Straits Times: Sun, Apr 29
As a leading medical practitioner, Dr Tan Chi Chiu knows what it is to be a high-income earner, but as a long-time community volunteer, he also knows better than most how money can be used to benefit society.
He believes money is just a tool to be used carefully to improve people's lives and not an end in itself.
Dr Tan, 52, says: 'Scrimping or living way below one's means in order to have money to invest and grow is meaningless if money is not first put to helping oneself and one's family to live better.
'Spending excessive time away from family in order to become rich is also meaningless to me.'
A man wearing many hats, Dr Tan is a consultant gastroenterologist, a volunteer and a coach who is deeply involved in the medical and community service scene in Singapore.
He serves in a voluntary capacity in many non-profit organisations and is chairman of the Lien Centre for Social Innovation at the Singapore Management University. Dr Tan is also the former chairman of the Singapore Adventure Leader Council and executive director of the Singapore International Foundation, among many other positions.
He has led many medical relief missions to disaster-hit areas and has been involved in numerous humanitarian, scientific and community aid expeditions to countries such as Indonesia, Laos, India, Mongolia and Chile.
'I value diversity in my own personal development, way above milking as much money as I can out of one job,' says Dr Tan.
'I want to enhance my ability to help develop the organisations which I am involved with and help other people realise their ambitions and to be able to face challenges and changes in their lives.'
He is married to Dr Li-Ann Wee, who works in a medical management role. Their daughter Christiane is two.
Q: Are you a spender or saver?
Generally, I am a saver. But I would spend on people who are important to me, such as family and friends, and I would spend on things I am passionate about, such as charitable causes, scuba diving, travel and photography.
Living expenses and education, plus enrichment programmes for my daughter, probably account for the largest proportion of my consumption.
I do not spend on luxuries such as watches or fancy cars. And I find food very expensive in Singapore, even raw ingredients from the supermarkets. Restaurants are also very expensive and if I make conversions at the current rates of exchange, and include an assessment of service quality, I always get better value in many parts of Britain, Europe, the United States and Australia.
I believe that money and the means to make it are gifts from God and ultimately belong to God. The Bible instructs Christians to tithe 10 per cent of their pre-tax income to the Church for the good works of the Church on God's behalf. I am a tither.
Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?
I use my cards as charge cards, and every month all the charges are paid up in full by Giro. I do not believe in debt for consumption, only debt for investment.
Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?
I started with insurance endowment plans, some with investment components, and have kept these. But while I believe in insurance, I no longer believe that I should couple insurance with investment.
I have dabbled in equities but never had the time nor inclination to study the companies and markets with any diligence.
I have also tried private portfolios with discretionary trading by investment firms.
I started investing in properties when I moved to Britain in 1993 to gain medical experience. I bought a small semi-detached house in the Midlands for £57,000 to live in. I sold it for nearly twice the amount three years later and parlayed the money into a property in London.
I also bought my clinic, which has been worthwhile, and I am free of the insecurity of being a forever-tenant. I now have a few residential property investments here and around the world.
I have learnt that property is the best investment, although I have to make sure that I understand the market.
My aim is never to be impoverished by the consequences of ill health. As a doctor, I have seen far too many people put off buying health insurance believing that they were too young to need it, or that their employers' coverage was adequate. Then they discover that serious illnesses can happen any time, and that an employer's coverage is generally not portable, thus risking un-insurability if they leave employment with an already diagnosed illness.
Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?
I have a younger brother and a younger sister. My father was a senior engineer in the Public Works Department and my mother was a career teacher. Both are now retired.
My parents valued what they had and taught us to value what we had, to not be cavalier and too stingy. They did not believe in acquiring much debt and tried hard to live within their means. I, therefore, grew up in a safe environment which did not foster a mindset of risk-taking in finances.
I absolved my parents from paying for my university education as I won a Public Service Commission scholarship to read medicine. I always tried to respect money and not spend recklessly.
Q: How did you get interested in investing?
My first investment was a unit trust. I learnt that putting your trust in other people's wisdom and decision-making is not always a good idea, and even if the unit trust does well, it seldom does spectacularly well with the fees that you have to pay. I put in about $10,000. When I extracted it, it appreciated but it wasn't an eye-popping amount.
I then tried fixed deposits of international currencies, but was burnt when some currencies became devalued in the early 1990s.
Q: What property do you own?
My family and I live in a modest but comfortable condominium in the Adam Road area. I bought the property in 2005 and the value has gone up three times by now.
I picked it because it was an old development in a good location with an old-style design, well-proportioned rooms and unblocked suburban views.
Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?
'Extravagant' by definition means: 1. Given to lavish or imprudent expenditure; 2. Exceeding reasonable bounds; 3. Extremely abundant, profuse; 4. Unreasonably high.
I am not inclined to buy anything 'extravagant' by these definitions. What might qualify is a car which, although a utility, fulfils these definitions in Singapore.
Q: What's your retirement plan?
What I hope to do is to be able to wind down my medical practice gradually in my 60s and incrementally increase the amount and type of other 'work' that I like to do. I want to gradually increase my work as a personal, executive and organisational coach, as this is something I can do at any age until I can literally no longer think straight.
I also want to increase the non-profit work that I do, whether it is as a volunteer or working in committees or boards of organisations.
In these ways, I want to continue to be relevant, of value and helpful to individuals, organisations and society in general. And it will stave off senility.
I also want to go back to doing more scuba diving and I want to get back to travelling to places I have not yet been, such as Tibet, Iguazu Falls, parts of South Africa and South America and Antarctica.
One could specify a certain quality of life and standard of living and retire only when there is the financial ability to do so. One could also retire at any time and adjust expectations according to what resources are available at the time of retirement.
Q: Home is now...
Singapore. But whether I will reside here all the time after I wind down full-time work is not yet clear.
I may want to spend parts of each year in a less crowded and fast-paced place with much more of the great outdoors, cooler and less humid weather and a quality of life at a lower cost.
Q: I drive....
A silver Subaru Forester SUV. It is zippy, fuel-efficient, has an excellent safety profile and fulfils all my needs to get around and transport my family and dogs.
WORST AND BEST BETS
Q: What is your best investment?
A property I bought in London in 1997. I sold it in 2002 at quite a good capital gain. I should have kept it for a longer period, though this is just seller's regret.
My best investment, which has not been 'realised', is probably my Gleneagles clinic. I bought it for $3,000 per sq ft and the value has since appreciated substantially.
Q: And your worst...
Some stock I bought of a start-up company of a business based overseas, which was hoping to list on the New York Stock Exchange. That was in 2007. I invested enough to feel the pinch when the 2009 recession hit and the company, instead of listing, went belly up. Attempts at resuscitation are still under way.
I made the investment because I temporarily took leave of my good senses, did not follow my own advice and rashly bought into what sounded like a promising business before I did due diligence on it. I was very busy at the time and followed a small herd of lemmings into doing this.Source: The Straits Times