Debunking Financial Myths In Singapore [Chills 40 with SG Explained]

Here at The Financial Coconut, we are on a mission to question, analyse and evaluate financial myths in Singapore. Are Singaporeans badly paid? Should asset appreciation be the main reason to buy a HDB flat? Is it true that CPF is going to take away all our money? These are some of the hot topics concerning life in Singapore but think about it: when was the last time you really questioned if they are true or not? To help debunk these myths with us, we have Rovik & Elliot from SG Explained, an explainer podcast on all things Singaporean!

In this lively episode, we dissect some of the most common financial myths in Singapore. We get to hear fresh perspectives from hosts Andrew & Reggie and guests Rovik & Elliot on their personal thoughts on various topics like housing, education, meritocracy, CPF and many more! Chills 40 is an episode that is bound to question your understanding of the Singaporean identity and how it relates to your personal finance!

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podcast Transcript

Andrew: Hello, my name is Andrew, and welcome to another Chills with TFC Session. In this series, we hope to bring on interesting and relevant people to have us learn better from various perspectives. Life is not always about learning from the people you agree with. Different perspectives shape us to be more well-rounded in our thinking. So in the pursuit of the life we love while managing our finances well, let’s explore our Singaporean identity from a finance point of view. 

Our two guests today are from SG Explained, a podcast that explores what makes Singapore, Singapore. They cover a broad spectrum of topics, so today we’re going to come from a finance point of view. That’s our focus for today. 

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During the conversation you will hear us mention Tree Potatoes a lot. Yup, that popular YouTube channel. You can go Google it because one of our guests was from Tree Potatoes, but both of them are content creators doing good work in the podcasting space and beyond. Let’s welcome Rovik and Elliot!

Let’s take a look at the first myth for today. 

Rovik: We’ll start with myth number one: public housing. In our public housing episode, one thing that we discovered was that there is a belief that buying a HDB flat is for asset appreciation. That is not necessarily true!

We actually did some research and we were looking at that narrative that’s been building up since the beginning of our independence and how public housing was given as this… or was spread as this idea of you get to build asset ownership, you get to have a stake in your country up to 99 years. After 99 years, your stake in this country expires.

So that’s interesting. A lot of people bought into that in the 1960s when we became independent. But it’s been more than 50 years and 50 out of 99, it’s more than half already. People are starting to realize that that story about asset appreciation about how buying a HDB flat is an essential part of our Singapore identity, not necessarily true anymore. 

Elliot: Yeah. In fact, we learned about a few things like the buyback scheme where older homes that want to be taken back by the government, for example. It was like “hey, you have 35 years left on this thing. Can we have it back? We’ll pay you some money so that your retirement years are fantastic. Here’s 800 bucks a month or something” … and yeah. 99 years, not so much anymore. All these little things that come in between that made us change our views a little bit. I still think public housing is great, don’t get me wrong. But in terms of whether it’s about asset appreciation, I think that kind of skewed the perspective a little bit more.

Rovik: And for me, basically, that shaped how I approached even my personal finances. 

Reggie: How does it change? I’m definitely sure $800 a month is not enough. 

Elliot: It’s not enough. It’s always just to like… slowly inch closer to… it’s kind of like mortgaging a house, right? 

Rovik: Okay, a very simple idea is that basically when I started my first job, everyone was saying “oh, you got to save up all your money. You got to wait until you get married and then buy that property or BTO or whatever.” 

Reggie: I see that eye rolling. 

Rovik: Obviously, I’m not bought into that and a big reason for it is I guess I studied in the US and in London and I got very exposed to different cultures. One of the big cultures is you leave your home after you graduate, because it’s a way of charting your independence, of starting your own story.

And so, I was actually thinking, what would it look like to rent? The moment I say that, oh my god, everyone will tell me “no, no, no. Stay with your parents until you get married”, and there’s a lot of assumptions there, right? First of all, will I find the love of my life? I don’t know. I hope so, but we don’t know. Secondly, what’s wrong with renting? What’s wrong with starting your independence early, starting to build your sense of self. 

So basically, two and a half years ago, I decided to rent because I was thinking to myself this whole narrative around asset appreciation…

Reggie: Wait, because I think this is important. The narrative is you’ll find your partner and then two of you will go to get your BTO and blah, blah, blah, all that jazz. If you think about it, if you’ve never lived your partner ever, like you’re living your mom and he’s living with dad or whatever. 

Rovik: Yeah. 

Reggie: And then you never lived together ever and if we’re going to commit to this thing, then suddenly it’s like a big leap all the way forward. 

Elliot: Financially, that sounds like a risk already. 

