Monday, December 31, 2012

Balloting of COEs

Singapore introduced the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) for purchase of cars 
22 years ago. It served a useful purpose in controlling the number of cars on 
the road.

Over the years, many people have complained that the system of bidding for the COE 
favors the wealthy at the expense of "more deserving" families that cannot compete in
paying the high price for the paper.

The suggestion of balloting the COEs have been raised many times, but was 
not accepted by the government on economic arguments, that scare resources are
 best allocated through market pricing. With the high prices of COE in recent months, 
the calls for the use of the ballot system have re-surfaced.

Balloting is not unusual in Singapore. For decades, we have been 
using it to assign new HDB flats to purchasers and primary school places to pupils. The system
was also implemented to give higher priority to certain groups, for example, pupils with
siblings in the same school.

If COEs are balloted, it is possible to fix the rice to reflect demand, but there is no need to
suffer the wild swings and panic buying that are seen in the current system. If the demand
exceed supply, the COEs can be balloted, with a higher chance being given
to "more deserving" families, such as families with children or does not now
own any car.

FISCA Talks for 2013

FISCA talk. I urge readers to register for the FISCA talks to be held over the next few months. Details are available here:
The talks are for three hours and the fee is $10 (FISCA members) and $30 (non-members). Join FISCA ($36 a year) and get back more than your fees when you attend two talks.

Wait for lower COE prices

William, an ex- car dealer, advises the public  not to rush and buy a car now, but to wait 1 or 2 years for the COE price to drop.

SGX Online Test

Here is a proposal for someone who wish to get coaching to pass the SGX online test and invest in the STI ETF immedicately.

Invest in an indexed fund

An index fund is a low cost fund that is invested in a stock market index. In Singapore, the index comprise of the 30 largest companies listed in SGX; most of which are blue chips. You can buy the index fund through the STI ETF (offered by SPDR and by Nikko).

To understand more about ETF, read the following articles posted in my blog

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why I speak out against bad products

Some insurance agents or financial advisers curse me for exposing the bad features of the life insurance products that are on the market today. They write in my Facebook, "how can an veteran of 30 years who has benefited from the business in the past, now talk bad about the business?"

To these naive or crooked advisers, let me tell the honest truth.

When I was in the insurance business, the products offered to consumers take away less than 1.5% from the yield. If the insurance fund earn 6.5%, the consumers take a yield of 5%.

Today, more products take away 3 to 4% from the yield. Some even take away as high as 6 to 8%; which is like daylight robbery.

When the life insurance industry is "robbing' people in this fashion, it is my duty to warn consumers to avoid these products.

Many new insurance agents may not be aware that the products are so bad. They are naive. I like to advise them to calculate the reduction in yield, using the example, shown in this article

Look into the mirror and and ask if you really want your client to suffer this type of loss?

Remember, you have the option of selling the proper insurance package to them as shown here:

Some insurance agents already know the truth, but they like to sell the bad products to earn the high commission. They behave like crooks; I detest them - as much as they hate me.

Letter from the Grave

Lasantha Wickramatunga, the 52-year-old editor of the Sri Lankan newspaper Sunday Leader, who was assassinated on 8 January 2009 while on his way to work by two gunmen riding motorcycles, knew he was a target of assassins and wrote this letter with instructions that it be published after his death.

Find the right insurance package

Here is a tip on how you can find and trust an insurance agent to get the best insurance package for you.

How to evaluate a life annuity

I have often been asked if a life annuity is a good investment. The answer is - depends on what you get for the sum that you have to put in.

This example shows how you can evaluate the life annuity, including a deferred annuity where you have to save now for several years and draw the annuity payout from a certain age.

You have to make an assumption on your life expectancy. It will be suitable to take age 85 for males and 88 for females. This allows for improvement in life expectancy in the future.

The next question that you have to consider if the expected yield, if you invest on your own, instead of a life annuity. It is appropriate to take an interest rate of 5% for long term investment in an indexed fund, such as the STI ETF.

To get a better idea, you can use 3%, 4% and 5% in your projection. See the example in this paper.

It showed that the deferred annuity gives a yield slightly below 4%. This is an acceptable yield, but the drawback is the penalty that have to be suffered, if the investor needs to terminate the annuity earlier. To offset this penalty, the yield has to be better than 4%.

