Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sub-prime mortgages in America

How bad is the problem with the sub-prime mortgages in America? Will it affect the US and global stockmarket? What are these mortgages anyway?

Dr Money (Larry Haverkamp) told me that his article on this topic will appear in Monday's issue of the New Paper. Buy a copy and read about it.

Motor Insurance, through an agent

If you wish to take motor insurance and need the service of an agent, I recommend Thomas Phua. He provides good service and is knowledgeable about the market. He has many loyal customers.

Often, he is able to get you a lower premium rate, if you are not insured with NTUC Income now. His mobile - 96889080

Thomas Phua

If you prefer to buy motor insurance directly from NTUC Income, you can call 63 INCOME (6346 2663)

NUS Lifelong Learning courses

I attended a symposium on positive aging in NUS. I learned that NUS has an active lifelong learning program.

Details are in Courses

I am especially interested in their course on Medicine 101. It teaches the participants on how to take care of their health. They also have interesting language classes, eg Korean, Japanese, Spanish, French, Malay and Thai.

The classes are held in Park Mall, which is near Dhoby Ghaut MRT.

Visit interesting places in Singapore

Dear Mr Tan,

You have been writing a lot on your public transport experience. I wish to add my view.

Those who seldom take public transport has missed out alot in life. Why do I say this?

Many have just drive here and there and never get a chance to walk all over to appreciate the many things around us.

How often have we visited our own Chinatown, Little India, Telok Ayer Street area?

Many tour the world but missed our very own backyard that is visited by millions of tourist each year.

When my children were younger, I took the family by MRT to Tanjong Pagar and took a walk through Telok Ayer and City through Padang and end up at Suntech City.

I am sure families can spend time touring our own backyard first then to tour the world and miss our own.

Thomas Phua

Importance of Great Teachers

As the founder chairmen of the Singapore Science Council, SISIR , Standards Council etc Dr. Lee Kum Tatt has initiated and participated in the development of the Science and Technology infrastructure and manpower of Singapore for many years.

Has it not been for the timely influence of his great teacher we would have lost a good scientist. This is Dr. Lee’s story on how he was guided by a Great Teacher.


Tan Kin Lian

Friday, March 16, 2007

Dance Appreciation Series at the Esplanade

Dance Appreciation Series is jointly presented by the Singapore Dance Theatre and Esplanade, and supported by NTUC Income, to enhance the understanding of dance among new audiences.

Each hour-long session lets you peek behind the scenes to see how dancers take their daily classes, warm up for performances, and get ready to hit the stage in peak condition. You will also get to enjoy excerpts from our forthcoming contemporary and classical seasons. Each performance ticket costs only $10, and schools can also make
use of their special Arts Education Funds to secure bulk bookings.

Don’t miss the upcoming shows at the Esplanade Concert Hall …

• 1 May, 2007, 4pm – a May Day Special – Diving into Contemporary Dance
• 29 August, 4pm – The Legacy of Goh Choo San and his Choreography
• 1 October, 4pm – a Children’s Day Swan Lake Special

Tickets from Sistic on 6348-5555 or For more details, visit or contact the General Manager on 6338-0611 / email:

Watch the ballet, Coppelia

I want to encourage you to watch the ballet performance, Coppelia. It is performed by the Singapore Dance Theatre.


Coppélia is a light-hearted comical ballet suited for both children and the young at heart. With engaging music, beautiful costumes, and a cast of weird and wonderful characters, it is sure to delight audiences of all ages.

Coppélia is performed by Singapore Dance Theatre at Victoria Theatre, 23 to 25 March, 8pm. Tickets from SISTIC on 6348-5555 or

Return from different types of investments?

What is the return, over a long period, from different types of investments?

For global equities, the average return over the past 10 to 20 years, is about 8% to 10% per annum, in US dollars.

For global bonds, the average return is about 4% to 6% in US dollars.

The average return is about 6% to 8% per annum, in US dollars. Converted to Singapore dollars, the average return is about 4% to 6% per annum.

What is the expected return for the future? Nobody knows. For myself, I am happy to get an average return of 4% to 6% per annum, in a well diversified portolio of equities and bonds.