Reggie: Yeah, huge risk for sure.

Elliot: In financial terms, this relationship is… 

Andrew: financially and personally… 

Elliot: Yeah, it’s a very risky business. 

Rovik: And it becomes such a big financial anchor as well? Like when you’re getting married and if anything happens… I know people who stay in problematic marriages or relationships just because… 

Reggie: Of the house, all those things. If you think about it, 800 bucks a month or a 1000 bucks a month in which you get a room, you don’t get a whole apartment.

Rovik: Yeah, unless you’re finance pro. 

Reggie: If you think about it, if it’s you and your partner, a thousand bucks a month, it’s okay. That’s a very low bar to experiment to see if we could live together. 

Rovik: Yeah. 

Reggie: I think that’s way more important than just saving that $500 going into a BTO (Build-To-Order). I was like really?

Rovik: And even if you’re not in a relationship, it’s a good way to build your network in the city which is what I do. I live right in the city. I get to meet a lot of people. 

Reggie: Which part of the city? Robertson?

Rovik: Duxton. 

Reggie: Ahhhh! Wink wink…

Rovik: I rented the Pinnacle. 

Reggie: Woo… what are we doing here, what are we doing here in Golden Mile? We should be in the Pinnacle today, recording! 

Rovik: I don’t have your setup lah. 

Reggie: It’s okay. I wanna see the view! Hey Rovik, you haven’t even invited me to the Pinnacle before, you know? 

All: Ohhhh. 

Rovik: I feel like I have, Elliot. You just refuse to… 

Elliot: We always meet next door, not at the Pinnacle itself…

Andrew: Well, the thing about renting is that there’s two narratives. Number one is it doesn’t fit into the traditional Asian perspective of taking care of parents? You might or might not agree with that. Number two is the financial aspect because well, you can move out and be independent but people are going to be thinking it’s not worth it. Money down the drain. 

Rovik: That’s exactly what our podcast was challenging. What does it mean to be worth it? Are you valuating the joy of having your own space? Are you valuing that opportunity cost of not having to deal with some of the drama at home and all of that. 

Reggie: That is so loaded. 

Elliot: You hear the angst in his voice. 

Andrew: At this point in time, we want to call out to Rovik’s mum as part of the program… 

Reggie: But the whole idea about HDB, not an asset. Recently, we’ve been trying to get HDB on the show. By the way, shout out to HDB again, please come on the show and put out your case and all. It was so hard. They are one of the hardest agencies to get. I want to record this so that they know. People want to hear from them. 

I actually have their email saying that yeah, “we’re not supportive of the whole asset appreciation kind of thing. This is a social housing policy, blah, blah, blah.” 

Rovik: Yeah. 

Reggie: But the way BTOs were priced has changed… 

Rovik: It has.

Reggie: … from the very original way of pricing BTO, which is construction costs adding a premium. Now, it’s land value with a discount. So how can you say that as a social housing policy, you’re not after asset appreciation, you’re not trying to get people to look at as an investment but you peg it to some value, which is something that appreciates, assuming we keep expanding. So that is like… 

Elliot: It’s interesting because I recently bought my house, my first home with my wife. It was always a toss up between getting a BTO which in my eyes was… because we went through this before… was about do I want to buy something that has value in, let’s say five to 10 years time before I want to flip it? 

In the end, we opted to get a resale because of the price. The price was significantly lower. A lot more grants have been pushed in order to get young couples to buy resale flats. Even in terms of say, looking at the landscape of any sort of a community, I bought one in Bedok. It was definitely worth the money for a mature estate. I love mature estate. 

Andrew: East is awesome. 

Elliot: East is the best.

Reggie: Okay. Lifelong Eastie, just saying. I live in Tampines… 

Andrew: Traitor. 

Reggie: No no… woah. 

Andrew: Where are you now? 

Reggie: Relax. But yeah, I live in Serangoon now and… 

Elliot: You’re still north east. 

Reggie: Okay, wait wait. Let me make my case. I think the east versus west debate is just stupid. 

Elliot: It’s the only debate we have. 

Reggie: It’s so different and like what Elliott said, you picked a mature estate. A mature estate has its own identity so you cannot compare Beauty World to Pasir Ris. Beauty World is amazing for its own identity, Pasir Ris is amazing for its own identity. That’s the beauty of mature estate. When compared to a BTO, everybody is like… you don’t know who’s coming in. You don’t know what’s going to happen. 

Elliot: It’s fresh. 

Reggie: It’s fresh.

Andrew: Now all BTOs look the same nowadays in terms of design. 