You can use the same approach to evaluate any other type of life annuity, including the more common type, where you have to pay a single premium to buy the annuity.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pay on instalment, with no interest

Here is a tip on how you can pay on installment, with no interest, and still enjoy the discounted cash price (offered on a sale).

Some credit cards also allow payment on instalment with no interest, but the price that you pay is usually not the discounted cash price (offered on a sale).

Medical fees for seniors in Hong Kong

Happy New Year

Pastor Niemoller

Installment purchase

A large retail store charges interest rate of 46% to 52% on installment purchase. The calculation of interest rate is shown here.

Danger of stopping premium payments

Ms Koh (not her real name) bought three life insurance policies in 2001. The agent told her that she can stop paying premium after 10 years and the policy will still carry on. After 10 years, she stopped paying the premiums.

When she enquired about the status of the policies two years later, she was shocked to learn that the premiums were actually being advanced as a loan charged to the policy and is accumulating interest at a high rate. The customer service staff told her that the policies will reach zero value after a few years, due to the mounting loans.

She was shocked that her premiums of more than two hundred thousand dollars could become zero. She cancelled all of her policies.

Ms. Koh might have been mis-informed by the customer service staff, but the service quality was bad, slow and unreliable.

When the agent sell the concept of stopping premium payment after the policy has acquired an adequate cash value, the agent did not explain clearly how it worked or that the "critical year" depends on many factors. They just wanted to close the sale with some vague promise, and let the customer and the office staff face the problem many years later.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The spirit of being helpful and positive

A man was cheated by a forex trainer of $5,000. He signed on his credit card to pay the fee for the training but decided not to attend the course. The trainer refused to refund the fee and mocked him. He was pressed by the bank for the monthly payment. Feeling distressed, he threatened to commit suicide.

After I posted his story in my blog and Facebook, there were several unhelpful comments from people who wants to judge others; why commit suicide for $5,000, why so stupid, you deserve it, and the like.

They reflect the character of many people; those who are negative, and have the courage to hit someone who is down. Few people came forward to speak on behalf of the distressed person.

One lady sent an e-mail to me. She asked, "How can I send $1,000 to help him tide over this problem? The $1,000 is money that I donate yearly to a charity anyway; it would be useful to help him." This kind person is aware that the money could be wasted for a lost cause; it does not matter to her; she does not want to judge; she only wanted to help.

I want to share this story about what is being helpful; what is being positive. I hope that it will encourage more people to be helpful and positive. Avoid being negative and judgmental.

For the people who are suspicious, I like to share this additional piece of information. I spoke to the young man. He had many personal problems; he had to take care of sick and disabled parent in a nursing home; he was cheated before; and the $5,000 is just the last straw.

One can be positive and kind, even if one does not have the full information. You have the choice to be like the majority of negative and judgmental people; or to be like the kind person.

Happy New Year.

Splitting of the votes

A few readers drew a parallel between the Punggol East bye-election and the Presidential Election. I want to take this opportunity to give some background.

In July 2011, a few people urged me to stand for the Presidential Election, so that there would be no more walkover. Tan Cheng Bock had expressed his interest to contest, but he was considered at that time to be a PAP person There was a strong chance that he would be disqualified, as he did not have a strong financial background, as Andrew Kuan was rejected at the previous election.

After some hesitation, I decided to collect the nomination form. Several of the non-PAP parties pledged their support for me at that time.

The situation changed when Tan Jee Say also expressed interest in the election. Based on his background, he should not have qualified, following the rejection of Andrew Kuan.

It was a surprise to my team that all four candidates were approved by the Committee. I had a meeting with Tan Jee Say to decide on one party to withdraw, but there was no agreement. The rest is history.

I want Singaporeans to know, especially those that are not so circumspective, that if I had not entered into the election, there is a high chance that it would be no election like in 2005, i.e. another walkover.

Through my involvement, I have made a contribution in insuring that  there will be a election at future Presidential elections, as the recent decision of the Presidential Election Committee had opened the field to many thousand possible candidates.

I do not have any intention to take part in a future election, but I hope that my small contribution to opening up the election process would be appreciated.

Rejection of Travel Insurance Claim

A school boy sustained a fracture on an overseas trip. He was covered under a group travel insurance policy. The insurance company rejected the claim submitted by the parent, for a reason that is not clear, and potentially wrong. The parent sought my views.

