Sin Ting, 33 is the Chief Client Officer at Endowus, a a Singapore-based financial technology company that allows you to invest your CPF, Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS) money, and cash savings.
Like many others, I started my investment journey by thinking that I could outsmart the millions of market participants around the world. I picked my portfolio of stocks based on news articles I read, or companies whose products I used. I learnt quickly how humbling markets can be, but in hindsight, I’m glad I learnt this lesson early in my investment journey.
I was very fortunate to have a female mentor early on in my career who constantly reminded me that while I focused on managing clients’ wealth at work, it was also really important to manage my own money. It took a lot of patience and discipline to make investing a habit and slowly grow my investment portfolio, but taking control of my finances was extremely empowering.
The gift of investing
Investing gave me the confidence to take the leap of faith to leave a high-paying corporate job and become an entrepreneur. I have always believed in living a purpose-driven life, and wanted to build a business that would make a difference. It took a lot of soul-searching before deciding on the path I wanted to take.
I knew that there was a huge survival selection bias when it comes to entrepreneurial success, and the odds were that it would be a long challenging journey before I would see monetary success (if any), but I was lucky to find great partners to venture together on this journey. However, I would not have made that decision to go down this uncertain path without a clear picture of my finances and building a small nest egg through investing over time.
I wish more women were blessed with the same personal finance guidance I was privileged to receive early in my career, but even then it was no walk in the park. Several challenges were – and still are – systemic.
Why it’s important to start investing
To me, money means freedom, and having the choice to live the way you want. Frugality and drinking less overpriced soy lattes may help you live within your means, but it is investing that will ultimately expand your means. Having financial freedom is essential for women to be able to achieve a sense of financial independence and equality.
Women have a longer expected life expectancy than men, which makes saving up for retirement even more important and challenging. However, 40 percent of Singaporean women have not started planning for retirement, as compared to only 29 percent of men. An HSBC survey showed that 74 percent of Singapore working-age women are worried about being unable to pay for their own care or medical bills in retirement, and more than half believe they will struggle to cope financially if their partner dies.
Both investing and saving involve setting aside money today to prepare for the future. Both are excellent decisions but they are not the same. How you combine saving and investing can have a huge effect on your life. Unfortunately, just relying on your savings alone isn’t enough as cash that sits in a bank account or your safety deposit box depreciates in real value year-over-year due to inflation. That means you’re essentially losing money (or purchasing power) when you aren’t actively growing your savings.
Investing is a huge wealth generator, and time is our greatest asset. Albert Einstein called compound interest the 8th wonder of the world.
By investing earlier rather than try to sock away larger sums of money so that you think you have enough capital to invest, you’re actually giving your money a chance to work smarter instead of harder.
Why might it be harder for women to start investing
Research has proven that women are not more risk-averse when it comes to investing, despite traditionally touted beliefs. One of the key challenges facing women in starting to invest is their lack of confidence despite being as learned as their male peers in financial knowledge. Many women do not think they know enough about investing to properly grow their hard-earned savings and choose to wait to start investing until they feel that they are more financially stable and financially literate and believe they can risk the possibility of losing money.
Another factor is the gender pay gap. According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the pay gap for women in Singapore left them earning 16.3 percent less than men in 2018 when comparing the median pay, and 6 percent less when adjusted for factors such as industry, occupation, age and education. Women are more likely to take career breaks or take on the role as caregivers, which unfortunately can still limit career progression and affects the CPF contributions of Singaporean women – this sets them back with an 11 percent gap in the CPF balances against men.
When it comes to creating a financial plan for women, these are the real factors that need to be taken into consideration rather than whether the plastic should be pink, and if a 3 percent cash-back should be for the department store instead of the petrol station. The real risk at the end of the day is not only market volatility but the inability to achieve their long-term goals because of these systemic differences and ultimately, fall short of living the life they want.
How to overcome the fear of investing
Fear stops people from making that first step because they’re afraid that they will lose money. Investing is about taking risk – and getting compensated accordingly for it. Markets have historically rewarded patient and disciplined investors over the long-term. If you think that the world will continue to grow and innovate, you want to be exposed to global drivers of growth. Staying in cash is not risk-free either – inflation eats into your money as life gets more expensive, and there is an opportunity cost the later you start investing.
A common misconception around investing is that you have to be a financial expert to succeed when the reality is that there are so many platforms and resources today that make it easy to start investing with smaller amounts. Investing doesn’t need to be complicated, but arm yourself with some basic financial knowledge first to give yourself the confidence to get started. Study your own financial situation, and think about what your goals are. Your goals should be at the center of your investment portfolio, and when you invest with a defined purpose, you can better identify the right strategy, how much you need to invest and the appropriate level of risk to take.
Women don’t necessarily need to invest in different financial products, but we do need to acknowledge our unique financial challenges and situation and create a financial plan that can take this into consideration. Start small, but make investing a habit. Invest regularly – whether this is monthly, quarterly or semi-annually. This way you can take your emotions out of the equation. You’ll never enter the market at the low, but if you dollar cost average over time, you’ll do just fine.
You can get past the fear, and take your first steps towards leading the life that you envision – and at least break away from the number one financial regret of women in Singapore: Not investing more.