlier session tickets, and then claimed that she was in a bad mood because her options were out of the money.

But I did not focus on my mental wellness after that disastrous outing. I did the opposite. I "scienced the shit" out of dating and created a "system" - if I can meet ten women in a foreign language class and attend six different classes a year, then that means 60 potential mates. When I felt that, as an Asian guy, I didn't meet the expectations of women who studied French, so I learned French and Japanese simultaneously, thereby increasing my potential catch to 120, eventually meeting my wife in Japanese class. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had studied German too.

Naturally, I'm not so willing to conclude that guys need to protect their mental wellness from women ghosting them on chat platforms. 

Rising inflation has led to lower purchasing power for young men. Furthermore, as Tech begins its round of reductions, I expect guys who studied Engineering and Computer Science to bear the brunt of the latest corporate restructuring exercises. Also, the crypto crash hurt the bottom line of many crypto bros. But there is a bright side - Many women have been spared from having dates who can't stop talking about the shitcoins they own.

Our Madam President initiated a recent discussion that we're too lenient with men above 50s because they can avoid caning as a punishment. Consequently, many citizens think that instead of caning, we should chemically castrate these sexual predators. Chemical castration is temporary, less painful for men, and can help them control their sexual urges.

Maybe it is sad and somewhat ironic that we're discussing how to chemically castrate middle-aged men while younger guys are getting "economically castrated" by the downturn in Singapore.

Hopefully, 2023 will see better days after Q3. A prolonged period will swell the ranks of the BBFA, and future tax-payers like my children will have to support these defeated guys in their old age.  

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays - Personal thoughts as I turn 48 !


There's less than a month before the Year of the Tiger ends, and as I reflect upon my 48th year in this world, what a dramatic year this has been.

The year has not been easy. 

Invasion of Ukraine. Rising interest rates. High inflation.

My business turned for the worse, and my portfolio, while better than most folks who invested in Tech and China, did not do that well over the year.

My only consolation is that I can't think of a better way I could have conducted myself this year.

When I knew that business was getting worse, I tried to launch a crypto course, but the collapse of the Terra blockchain put an end to stable-coin yield strategies. In the grander scheme of things, I was lucky because I had zero exposure to FTX after that. 

As folks born in the Year of the Tiger are still on Fan Tai Shui, which metaphysically means that the Universe is observing youI did not give up after multiple attempts to boost sales revenue for my training business failed. I took the opportunity to start something in the legal industry and finagled an option without a fixed salary but with plenty of exposure. I've only managed to get a couple of hours on my timesheet as my birthday is around the corner, so not everything I've done so far has come to nought. But the sheer stuff I'm picking up at work reminds me of that scene in the Matrix when Neo gets uploaded kung fu moves directly to his brain.

Even though the year almost took a lot away, it gave a fair bit back. 

There are some small achievements of note. 

I finally can put CFA after my name after passing Level III of the exams 19 years ago. On top of that, four years after being admitted to the Singapore Bar, I can finally start clocking my Post-Qualified Experience. I started cold swims in the morning and used my condominium gym. 

Autumn is not the easiest or happiest time of our lives. There's still a lot of uncertainty as we get older, but we're still not done with Imposter Syndrome. As I could finally tell folks I work in a law firm, I no longer reject the call to volunteer in my secondary school to give career talks. Many middle-aged guys are worried that they don't make good role models for their juniors because their careers do not conform to the linear narrative that the Singapore Dream demands. 

Now my approach has changed. I tell myself that now I'm a lawyer, I should just grow a thick skin and show my juniors my career with warts and all. My senpai, who patiently guides me in writing representations and mitigations, is less than two-thirds my age. My peers are Zoomers half my age and use various apps for work productivity ( which I fully intend to master ).  

Also, I think I've reached a point where I don't need a lot of hobbies to proceed into the next phase in my life. I finally tried Advanced Squad Leader and enjoyed the company of my new pals. Perhaps I've declined culturally or become jaded, but there is no need to watch movies that do not have superheroes, world-building, or great CGI. In this current life, real life and some cases I read about can be more interesting than fiction or fantasy. My only motivation to visit a friendly local game store (FLGS) these days is to molest the cat that hangs out there.  

If I can get philosophical on my birthday, I want to ask at what age a person should pivot from getting accomplishments to cultivating relationships? If life is a Euro game, accomplishments score well throughout your existence, but only relationships matter on your deathbed. 

I leave this as food for thought and I will update everyone again over the New Year on my projections and priorities in 2023. 

[ Art generated by Dall-E ]

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Who do you want to be?


Lately, I’ve started to think like a working person again, and one of the things I like to think about at work is whether I’d like to have the kind of lifestyle of someone more senior than me. This is an excellent way to think about company culture and whether it is worth climbing the ladder in your organisation.

Sadly, the only time I’ve felt that I wanted my supervisor’s life was when I was in P&G because it cultivated a dynamic and fun working environment where managers did not have to sacrifice their personal lives to get ahead at work. 

P&G managers were cool people, and they had a great family life.

After that, with almost everyone I met in subsequent work engagements, I found myself unimpressed with the quality of their lifestyles. One possible reason why I was not inspired was possible because I finally managed to figure out how FIRE worked. By then, I was almost financially independent when I was outsourced to HP. 