Shocking experience with Investment Linked Policy (ILP)

Many consumers bought investment linked policies (ILP). They were actively marketed by insurance agents as a good solution to provide insurance protection and to achieve the gains of long term investing in stocks. The benefit illustration project returns of 5% and 9% (which is rather optimistic).

Most insurance agents did not explain to the consumer that the high charges of the ILP take away a large part of the non-guaranteed return from the investments, leaving almost nothing to the consumer for the first 15 years.

Read the experience of "Ms. Koh" who was shocked to learn that her ILP gave her a large loss after 12 years, when the stock market actually performed well. Her shocking experience reflects what has been happening to tens of thousands of unsuspecting purchasers of many ILP policies.

In recent years, some insurance companies have been bold in increasing the charges to unconscionable levels. If you have bought an ILP policy, you should read this article carefully and look at your benefit illustration to see if you are in a similar situation to "Ms. Koh."

If you have been misled or badly advised by the insurance agent or financial adviser, you should also consider writing to the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Investing in blue chip shares

Isabel attending my course on financial planning. She also attend the previews of other courses on financial planning, investing and trading conducted by other trainers, which were actively marketed. She sent this message to me recently.

"A Merry X’mas and a Happy New Year. After all the previews that I have gone through, I find the traditional way taught by you is still better as the backbone and peppered with some trading for cash flow. Isabel".

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Big cut in maturity benefit

Many consumers buy life insurance with a large amount of non-guaranteed bonus, especially the bonus that is supposed to be paid on maturity. In the benefit illustration, you will see that the non-guaranteed bonus is low during most of the duration and they escalate sharply during the last few years or the last year. You must be wary of this type of projection, as the bonus may not be taken away, for no justifiable reason. This is what has been experienced by this policyholder. At one time, this was not possible, i.e. the regulator will question the insurance company that cuts the bonus with justification, but today, nobody cares. Be careful and avoid this type of policy.

Here is an example of a policy with a stepped up non-guaranteed bonus during the last few years. Consumers should avoid them.

Tricked by a forex trainer

The consumer share his experience on how he was tricked into attending a forex training course and the distress that he suffered as a result of this incident. He wants other consumers to avoid falling into this trap.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Keeping the town clean

I prefer that the role of keeping the town clean revert back to the HDB, as it was in the old days. It does not make sense to waste the time of lawmakers, i.e. the MPs, to do the nitty gritty work of collecting the monthly charges and engaging the contractors.

In most other places, the town councils have much wider responsibilities in looking after the local services, such as buses, schools, libraries and the like. These councils are likely to be elected directly by the residents and are not the same people as the lawmakers.

The situation is quite convoluted in Singapore, due to the unnecessary petty politicking. If the lawmakers have to waste time in looking after trivial matters, they cannot spend the time to do their proper work, which is to represent the views of their voters in Parliament and to give meaningful debate to the laws that are to be passed. Our laws are quite outdated, and many key issues are not resolved.

It is time for our government leaders to realize that there are important issues that need to be addressed, and that the lawmakers should not waste their time on activities that can be better handled by other people.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sale of Town Council software

I continue to be amazed with the happenings in our town councils. It seemed to have grown in to a monstrosity, with so many issues. It would have been better that the town councils were run independently of the elected lawmakers in the first place. We now have to face a complicated and convoluted arrangement arrangement, which makes life very complicated for every body.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dangerous to give investment advice

An elderly lady, whom I shall refer to as "Nancy", made a loss of nearly $200,000 from her investments. She is not knowledgeable about investments, but was assured by the relationship manager of a local bank that he would recommend good investments to her, based on his expert knowledge.

Nancy trusted the young man, who gave the impression of being knowledgeable and called her to make many recommendations. Nancy accepted some of the recommendations and invested her money. She trusted that the young man would monitor her investments and contact her about the progress.

He only called her about the investments that made a profit and encouraged her to sell them and re-invest in other investments. Nancy asked about the other investments, but the young man assured her not to worry and he would call her when they made a profit.

As the months go by, some of the investments went really bad. In one case, the loss was nearly 50% on an investment of $200,000. It was a terrible blow to Nancy as she was not aware that such a large sum was being invested. Nancy held on to this investments but decided to sell some other investments at big loss.