Reggie: Looks like every single park. Do you know that we have 400 parks or something? I did a search on a certain day. How many parks do you think Singapore has? Singapore has about 400 parks. I was like really? I realized even that small little strip of land by the drain… 

Rovik: Oh that’s a park? 

Elliot: That’s considered a park. 

Reggie: Or that square on Ann Siang Hill? 

Rovik: Right, right. 

Reggie: That’s a park. Ann Siang Hill Park. 

Elliot: What? Oh that little windy bend that you climb up? 

Rovik: I guess you can say that that is a park. 

Elliot: It’s barely a park, bro. They can’t park anything there. It’s too small. 

Andrew: My guess is it’s a park if it’s under Nparks. That’s how you define it. 

Elliot: Yeah. They define it by their territory, I suppose. 

Rovik: I’ll just add one bonus piece. We recorded the public housing episode in 2018 when we first started. A lot of stuff has happened, including the announcement of the waterfront kind of public housing areas that they wanted to build. I think that’s where we’re starting to see an evolution in the position because a lot of the public consultation that’s come out basically has said we don’t want this to be focused on asset appreciation. We want this to be focused on, as you said, social housing and then now there’s a whole conversation around ethnic integration and the implication between this asset appreciation mindset and I guess the dynamics of race. So I think it’s evolving and it’s probably a good thing that in our podcast, we started by even challenging that very premise and think as an appreciation, maybe not so relevant anymore.

Reggie: Yeah, yeah. I do think so. 

Andrew: That’s the first myth that they have shared. 

Reggie: Definitely not for that whole HDB … 

Andrew: Just rethink it if you are thinking of getting a HDB for asset appreciation. Explore the premise… 

Reggie: Let me just put it to you this way. If a $500 000 Bidadari BTO becomes a million in 10 years, there’ll be riots on the streets. It’s like… dude, it’s like you know…

Elliot: It’s just a lottery. 

Reggie: Everything is going on a million. PAP will lose their votes. People will be very unhappy. There’ll be more dissonance. With just the basic understanding of politics and society, you know that this thing will… it’s hard to exist. Does not mean it’s impossible, it’s just improbable. So you probably see a lot of policies that will come in to depress. Okay… these kinds of things, when you record, you’re trying to predict 10 years later, it will come back and bite me. You see…

Andrew: It’s in the archives. 

Elliot: You are going on record. But I think you’re right. It’s a watershed moment, I think… like the generational shift especially for us. Speaking of generational shift, I thought we would want to bust this myth as well. 

Rovik: Next one.

Elliot: The next one, which is on education. This is how it goes: education is equally accessible to all students in Singapore, something that we’ve all heard in social studies textbooks. 

Rovik: Every school a good school. 

Elliot: Every school a good school. Number one… 

Reggie: That was so loaded.

Andrew: You are saying it as it is, right? 

Elliot: That’s what I’ve heard from the grapevine. Every school a good school. But in our episode that we did, actually research has shown that more affluent families have access to better opportunities as they are in “tier one schools” where programs such as GEP, IP, those things exist. Tuition also provides like a unfair advantage for those who can afford to pay for it. We actually went through quite a lot of details with even SEP schools, the GEP schools. 

Rovik: We interviewed a gifted education student. 

Elliot: Yeah. 

Rovik: Were you in that episode? 

Elliot: No, I was not in this episode. 

Reggie: He’s not gifted enough. 

Elliot: I was afraid that the guy would just laugh at me, like “I don’t wanna be here”.

Rovik: We talked to someone in the gifted education program and he told us basically that the amount of opportunities that they get, a lot of it is just disproportionate. But outcomes wise, in terms of wealth and all of this kind of stuff that hasn’t really been that much data around like whether GEP necessarily ties to better income, but within the education system, yeah you are absolutely right. 

Reggie: There is one study. I can’t remember exactly the name of the study, but it was done in 2011 talking about social mobility like what kind of family are you born into… like class, and what are your chances of moving up? There is one study by this one guy from IPS. Can’t remember what’s the name but yeah. 

Rovik: So I think even within that gifted education episode, what we found fascinating was that… it’s kinda sad. 

Elliot: Well, let’s think about it… tie in to meritocracy. One of our favourite buzzwords. 

Rovik: We’re looking at a Singapore identity. We have to look at meritocracy. 

Elliot: One of the core tenets I would say of the Singapore identity. 

Reggie: Does not exist. 

Andrew: Wait, explain yourself. Do you truly believe that it does not exist in Singapore? 