If I invest entirely in equities, I target to get 6% to 8% per annum on the average, but I will have to accept the volatility in the actual returns. It can be quite ihgh in some years and may be negative in other years. If I invest for many years, the average return should be quite attractive.

How to deal with volatile stockmarkets

My friend, who is the chief investment officer of a large insurance company, describes the stock market as volatile during the recent few weeks.

This means that the price will go up one day and down on another day. The movements can be quite large.

What can a small investor do, in a volatile stock market?

My suggestion: take a long term perspective. Decide on what is the right level for the stock market. This gives you a clue on whether the prices are too high, or too low.

As a long term investor, you should buy when the prices are too low (compared to its underlying value) and sell when the prices are too high.

What is the underlying value? Take a look at the price earning ratio (ie the current price divided by the earnings per share. If the profit is expected to grow strongly over the next few years, a PE ratio of 15 to 25 can be justified. If the prospects are moderate, the PE ratio should be between 12 to 18.

Many stocks may have exceeded the upper limit. The prices are too high. It is time to sell them.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ask for a lift

I attended a board meeting at Fort Canning Center. It was far away from the main road.

After the meeting, I asked a fellow director for a lift to the MRT station. I took the MRT to my home. It was quite easy.

Ethical issues

Dear Mr Tan,

Hi, I was just wondering, in your 30 years as the CEO of NTUC income, have you ever encountered any ethical issues or dilemmas? How did you try to resolve these issues in the best possible ways?

I am an undergraduate in Nanyang Technological University. I need this information for my project.


My reply:

We have to face ethical issues all the time. We have to address the question of what is right or wrong. Sometimes, it is quite difficult. Do we make more profit for the company by giving less to the customers (policyholders)? While it may be legal, it is ethically wrong.

There are many occasions when the competitors find new ways of developing their business, that are not fair to customers. Do we follow them? Are we prepared to lose out by not following them?

In my case, I decided that we have to be ethical, and do what is fair for all parties. We should give good value to our customers, and still make a fair profit for the business. By operating efficiently and at low cost, we can achieve a result that is good for the policyholders and the shareholders (of our cooperative society).

You can read about more of my views in
my talk

Logic9 - why it is a better version of Sudoku

Many people like to play the puzzle, Sudoku. You have to fill in the blanks with the numbers 1 to 9, so that the number does not repeat in any row, colum or box (3X3 squares).

There are many patterns of Sudoku puzzles.

I have created my pattern of the Sudoku puzzles, and have marketed them under the name Logic9. The pocketbooks are available in several bookstores.

Vol 1 to 4 of the Logic9 puzzles have a special feature. All the puzzles have a unique answer and can be solved by a logical approach (using my 3 tips). There is no need to guess.

Many people enjoy my Logic9 puzzles, because of this special feature.

Mahjong helps to prevent dementia

There is a newspaper report that mahjong helps to prevent dementia. This is the result of a research in Hong Kong. Mahjong is also also practiced in Taiwan and in Singapore (Alexandra Hospital) as a therapy for older people.

I agree with this finding, based on my personal observation. My mother is 80 years old. She enjoys mahjong. This helps to keep her alert.

There is another game that can keep your mind alert. In my opinion, it will also prevent dementia, but it is not scientifically proven yet.

This is the game of Suduku. Our logic version is call Logic9. You shoud try this game at

Navigation system for Taxis

I took a taxi today. I asked to go to Fook Hai Building. The taxi driver did not know the way.

I suggest that each taxi should be installed with a navigation system. The taxi driver can enter the building or road name or the postal code. The navigation system will give directions to the taxi driver.

There is no need for the taxi drivers to know all the roads and buildings (which will be a difficult task) or to refer to the directory (and still not know the way to get there).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How to take a bus to your home

I record, as a note in my PDA, the following:

* bus services passing near my home
* bus services at interchanges near my home (ie accessible directly from my home)

If I am in any part of Singapore and I need to get a bus home, I will check if any of the bus services are recorded in my PDA (ie passing my home or at a nearby interchange).

I will be able to get back home directly or through the interchange.