This is my advice to the young people who think that they can advise other people about investments. Investing is not easy. If someone ask me for advice on specific shares and whether the shares would move up in value, my standard reply would be, "the current price of the share reflects the views of all the people in the market. The share price can move up or it can move down. Nobody knows for sure".

If, with my experience, I have no clue about which shares are good value for money and which shares would move up, how can a young person know better? It is dangerous for an ignorant and inexperienced person to pretend to be an "expert" and to mislead elderly people into making investments that can lose a lot of money. It is dangerous to allow them to give investment advice to elderly people under the banner of a trusted bank.

Ask Mr. Tan

You can search for many articles here:

Do not trust your bank to advice on investments.

Many banks are employing young people to be "Relationship Manager" or "Wealth Manager" to advice elderly people, with plenty of cash, in their investments. These RMs are not experienced in the world of investments and are giving bad advice to the elderly people, causing them to suffer large losses. The RMs main focus is to meet the sales targets. They are recommending questionable investments created overseas and are not suitable to be sold to unwary retail investors. 
Read this sad story about the experience of "Nancy"

Nancy said, "Why are people in Singapore so dishonest nowadays?"

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Find the Hidden Code

Be the first person to find the hidden code for any of the three sets of 6 puzzles (i.e. puzzles 1 to 6, puzzles 7 to 12 and puzzles 13-19) and win a prize - Intelligence Quiz book. Three prizes will be given. The answers have to be posted in

How to replace cheque payments

78 million cheques are cleared through the banking system in Singapore a year. This works out to an average of 18 cheques per person. This number must be higher than most other countries in the world.

With the availability of electronic payments, there is no need for so many cheques to be used. It is time consuming and costly, considering the time spent to write and mail the cheque, for the receiving party to receive and bank in the cheque, and for the bank to enter the transactions for clearing.

While there are several ways to make electronic payments, e.g. GIRO, internet banking, AXS and SAM, these channels are used mainly for regular payments to large organizations. They are not suitable for once-off payments to small businesses, which now use cheques to make and receive most of their payments.

I suggest that our banks in Singapore make the following changes to allow more people to make payments using their ATM or internet banking facilities:

a) allow the payer to make an electronic payment to a bank account number and view the name of the receiving party
b) allow the payer to enter a number, e.g. the invoice number or customer number,to identify the payment
c) allow the receiving party to download details of these payments, and view the name of the payer

These changes may require some of the existing regulations of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to be changed, e.g. to disclose the name of the other party in the transaction. 

Most banks should be able to implement these changes  to their existing systems quite easily and at a low cost. If the changes are made, most people would prefer to use the electronic payments, instead of cheques. This change can be accelerated if banks are allowed to levy a fee for the use of cheques, which is more costly for them to process.

The United Kingdom have set a target to eliminate the use of cheques by 2018. I urge our MAS to take the lead, so that Singapore can largely, if not entirely dispense with the use of cheques at an earlier date.

Potential investment scam

A Poly student consulted me about this investment. He was introduced by his friend to two companies which made  vague presentations promising high return through landing bank, convertible bonds and pre-IPO shares allotted through private placement.  

He carried out his research on these two companies and their management from their websites and had a hunch that this could be another Ponzi scheme. Several of his friends and other teenagers that had invested tens of thousand of dollars into these companies. If this is a scam, he wanted them to be stopped before more people are caught in it.

I told him to collect evidence of the investments made by his friend. There is a law that issue of shares to the public require approval to be obtained from the Monetary Authority of Singapore These two companies could be breaking the law.

Be more gracious

Alex Au has written this excellent article about what is needed to make Singaporeans more gracious and generous.

Yield on a life annuity

Here is a simple way to calculate the yield on a life annuity.

US fiscal cliff and the relevance to Singapore

This is an excellent article explaining the need for change, and for political leaders to exercise leadership to change and compromise.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Damage caused to former employee

 The chief executive director of the Peoples’ Association (PA) has asked the public 
to give space to the former staff of the PA who was involved in “an intimate relationship” with 
a former Member of Parliament and had since resigned. The chief asked that she be allowed 
to continue with her life. (Today paper, 17 December)

It was not necessary for the PA to disclose her name in the first place. The reason given for 
the decision to disclose her name was not acceptable, in my view. Her relationship with the 
former MP was a private and personal matter, and (to my knowledge) did not affect her 
work performance or caused any conflict of interest.