Reggie: I believe it doesn’t exist because okay… a few things, right? One thing is I’m not a big fan of meritocracy. At its core of its idea, meritocracy is a slavery concept where there are a bunch of elites and masters that decide what is considered merit. What is meritable? If you think about it, it’s quite true. The government decides what is considered merit and then they will fund whatever they think is meritable, which is why for the longest time ever, the arts, the sports, a lot of all these things… 

Andrew: Not pragmatic. 

Reggie: Not pragmatic. Yeah, all in the name of pragmatism and efficiency because these things, they don’t fall into the narrative of what is considered meritable. You can run 500m… 400m, sorry. Run 400m, you will be very fast. I don’t care unless you win the Olympics. 

Andrew: Meritocracy taken to the extreme leads to a technocratic kind of society? Or…

Reggie: That’s a little bit of that, but more importantly, it’s like why must there be a bunch of people that decide what is considered meritable as compared to social discourse and more ways of valuing an individual compared to the centralized structure of “oh, you know, this is considered good” so you should strive for it. 

To me, that is fundamentally problematic, but also because of pay to play. I think pay to play is a very big problem today. You see, a lot of loaded… pay to play is a very big problem, right? If you come from a family and it’s a classic situation, it’s not unique to Singapore, but we’re definitely at a crossroads where as long as you run a particular game for a long enough period of time, there will be some people that succeed more than the others and then their success allow them to continue to spin off and give their kids, the next generation and the next generation more advantages. So essentially, pay to play becomes a problem and when to play enters the game, meritocracy fails. Or the idea of… 

Rovik: Purely based on merit. 

Reggie: … purely based on how smart you are as an individual collapses. 

Andrew: Okay. I want to take this chance to bring up China because we’ve mentioned it a few times on our TFC podcasts, because China is cracking down on education. They’re coming in, saying that you have to be non-profit because it’s so stressful, it’s so competitive and one of the reasons why is because of the inequality when it comes to education and number two, because of the broader policy that they want to encourage higher birth rate. If it’s expensive to take care of your kids and if education is expensive, that’s one of the reasons preventing people from wanting more kids, which is quite similar to the Singapore story. 

Rovik: People are scared of getting into… thinking about family planning, because when they add up the cost, the biggest cost beyond your initial childcare is education.

Andrew: Yeah, but the CCP can just come in and say “I’m going to make all education non-profit.” 

Reggie: Clarification: the CCP is not a market economy. It’s a centralized planned economy with markets. I think that is something that is very important because a lot of people, when they look at the Chinese, the CCP’s way of managing, they will be like “wah, can they do that?” I was like yeah, that’s how they do it. 

In Singapore, we’re somewhere in between. We are a little bit more sophisticated in the sense that we don’t tell you to vaccinate, but we give you a vaccine passport. We will create incentives to build people towards a certain direction.

We don’t tell you you need to have kids, but we make sure that in order to get a HDB, you need to marry and all that kind of stuff. We are a little bit more sophisticated when it comes to incentivizing the carrot and stick structure. But the CCP is centrally planned. 

Andrew: Yeah, so it seems to me that they have more power in effecting change because they literally can change policies like that whereas in Singapore, I don’t think the government wants to have the reputation of being too authoritative. 

Reggie: Of course. We are not authoritarian. I need to put it up. We are not authoritarian but just very good at playing this game. 

Elliot: I think the carrot and stick analogy is very strong in order to train you, Pavlovian-ly speaking… just get you to do the things that would benefit their idea of a healthier and better society. 

Rovik: You want a chocolate, Elliot? 

Elliot: Always. I don’t know why I want it, I just know I want it. I think it’s interesting because when we think of meritocracy, at least from where I stand and especially when it comes to education, it’s something that you want to… at a very basic level, teach kids that, just work hard and your merits will play off.

It’s just that in reality, as an adult, you realize the flaws in that sort of logic. Does it help? When i was a kid and people were like “don’t worry about what the other guy can do.” Meritocracy dictates that if you work hard, you’re going to get exactly what you deserve. I felt that was very encouraging to a not so bright student such as myself so I can see the flip side.

Rovik: I would also add… I really liked what you said, Reggie, because I think the point around merit and what defines merit is super important because we’ve done episodes with soccer players. We’ve done episodes with art curators. We’ve done episodes with freelancers and they have all fought to basically have their version of merit be recognized and to fight for their careers. It’s because society has a very hard time defining that as merit. 