I want to encourage car owners to learn how to use the bus services. You can leave your car at home and reach most part of Singapore easily by bus.

You can enjoy our excellent public transport system.

A role model for Dr Lee Kum Tatt

Dr. Lee Kum Tatt has touch many people's lives. Quite a number of people has also touched his and made him what he is. Here is an account on how his life and outlook has been touched by his role model, Dr Ling Tien Gi.


Tan Kin Lian

Public Transport Guide

There is a public transport guide available in the bookstore for about $6 (may be slightly more).

It contains a map of verious parts of Singapore. It shows all the bus stops and the bus services at the stops. It also shows the MRT system.

This guide is excellent for people taking the public transport. It is easy to find the services to move from one place to another, either by a direct connection or by one change of bus.

Book: The Essential Drucker

I first learned about Peter Drucker nearly 40 years ago, when I read his book "The Effective Executive". He wrote about the right approach to make business decisions. I remembered his advice clearly, "get the facts".

Over the past 30 years, I learned that the key difference between an practical manager and a theoretical scholar, is the ability to get the relevant facts to make bold decision.

I have also read other books by Peter Drucker. I get the following impression about him:

* his writings are simple, clear, easy to read
* he gives practical and relevant advice on management
* he strongly believes in working for the benefit of the customer and society as a whole

In many ways, I share his thinking, approach and values.

Peter Drucker has a doctorate in public and international law, and has worked as a newspaper reporter, economist, editorial columnist and university professor. He has also written many books on management.

His latest book, "The Essential Drucker" contains a selection from 60 years of his writings on management. I wish to recommend this book to practising and aspiring managers.

Peter Drucker passed away recently at a ripe old age.

Tan Kin Lian

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lifelong learning course

The Center For Seniors is partnering the YAH Community Colleage to organise a 100 hour course on lifelong learning.

It is targetted at seniors. It covers life skills, knowledge of aging, financial planning, and social skills.

The participation cost is only $300. This is highly subsidised.

The course is conducted in Mandarin, and is targetted at 60 participants.

We hope to be able to organise a similar course in English, at a later date.

News interview on the bus

I was travelling home on the bus yesterday afternoon.

A journalist called me on my mobilephone. She needed some information urgently for a story that will appear the following day (about the lifelong learning program sponsored by the Center for Seniors).

I was able to answer her questions.

The story came out in the Straits Times today. But, the public may not be aware that the interview was done by mobilephone in a bus.

This is a new way of working, made possible through technology.

Underground link to Raffles Place

I attended a meeting at NTUC Center in Marina Boulevard. To return home, I had to take the train at Raffles Place MRT.

I was presently surprised to learn that there is an underground link from NTUC Center to Raffles Place. I could get to the MRT station without crossing any road. (I was not aware about this link previously).

This is similar to the underground link between City Hall MRT and Suntec City.

I wish to encourage car owners to leave your car at home, and take the public transport. It is convenient. You can help to reduces congestions on our roads.

Buy a term insurance (including critical illness cover)

Dear Kin Lian,

I have been looking around for critical illness only policies. Most of these are tied-to whole life/etc..

But I found one underwritten by HSBC through Automobile Association, premium is reasonable (but not low), for a 100K PA, premium is $176 and critical illness rider of a $100K is $680, under the age group of 45 to 54 years.

At my age, I don't need whole life insurance, I would rather use the money saved and invest in mutual funds for my retirement.

I wonder if there are any other deals of this nature. By the way, I always enjoy reading your blogs.


My reply:

You can buy a similar policy from NTUC Income. I will ask X to contact you and give you a quote, for a similar plan. You can see if it offers a better deal than the Automobile Association.

I agree that it is better to buy a term insurance (covering critical illness) rather than a whole life policy.

Tan Kin Lian

Concession fares for senior citizens

I made some research about the concession fares for senior citizens.

Here is a brief summary:
* available to citizens and permanent residents, aged 60 and above
* available during off-peak periods (see below for peak hours)
* bus rides: 65 cents per trip (air-con), 60 cents (non-air con)
* train ride: $0.66 to $1.52, depending on distance (but lower than standard fare)

Peak hours:
SMRT: up to 9 am and between 4.30 pm to 7 pm on weekdays
SBS: up to 9 am on weekdays

How to improve the taxi service

I received this comment from a visitor to my blog. He suggested several measures to improve the taxi service in Singapore.