By disclosing her name, the PA had caused distress to the former staff and made her 
a subject of ridicule and shame. I believe that the PA owed an apology to her and possibly, 
some compensation for her distress and financial loss.

I have deliberated omitted to mention her name in this letter, and I ask other people in 
Singapore to respect her privacy. If there are any blogs that were put up with her photos, can 
the creator remove them?

Tan Kin Lian

Restructure public transport operations

To achieve better economy of scale, efficiency and competition, all train services should come under SMRT and all bus services should come under SBS. 
The competition should be between travelling by train and by bus. I now opt to travel by bus, rather than train, where possible.
The current system, where SMRT and Delgro operate both trains and buses does not enhance competition, and lead to inefficiency. 
What are your views?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Governance of town councils

What are your views on the issues covered in this report?

I do not like the current system of tying up the management of town councils to the MPs who have been elected for the town. I prefer that they should be kept as separate issues. The residents deserve continuity and should not be disrupted with a change of their representatives in Parliament.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Issue of shares without a prospectus

Dear Mr Tan
I attended a presentation at Orchard Road.  It was an impressive presentation. It showed the company directors receiving awards for their individual achievements from government ministers and picture taken with a former President.

This company dealt with oil palm, fisheries and property development in Malaysia and Indonesia. The company is offering convertible preference shares. The minimum subscription is for 3,000 shares at $10 per share. The investor needs to deposit 10% and pay $499 for admin fees. 

The investment guarantees a return of 7% annually for 3 years. If the investor signs up on another day, the price  will be $12 per share and the return is reduced to 4% annually. They claimed to have approval from MAS, but did not give me any prospectus.

Is this a scam?


Under the securities law in Singapore, any offer of shares require the issue of a prospectus that has been registered and approved by the MAS. You should file a police report.

Disgraceful activity

I suspect that a few members of the internet brigade of a certain political party are active in my Facebook.

Their mode of operation is as follows:
a) They do not provide a photo or a fake photo. There are no personal details.
b) If they find any view that suggest that things are not doing well, they will give a counter attack by being defensive of the status quo.
c) They will make a personal attack or criticize my view, and even interpret my view in their way and then attack it.

When I make observations of developments in other countries that Singapore can emulate, they attack my suggestion.

I find it a disgraceful for a respected political party to have its brigade to conduct this type of negative activity. It is better for people to have an open discussion, rather than to blindly express views to support a political dogma. Their behavior remind me of the "dogs" that were raised by the dictator Napolean in the novel, "Animal Farm".

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Time to do away with checks

Many consumers can pay regular bills to a few large companies, such as utility companies, using GIRO, AXS, SAM or similar channels.

However, they are not able to use these channels to make once-off payments to small companies. These payments have to be made by check. Small business also use checks for their payments.

I suggest the following changes be made to allow more payments to be made using electronic means to replace the use of checks:

a) allow payments to be made by quoting the bank account number and for the name of the receiving party to be displayed for confirmation
b) allow the payer to enter a number, e.g. the invoice number or customer number, to identify the payment, and for the identity of the payer to be shown to the receiving party
c) allow the receiving party to download details of these payments easily and on demand.

These changes may require some of the existing regulations of the Monetary Authority of Singapore to be changed, e.g. to disclose the name of the other party in the transaction. 

Most banks should be able to implement these changes to their existing systems quite easily and at a low cost. It will encourage more consumers and small business to use use electronic payments, instead of checks.

Do you agree?

Discover: Find the Hidden Code

The title of the book has now been changed to "Discover: Find the Hidden Code". A free sample book is available for download. The puzzles in the book are now checked to have unique answers. You can place an order for the book now.

The benefit from the book - develop your skill in logic and problem solving. This is a skill that Singaporeans are weak at, especially the young ones, and should be strengthened.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Logic puzzles

Learn how to solve the Rubik cube and impress your friends.

Pay bills through ATM

In Indonesia, many people pay their bills and insurance premiums through the ATM or bank transfer, instead of sending a cheque. I am quite impressed with their payment system. Many companies ask their customers to pay directly to their bank account using the ATM. There is a network connecting the ATM of most of the banks, so payment can be made from one bank to another.

