Riding out the financial crisis

Chia Ti Lik

I did my second surrender of another insurance policy last week. This time round the net worth was another measly S$6,000 or so. The loss in premiums paid up was probably about S$4,000 plus. I will probably keep this amount close at hand in cold hard cash.

A friend who knew about my dilemma had commented that I did not have much to show after investing in my insurance for a good nine years. This is undeniable. It is a settled fact that I had lost money on the deal.

But the silver lining in my loss, I replied to him, was that even though I lost money, I was at least losing my own money and not money that did not belong to me.

I was referring specifically to the bungled investments unraveling before us over the last few weeks: Temasek Holdings botched investment in ABC Learning – an over-hyped Australian childcare provider – and PAP-run town councils $12-million losses in investments over Lehman-linked products.

There are also other investment decisions of Temasek and GIC that have turned out horribly wrong. And these are the ones that we know about. Are there others which the mainstream media have chosen to whitewash?

These events reveal how gullible those who manage our funds are. At the very least they are not the extra bright sparks that the PAP keeps touting them to be. They are very much like us. The only difference is that are thick-skinned enough to keep portraying themselves as special and paying themselves obscene salaries.

When the error of their ways is pointed out they respond by challenging their critics to come up with alternatives without so much much as acknowledging their wrongs. “What would you have done?” or “Do you think you could have done better?”

The burden is now placed on the critic to produce an alternative direction or solution while the wrongdoer is absolved of his or her act. Such an approach is seriously wrong.

But I remember making the same mistake. I had previously challenged my friend to come up with a better and alternative way of investing his money. He remained silent and did not reply me then.

I have since found out that he had kept his spare change from each day in large glass and earthenware containers, doubling them up as visual displays of his wealth. Today, he may have lost out on a little interest but the capital of his savings remains intact – not a cent less.

I’m not advocating that we should all stash our savings in some piggy bank at home but I think you get my point. Sometimes, listening to the hype-of-the-day and rushing headlong with the masses to make more money from what we have rightfully earned only to burn when financial fires burst from the “investments” may not be such a wise thing to do.

More often than not, investments mirror a game of chess. Time should be taken to consider what is the next best move. For to make the correct decision after careful deliberation is far better than to rush to procure fools’ gold.

My friend is not highly qualified but wisdom showed in his actions. The same cannot be said about the much-touted leaders in the GIC, Temasek and town councils. Given that the Government continues to boast how talented these folks are, their failure to safeguard the people’s money should be investigated and their ability to govern questioned.

Unfortunately because of the authoritarian system all we can do now is to sit back, strap up and steel ourselves for more news of serious financial errors.

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