I do not have the statistics. It may turn out that with emphasis of retraining and relearning, many people the lost their jobs turned taxi drivers may have returned to the job market as the economy has improved. I have heard of taxi drivers mentioning that there are lots of taxis in the depot.

Heavy demand for taxis? Perhaps, this is created by the service provider?

My view is that taxi drivers are still choosing passengers. I had experienced it many times especially during peak hours in Orchard area.

I understand that taxi drivers prefer to stay within Orchard area so that they can earn more for shuttle trips.

A public transport system should be integrated. The bus, train and taxi should complement each other. You pay more based on the level of deliverable and service. For the taxi, you pay more as it brings you almost to the doorstep of your destination.

Another way to improve service is the following:

1. Do away with booking fees with the exception for advanced booking
2. ERP surcharge to be borne by taxi companies or waive it entirely
3. Increase the flagdown rate and offer a discount during non-peak period.


Take care of your medication

In the past, I see a doctor when I was sick and followed the medication that was prescribed for me. But, I did not learn about the purpose of each medication.

Recently, I have paid more attention to the following:

* what does each medicine do?
* how do the medicine interact with each other?

I asked my doctor. I also write it down for my record. This allows me to identify the medication that is needed for a chronic problem (which comes with old age).

I encourage you to do the same (if you have not done so already).

Difficult to bid for COE (to buy a car)

Here is a comment posted by a visitor to my blog:


I am trying very hard to figure out how the COE bidding and registration process but not much info that I can find from LTA website. How come so complicated! I was wondering why the car dealer got to bid the COE for us when the world is so connected, are they earning from COE as well? They should just be selling the vehicles.

Mr Tan, you head CASE Singapore so that consumers will benefits. Thank you!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Competition and partnership

Some people think about competition. They compete with other businesses in the same market.

I like to think of these other businesses as partners. We are partners in delivering a service to the market. We give choice to the consumers. Some consumers like a certain provider, while others like another provider. Each provider can serve its own market segment.

There is no need for the providers to compete hard and put the other providers out of business.

Teach the young to be considerate

My friend drives a private bus. He makes a living by transporting workers and students.

Life is difficult for him. Due to competition, he is not able to get a rate for the transport service. He has to meet heavy expenses of running the bus, i.e insurance, road tax, petrol, repairs. He has to work 12 hours or more a day, to cover his expenses and earn enough money to feed his family.

If he is sick, he still has to drive the bus. He works alone and will not be able to get another driver to cover him. He finds little time to rest in his hectic schedule.

His son serves national service. Instead of taking the public transport, he asked his father to fetch him to camp once a week. This is quite inconsiderate of the young man. He should have allowed his father to take a rest.

The Blue Rose

According to Dr Lee Kum Tatt, the rose may appear in several colours, but most commonly in red. But, in nature, you can never find a blue rose. Dr Lee is fascinated by this fact and invented this story of the blue rose.


Tan Kin Lian.

Singapore Dance Theatre

I have been on the board of the Singapore Dance Theatre for many years.

This is our own ballet company. It has gained a reputation in the region and internationally. It has an excellent repertoire of dance performances.

The Theatre also aims to reach out to the general public and give them an exposure to dance, as a performing art. You have the chance to watch the dance performances in the Esplanade at a very low ticket price.

It also carries out performances in the heartlands of Singapore.

Find out more of the Singapore Dance Theatre in:

Singapore Dance Theatre

Spirit of Enterprice - how it started

Five years ago, Russel Miller (an Amnerican citizen with permanent residency in Singapore) approached me to create an award for small enterprises in Singapore.

Other business awards tend to recognise the bigger or succesful organisations. The small enterprises are overlooked. Russell felt that it is important to recognise the efforts of more humble people.

We founded the organisation called "The Spirit of Enterprise". We brainstormed and came out with an unique approach towards recognising these small entrepreneurs and selecting them.