This system seems to be quite advanced. In Singapore, our payment system is quite fragmented. Even eNETS is hardly used, and is quite complicated. We are still using archaic methods to make payments, i.e. cheques.

Singapore is using too many cheques

According  to this report, (, the United Kingdom processed 350 million cheques for a population of 60 million, or an average of 6 cheques per person. The number of cheques used in the UK declined by more than 50% over the past 10 years.

Singapore processes 78 million cheques a year, or an average of 16 cheques per person based on a population of 5 million. The usage of cheques in Singapore is 2 1/2 times of the UK. This shows the level of inefficiency that is found in Singapore.

I do not not if the usage of cheques in Singapore has declined during the past ten years. I suspect thta it has not.

There is a plan in the UK to phase out the use of cheques entirely by 2018, recognising that this form of payment is the most expensive to handle. It is time for Singapore to set a similar goal.

Comparing Yaw and Palmer

In an article in The Online Citizen, Joseph Chiang said that Yaw Sin Leong did not respond to the rumors because he wanted to protect the identity of the women. I agree with this view.

In Michael Palmer's case, he said that the girl was named and shamed. This was unfair to he
r. I also agree.

It should be noted that Palmer did not name the girl. Her name was released by her employer, and as a result infringed her privacy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cheques to be phased out by 2018 in UK

I am encouraged by the decision of the Payment Council in the UK to phase out cheque payments by 2018.

The number of cheques processed in the UK declined from 800 million to 350 million over a period of 10 years for a population of 60 million. On average, each person uses 6 cheques a year.

Singapore still process 80 million cheques a year, for a population of 5 million. On average, each person uses
16 cheques a year, or almost 3 times of the UK. Singapore has become quite inefficient over the years.

A more challenging job for PM Lee

When Mr. Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959, he managed a country with a population of 1.6 million people and a relatively small economy. He and his team did an impressive job in developing the country over the next 25 years.

When Mr. Lee Hsien Loong became Prime Minister in 2006, the population had grown 2.5 times and the economy is 8 times bigger (my estimate).

Many people did not like the direction of Singapore since 2006, with rising cost of living, high cost of housing over-crowding and many social problems. But we have to realize that the problems faced by PM Lee is more complex and challenging.

Do you agree?

If you are interested to buy the book, you can indicate your interest here.

DISCOVER the hidden letters

I have now uploaded a new sample book containing 24 puzzles, based on the Master Mind format. Try the new book here.

The new puzzles contain more clues to remove the duplicate solutions (hopefully).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dispense with immigration card

10 December 2012 (not published in Today)

Editor, Voices
Today Paper

A few countries had discontinued the need by visitors to submit an immigration 
or disembarkation card to enter their country. This is unnecessary as most of 
the information on visitors could be obtained from the passport that is scanned
into their computer system. 

Malaysia introduced this new system a few months ago.

Singapore is still using the disembarkation card. I do not know what use is
being made of this card, which must be quite a hassle for visitors. It did ask
for some tourist statistics, which could probably have been better collected
through some other means.

I hope that Singapore can discontinue the need for this outmoded requirement, and
gain the moral authority to urge other countries in ASEAN to dispense with it. This 
will make it easy for Singaporeans to travel to these nearby countries and avoid
the hassle of writing the cards.

Tan Kin Lian

Thursday, December 13, 2012

You can download a free sample copy of the book at

A heavy price for a private affair

When Domiinic Strauss-Khan gave up his job as head of IMF, he was accused of molesting and raping the maid in the hotel room.

Michael Palmer, ex-Speaker of Parliament, had a private, relationship with the then staff of the People's Association. It was consensual on both parties.

I wish to point out the difference in both situations.

I know that many people in Singapore have high expectations of their political leaders. I think that this expectation is unrealistic.

I share the views of a few other people that private matters should be private, and should not be confused with public duties.

I know that in many countries, this type of private relationship do not affect the career of public figures or political leaders.

It is likely that this type of private affairs is fairly common in Singapore, so we should not be hypocrites in expecting our political leaders to be angels.