While I did not envy my bosses after leaving HP, I was still ok working at my various IT roles because the money would eventually pay for a financially independent lifestyle. It was only when I left the private sector that I finally saw the kind of bureaucrats that ran the elitist, toxic workplaces in some statutory boards, which made me realise what kind of manager I do not wish to become. 

By this time, my finances could financially support my family, and I knew that I no longer needed a role model. I’m proud to say that seniors from some organisations I worked for have attended my programme. If anything, I expect managers to read about me and aspire towards my kind of financial independence.

Of late, as I am on OJT with a boutique law firm, I’m starting to see some lifestyles which I’m beginning to envy again (but in a good way). These folks I meet are senior lawyers in their 70s, who have spent a lifetime in service, and run their practice. 

In the grander scheme of things, my new role models are comfortable financially but not the wealthiest folks in the legal sector. They are exceptionally confident and have great stories to tell about their most significant legal victories in the past (and very famous clientele). They have a lot of autonomy and have been downshifting their workload towards less stressful engagements. They are also doting grandparents who give high priority to their families. 

Also, what impresses me is just how sharp and witty these seniors are when many peers in their generation are trying to stay alive or not fall into dementia. Almost every coffee session with them is a fun experience (because they have no filters). 

I’m unsure whether I will survive the next 1-2 years in this sector for a mid-career guy like me. My career runway may be too short of reaching the halfway mark to this stage, but I think I will benefit greatly from having front-row seats to seeing such successful ageing in practice. 

Here is what I have learnt so far :

  • Cut down on sugar, salt and food portions as you grow older. 
  • Don’t smoke and don’t drink. ( Kinda hard for lawyers )
  • Cultivate relationships, not just within the family, but have a bunch of kakis about the same age to drink coffee with you. 
  • Bonus points if your kakis are hilarious and optimistic. The substance of legal work can be very negative.
  • Do some work to give yourself the excuse to get to the office and interact with fellow human beings.
  • Work on something mentally engaging and interesting but not stressful.

[ You might find that my writing is not as good as I’m posting this on an iPad and can’t get Grammarly to work with Chrome. ]

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Monetizing the Loneliness Epidemic


As we arrive at year-end, discussions on voluntary CPF contributions and SRS will increase. A friend wanted to see whether it is feasible to put more funds into CPF even though he has fully maxed out his RSTU and SRS contributions, I'm not a big fan of contributing to CPF without a corresponding tax deductible, so I concluded that his solution cannot be found with CPF board. So I suggested he find a girlfriend because he has been saving too much yearly. The logic is buying one Hermes scarf would solve his problem immediately.

I was greeted with silence. 

This is not the only time I witnessed young people making it clear that they are not ready to pair up. Earlier this week, another young professional said, with quite firm conviction, that marriage is out of the question. 

It's one thing to argue that the economy is not doing well, so folks are not putting pairing up and marriage as the number one priority. It is another when singlehood becomes so compelling when guys who are highly educated, highly paid, and flexibly religious refuse to settle down. For one thing, it leaves women with a weaker gene pool - they may settle and compromise on these three significant conditions. 

Women, in response, will also choose to remain single because they are even choosier than men. If the only guys available on Tinder are deadbeats, why even bother?

What does this all mean?

The next epidemic may be one of loneliness. 

The case of Yang Yin is instructive. He was a tour guide who befriended a wealthy childless widow hoping to inherit her money. Sometimes, because we catch one Yang Yin, how many Yang Yins get away with inheriting money from lonely people in Singapore?

But on the other hand, we can't argue that folks like Yang Yin do not perform a proper function - they help the elderly cope with loneliness.

With a sheer number of lonely singles in one of the wealthiest countries in the world in the future, it's probably more ethical for a legitimate business to arise to monetise the loneliness of singles. A company can properly deploy befrienders and social workers to keep wealthy seniors company, run errands for them for a small monthly fee and a promise to let the firm inherit all their wealth after they pass on. The firm should be audited by another third party to ensure that the interests of the lonely seniors are not compromised. 

Having a private company perform this befriender service for a fee for wealthy but lonely seniors would allow the public sector to find some tax-payer subsidised solution for the more significant population. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Singapore's strange happiness conundrum


I was just settling down for the weekend and recommend this book called Blind Spot by Jon Clifton, who is the CEO of the Gallup poll. The book is chock full of interesting statistics and has a dedicated chapter on Singapore.

The Singapore Happiness conundrum is right up to 2011. Singaporeans began to experience a reduction in both happy and unhappy experiences. This is puzzling because it is difficult to see whether society is becoming happier or more prosperous or whether things are falling apart. 

Gallup really struggled with explaining this phenomenon because Singapore is unique. The only surface interpretation is that we're all becoming more stoic and consider emotions a liability.

Interestingly, the number of positive experiences after 2011 began to bounce up. Still, Gallup cannot attribute it to stronger labour relations or even folks catching onto the survey. The book reports many folks claiming to even understand what the study is about, which shows how well-read Singaporeans are.

For me, a glaring omission was the PAP lost its first GRC in 2011, and a slew of reforms was made to appease the populace. I remember IPPT standards being reviewed to make RT less onerous for NSmen and NS being reduced to 2 years for A-level and Poly graduates. I remember Singapore becoming much easier to live in after that watershed election. 

Will the gap between positive experiences and negative experiences improve as we move into 2023 and become more left-leaning as we see higher GST and property taxes? 

Time will tell, but I hope we don't sacrifice future generations just to keep Millenials and Gen Z happy.