Me & My Money: Looking to dividend stocks to build long-term wealth

SINGAPORE – Retirement might seem far off for people busy building their careers but financial services executive Saw Ping May is playing the long game and banking on dividend stocks that should generate income come hell or high water.

Ms Saw, 34, used to be a more passive investor and less confident about making her own investment decisions so she initially put her money in funds.

But she is now more assured but remains relatively conservative: “So a significant proportion of my portfolio is allocated to dividend stocks, hence one of my favourite sectors is Singapore Reits (real estate investment trusts) because of their dividend payouts.”

Ms Saw is the founder of digital investment service ProsperUs and group head of strategy and analytics at brokerage CGS-CIMB.

The psychology graduate from Help University in Kuala Lumpur recalls how she did not know how to produce financial reports or do budgeting when she started her career at Maybank in 2009.

“I think it is very important to have strong mentors and I am lucky to have had several female mentors… (they) guided me in financial management, reporting and analysis,” said Ms Saw, who worked at the Malaysian bank in various roles, such as special projects manager in the chief executive’s office at Maybank Investment Bank.

She also became more confident about investing, largely from reading about it and speaking to her colleagues in research and sales during office hours and after work over gin and wine.

“I believe that financial literacy comes not just from looking at data and information, but also from meeting and talking to people in the front line, to get the best of both worlds,” said Ms Saw, who moved to Singapore in 2014 when she became vice-president of international business at Maybank Kim Eng.

She continued living here when she joined CIMB Group in the same year and has held her current role at CGS-CIMB since 2018.

Ms Saw was part of ProsperUs’ founding team in 2019. The digital investment service, which is fully funded and supported by CGS-CIMB, was officially launched in March this year and aims to make multi-asset investing accessible and understandable for young investors.

The unit has a team of around 20 employees with some of the senior team members, like Ms Saw, also holding other responsibilities with CGS-CIMB. It aims to get 10,000 new clients on board this year.

“We are very focused on brand building and client acquisition for this first year. Thereafter, we will focus on building up the AUM (assets under management) of our client base. Outside of Singapore, we do have plans to launch ProsperUs in other markets such as Malaysia,” said Ms Saw, who is not married and does not have kids.

“My friends say I am married to my job and ProsperUs is my baby.”

Q: What’s in your personal portfolio?

A: My actively-managed personal portfolio comprises mostly stocks and some exposure to ETFs (exchange-traded funds).

It is diversified across multi-markets, including Singapore, the United States, China and Hong Kong, Malaysia and even Australia.

Excluding mutual funds, my actively-managed portfolio performance was around 14 per cent last year and around 12 per cent year-to-date.

My personal portfolio also includes insurance plans for protection, and a couple of properties in Malaysia which I hold as part of my long-term retirement portfolio.

I have 15 per cent of my portfolio in stocks and 9 per cent in funds. Real estate and property make up 57 per cent of it and the remaining 19 per cent comprises other assets.

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Q: What are your immediate investment plans?

A: I am a strong believer in the power of compounding. I will continue to invest incrementally into the financial markets as a long-term investor.

I am currently looking to further diversify my portfolio with ETFs or mutual funds that will give exposure to markets that I am less familiar with. I am also actively keeping watch on crypto-currencies.

Q: How did you get interested in investing?

A: Since I graduated from university, I have worked in financial services for over 12 years, of which almost 10 were in investment banking and equities.

Investing is therefore very much a part of my day-to-day life and when you’re passionate about your career and the industry, you will inevitably become an investor.

Q: Describe your investing strategy.

A: I am mostly long-term focused with a mix of passive investing using ETFs and mutual funds and active investing in stocks.

For my active investing portfolio, I have over three quarters allocated to dividend stocks and the remaining one quarter allocated to growth stocks.

Q: How are you planning for retirement?

A: At my age, retirement seems like a long way off. But I have started building up a retirement nest-egg because I want financial freedom. Hence my preference for long-term dividend plays.

However, when the time comes, I do not think I will retire completely. I would want to enter semi-retirement mode, leave the corporate rat race and get involved in social causes or businesses that I am passionate about.

For example, I would not mind investing in a brewery or gin distillery as a retirement gig.

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Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A: My dad is newly retired at the age of 73. He was an engineer who ended up running a snack food factory for a multi-national brand before moving into semi-retirement as an engineering consultant.

My mom was mostly a homemaker while I was growing up and has been enjoying “retirement” since the kids grew up and left for college. I have two older brothers.

My dad wanted to train us in money management from a young age, so while most of my friends had daily allowances, I had a monthly allowance at the age of nine and I had to learn how to budget. We also had “bonuses” when we achieved certain targets for school results, so that certainly prepared me for the corporate world.

Q: Home is now…

A: I rent a two-bedroom apartment near Aljunied. I also have an apartment in Kuala Lumpur and a vacation home in Penang, where I’m from, for weekend getaways.

Q: I drive…

A: I do not drive because Singapore has a great public transportation system and ride-hailing apps have made it convenient to get around without having a car.

Cars are also expensive and not always environmentally friendly. As a single-person household, it would be a waste if I were to drive myself around in Singapore.

Back in Malaysia, I still have my first and only car, a Perodua Myvi, which I bought as a fresh graduate. I drive it around in Penang when I visit my parents.

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Worst and best bets

Q: What has been your biggest investing mistake?

A: My biggest mistake was not investing the moment I started earning a salary when I was a 22-year old fresh graduate.

It was just after the 2008 global financial crisis and if I had just invested a few hundred dollars a month, I could have doubled or tripled my investments by now.

It is important to start investing young and not just leave your money in the bank.

Q: And your best investment?

A: The pandemic has made me realise that some of my best times have been when I was travelling with family and friends.

No amount of money could replace those great memories. Being apart from my loved ones overseas has made every dollar spent on flight tickets home previously – even if just for a weekend – truly worthwhile.

Hence, I would say my best investments have been the money that I spent travelling, seeing new places and gaining experiences and memories with family and friends.

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