I am sad that Michael Palmer and his family had to suffer such a heavy price.  I would have preferred that this matter be dealt with by his family as their private matter.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A sample of the book is available free at

Government can help to improve productivity

My letter has been printed in the Straits Times

The Editor
Forum Page
Straits Times

DEPUTY Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has asked small businesses to improve productivity and reduce the reliance on foreign workers ("Tackle labour crunch with productivity push: Tharman"; last Saturday).
Having managed a small business for the past four years, I have found that my staff are needlessly diverted to handling transactions that could have been done more efficiently under a better working environment.
I have to make most payments by manual cheque. Just imagine the time taken to write, sign and mail a cheque; and for the other party to receive it and bank it in; and for the bank to clear it.
I was staggered to learn that about 78 million cheques were processed in 2009.
Most of these were payments made by small businesses.
I must also expend significant time submitting regular returns to the websites of the Central Provident Fund, the Manpower Ministry, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, the Singapore Armed Forces and other government or government-related agencies.
These online processes were created to reduce work for the government agencies but, unfortunately, cause the public to waste time on online submissions as a result of complicated and poorly designed websites.
Retrieving replies from the websites is also quite troublesome.
I have to read a page of instructions just to retrieve a reply from a website, when it could have been sent to me directly by e-mail.
The Infocomm Development Authority had announced the OneInbox project to allow members of the public to receive their replies from government agencies via a centralised website.
Why is this project taking such a long time to be implemented?
Several of my suggestions to the Pro-Enterprise Panel under the Ministry of Trade and Industry were attended to, but did not address the underlying problems.
The Government should look into these issues and improve the working environment for small businesses to operate more efficiently.
Tan Kin Lian

Cover design for my book

I wish to look for someone to design the front and back covers
for my book

Submit your proposal to

Discover the Hidden Letters

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Master Mind (1-20)

Here are 20 puzzles modeled on the popular game, Master Mind.

Here are the answers to the above puzzles.

My financial education journey - Part I (Isabel)

Dear Mr. Tan

After my youngest son goes to army, I suddenly find I have some free time on hand.   All these years of working for the children, setting aside funds for the rainy days, building a home (not exactly in that order), it is a relief to be able to sit back and see how I can improve my financial position.

For years, my husband and I blindly bought into properties and stocks and every time there was nagging fear if it was a good buy.   We are good for falling in love with whatever we buy, good or bad.  So the market goes up and it comes down and we go with the flow.   So you can guess our financial situation.  We have enough to get by but not what you will term as affluent.

Last few months, I decided to start my financial education journey.

First, I bought a few books by Robert Kiyosaki/Kim (his wife)/Donald Trump.  The teaching is quite different from Warren Buffett.  Some of what Robert writes are obviously not suitable for Singapore especially pertaining the tax laws.   I am still puzzled how he can leverage so much and the banks are not calling for top up when the property prices drop.   Know of anyone who was so confident that he sold his house and use the money to buy into many properties just before the recent market crush?

Warren is usually buy and hold or until he thinks the business no longer suits him.  Robert is buy and sell and move on.   I believe both techniques can be applied to maximize the gain.  I do know of someone who do this.   

I went to a preview by a company that teaches value investing.  The cost for the course is >3K.   The course also teaches options (what Robert K and Warren B are good at).   This options trading is available for US stocks not Singapore.   The lecturer is energetic and fun.  But I think this is too much to pay.

I also attended the SGX course preview on “creating a secondary income stream – through long term shares investing & investing in real estate sector (property stokcs/RETIS).   It was a good course and the cost for 12x3 hrs is affordable.  With FA/TA course thrown in.  The course basically teaches fundamentals like time value of money/economic/financial statement/business/industry analysis and investment principles.  I signed up for my husband, my daughter and myself.   I believe opportunities are aplenty but we must be armed and shielded with knowledge in order to grasp these opportunities.   I hope I will be confident the next time opportunities come knocking at the door.

The SGX course on “making trading your source of income” preview is an eye opener.   This is really a short term investing for cash flow.   The lecturer delivered a good clarity in the concept.   However, I do not think this is the right tool for me.   This is too fast paced for my heart. 

I then went for a talk by Philip Capital “How to Profit CONSISTENTLY in Stock Market” where a CK Ee from Asia Charts delivered his speech.  Ee was fun and he got the whole room (must be more than 100+ attendees on a Saturday morning) laughing with glee.  He is very knowledgeable and obviously he walks the talk.  He is realistic and warned the audience that there will be bad and good days.  But important to learn from it all and keep a journal.   He teaches discipline and urges investors to have good understanding of market behavior (the interpretation of news), a good plan (to accurately analyse the market) and when to enter and exit.  He trades for cash flow and capital gain.  If I have a chance, I will like to join his course.