We also wanted to involve the student interviewers, so that they get the feel of what it is like to build a small business.

I am glad that the Spirit of Enterprise has survived five years and continues to grow strong. Russell Miller and I have now passed the baton to a new board of governors, although we continued to be informal advisers.

Visit this website:

Spirit of Enterprise

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Responding to a business proposal

I get e-mails from other people, inviting me to participate in their business ventures. I respond in the following manner:

* I send an acknowledgement first. This tells the other party that I have received the proposal.

* In a few days time, I send an e-mail to ask the other party to call me at a certain time, on my telephone number. This allows the other party to tell me more about the proposal and for me to ask question.

* I will consider the matter further, and give a reply after a few more days.

This idea may be important to the other party. I like to give it some careful consideration. I may only be participating in only a small number of these proposals, but I shall try to give some thoughts to each proposal.

A new way of marketing

I adopt an unusual approach in marketing. I call it "marketing in stages".

* I send a brief e-mail to the other party. It tells briefly about my idea and why it is exciting.

* A few days later, I send a SMS to announce that I shall be calling at a certain time to talk about a certain topic. This prepares the other party to expect my call.

* I follow up with a telephone call at the indicated time. I can talk about the idea in more detail and get a feel of the other party's thinking

* After the conversation, I follow up with an e-mail that gives more detail, but not too heavy. I ask for a response.

I find this approach to be quite effective. It takes little time (ie I do not need to travel and meet the other party face to face). I can get attention, because my e-mail is light and interesting.

This new method of marketing is possible today, because of e-mail and mobilephone. Try it. And let me know if it works better for you.

How to promote creativity

Dr Lee Kum Tatt sent this message to me.


Dear Kin Lian

I have finished Part II of the RISIS story in words together with pictures. It is more interesting than just words.

In trying to inspire and benefit others through my philosophy, values and experiences people like to know how I did my "magic" which they can also follow. I believe this is best done through pictures, cartoons and case studies which speak louder than just words alone.

Most scientists, artists and entrepreneurs are considered as mad fellows sometime in their lives. They are considered as creative only long after they succeed in doing what they consider is fun to do.

Most people want to be creative but do not know what to do. Some think they know what to do but they do not want to try because of the risks involved.

Our pragmatic and money minded society do not accept subjective ideas easily. People prefer to play safe with logical arguments backed by figures.

People not in this practice are considered as born losers. The result is that our society will produce more people with the "Kiasu" attitude.

The initiatives of our potential creative and innovative individuals (like the entrepreneurs, technopreneurs, artists and scientists will be stifled unintentionally if not killed in this process. This will be a pity and a threat to our Singapore society of the future.

The question is how do we reverse the present trend? We must create space and opportunities for our creative people to grow. I think we can make a good team together to promote what is good for our country.

Kum Tatt

Family with 4 small children

At Yio Chu Kang stadium, I saw a family with 4 small children, possibly aged 5 to 12 years.

The parents appear to come from humble background. They spoke in Mandarin. The mother appears to be a homemaker.

How do they manage to survive in the high cost environment in Singapore? I can only make a guess.

They probably have simple needs. They take the family to jog round the stadium. It's free.

Maybe they do not need to spend money on private tuition. The children appears to be quite well behaved and are willing to go to the stadium with the parents.

Perhaps, they are showing that it is possible to have a different lifestyle in Singapore.

Similarity between a medical and financial checkup

I was jogging 8 laps around Yio Chu Kang stadium this morning.

I wondered, "why the jog damage my knees?" I heard that many joggers had this problem.

The solution? See a doctor. Each person is different. So, the doctor can give advice that is suitable for me.

I pay the doctor a fee for the consultation. The doctor is required to give advice in my best interest and not to prescribe treatment that earns more money from him (at my expense).

The same situation applies to financial advice. Each person should have a financial checkup that is appropriate for his needs. The financial adviser should earn a fee for the consultation and should not recommend a product that earns the highest commission (at the expense of the customer).

Actually, financial matters may be quite straightforward for most people. They can learn some basic tips, and take the best decision for themselves.

My tips are simple. They are covered many times in my blog. Read about them. I advice my family and friends to follow these tips.

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