I went to a preview on swiftlet farming.  The trainer showed the swiftlet migration path, Malaysia, Indonesia etc.  The business idea is quite interesting.  Basically they work with locals and hopefully some research institutions and wholesaler.  The swiflet farm is in Sandakan, Sabah. The investors buy the wooden huts and the local will help to maintain and harvest the bird nests.  It will take a few years to have returns which is not guaranteed.   The consortium will buy the bird nests and pay the investors based on market price.   The consortium is hoping to link up with some research institution to give some credibility to the bird nest  harvested from Sabah due to the recent clam down by China due to contamination.   I find this venture a bit expansive and not certain.  The wooden huts are sold at a premium to the investors.   One is never sure if the birds will really nest in your huts.  As the areas are not really easily accessible, one has to depend on the consortium management to ensure no thefts.  At the end of the day, the price of the nest is a question mark.  The plus points are that the consortium delivers the huts and management the scheme and buy the nest from you.  Unless of course, you prefer to consume yourself, but will be hours of back breaking tasks to pick all the down feathers.

I went to two property courses preview.  One is “how to invest in property with little risks” by Azea Property Investment.   The trainer was fun and knowledgeable.  Basically the concept is similar to Robert Kiyosaki/Donald Trump - investing for cash flow.  Some of the properties showcased are impressive.  The lady boss Tan Yang Po is well known.  She is featured in 938 live.  From what I know listening to her via 938 live, she basically has the muscles (together with the students who turned investors) to negotiate for good deals.  I do believe the model works.  She gives much better value than some of the investments brought to Singapore – “3 properties in USA for 200K!” shouted the advertisement in the Straits Times some months ago.   The course is attractive from networking and the opportunity to buy into some of the below the water properties.  There are aplenty such properties in US and EU.  But the skill is to sniff out the good buy and rental generating properties.   I am impressed by two buys – one in London and the other in US near the university.   However, one has to consider that these are oversea properties.   My preference is still to be able to see my investments whenever I want to.

The other property course preview is none other than ERC – Andy Ong.  I went to one of Andy’s course in 2007.   I find him genuine and willing to teach and help.   He is astute in property investment.   Around 2007, he  bought into River Valley property to be used as class rooms.  Recent years, see him investing into commercial.  His portfolio is impressive to people who know his background.  I first heard of him when I took up financial planning course years ago.  At the time, one of the text books specified by FPAS is by him.   I like to reconnect with him and I believe there is much to learn from him.

Then the latest course I went to is by Sam Goh “ A - Z of Investing - Gold & Silver”.  The reason I went is that Robert K has been talking a lot on gold and silver.  With the delink of currency from gold, and the QE infinite, who will not be worried? USD is on the slippery slope to don’t know where and every government is printing money.   There is only one way for commodity to go – up.   I cannot buy and take delivery on oil/coffee/tea/nuts etc.  The only commodity is then gold/silver.  At 25 and be financially free is impressive.  There must be something I can learn from Sam.   The talk content is what I expected.   I learnt something new.  I can actually buy and silver and gold from UOB and I do not have to take delivery but just use the passbook.   I joined his  club membership. 


Different pay of workers

Dear Mr. Tan

There are a lot of commentaries in the media on the China SMRT drivers.

The usual practice in the industry is that the pay is normally different for employees from different countries.  The employers look at the gross expenses and the gross should be more or less the same across.  Take for example, Indian technician with an “S” pass is paid minimum S$2K as per the law (they should have diploma in technology and some years of working in the similar industry).  Work permit holder from Malaysia of “O” level and above is paid $1.6-1.7K as levy is part of the expenses to hire Malaysian.  Same goes for Chinese.

Chinese workers are more vocal and demonstrative/assertive.   While Indian and Bangladeshi are more compliance and submittal. 

The employees have signed to the contract terms.   It is always good HR policy to tell employees that they should not disclose their pay.   This is to prevent the employees from becoming unsatisfied.   It is also true that most executive will not share this info especially if the merit is built into the pay.   For rank and file, they do compare.  So expectation should be set. 

This is just my personal view.


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