And so, I liked that idea of… first of all, expanding what meritocracy entails, but then secondly, also really challenging the narrative that things are naturally meritocratic, right? Because we need to keep looking out for whether the people at any wrung in our society, can they get access to opportunities? If they want it, can they climb that up? I struggle with… when we did this episode, I was really frustrated because I think every time you go out and you say “is Singapore really meritocratic?”, everyone feels like they need to defend that line and I’m saying, we’re not trying to. We are not undermining anything. We’re saying we want the best for everyone. We want you to be recognized for your merit, but let’s broaden that definition. Let’s make sure we’re actually giving you an opportunity. We can’t just say.. yeah, we don’t want only the rich or only the ones who have opportunity are only the ones who have wealth and therefore pay to play to be able to succeed in our society. 

Elliot: That’s a great phrase, by the way. Pay to play. It’s just… 

Rovik: I know. That’s you, Reggie. 

Elliot: I hope the Gen Z pick it up, honestly. Come on, Gen Z. I believe in you.

Reggie: It’s a gaming thing, right? You pay to play. That’s very problem… 

Andrew: On the flip side, if you don’t pay, you can’t play it.

Reggie: Yeah, exactly. That was what I wanted to add. You can define your own narrative. You can do your own thing and all that jazz, but recognize that the moment you attempt to define your own narrative, you’re essentially taking a route with very little resources because the centrally planned narrative has the most resources. They put money into wherever they believe and if you are the governance, you would also do that. It’s no different from anyone else. 

As the governance, as the people in power, you decide that this is meritable? Okay, we’ll invest in and if you decide to swim the other way, then you jolly well be able to swim on your own and that’s a real uphill battle. 

Andrew: Okay. So I guess in your episode, you’re not really seeing that we don’t have meritocracy or there’s no story of social mobility? 

Rovik: We tend not to take such hardline positions. 

Elliot: There’s always an exploration of what we know naturally… I would say “naturally” in open inverted commas… beliefs. What are some of the prevalent narratives that kind of hits society, things that you and I, for some reason, haven’t questioned in maybe a decade or so and then examine it under a more… i would say tighter lens, knowing what we know today. 

Rovik: Yeah. All right. Do you want to go to the next myth? One of the common tropes is that Singaporeans are basically badly paid. We’re not as well paid as we should be. I think that comes across in some of the stuff you see on Hardwarezone, some of the stuff you see on Facebook. It’s actually a bit of a mixed bag, so we’ll unpack it. 

We did a whole episode on salaries. This was actually from our previous co host. Willie loves economic topics and so he was the one who proposed this one. The idea of this… basically, nuance wise, it depends on the sector, right? On average, Singapore’s wage share of the GDP, which is around 40% is lower than other developed cities. But one could also say this is not indicated as it doesn’t factor in purchasing power. Price of food is cheaper, price of transportation is cheaper, higher tax rates. 

Reggie: I think people would be like really? 

Andrew: Compared to? 

Rovik: Compared to London, compared to New York where actually you’re looking… you’re basically comparing Singapore to other metropolitan cities. Exactly. We’re not comparing ourselves to tier two, tier three cities in Southeast Asia, because… 

Elliot: The standard of living is very different and the access to jobs… 

Rovik: Yes. But where this comparison actually is interesting and I guess it’s a fair conversation is in sectors, such as technology where Singapore is trying to become a tech hub, trying to get all the software developers and tech investors. Singaporeans are paid less than other global cities like Silicon Valley in San Francisco or in California and even in London.

It’s the same for startup founders. Glints did a… so this is not in our episode, but this is recent. Glnts basically did a comparison of the startup ecosystem and they found that the startup founders are pretty drastically underpaid in Singapore as well. 

Reggie: Hear, hear. 

Rovik: But what’s interesting is that senior roles, on the other hand. So when you sort of… underpaid, but when you hit a senior role, which I guess takes you 20 to 30 years then you start to get competitive rates compared to other cities. This is partially because by that point, you’re having much broader coverage. You are pegged to other senior roles in companies like multinational structure and if you think about it as a benchmark, you just have to look at our ministers’ pays. Because our ministers’ pays are pegged to our top 1000 earners in Singapore. If you want to know what our top CEOs and C-suites are getting paid, just look at the ministers and benchmark from it.

So yeah, it’s interesting because it does show that starting off… and I guess the core income earners in Singapore, yeah you could argue that we’re not getting paid as much and we can have a discussion on why. One could argue it’s changing as well. Maybe in 10, 15 years, we could be getting paid just as much as other cities, but you would also expect inflation to follow with that.

Reggie: What about unions? Union is an interesting thing, right? In Singapore, we say that we have unions, but honestly, I don’t know what the unions are doing. 

Elliot: Wait, we have unions? 

Reggie: Shout out to Richard. Yeah, NTUC…

Rovik: It sounds like we should do an episode on union.

Elliot: NTUC… 

Reggie: It’s okay. Sheng Siong not bad. Sheng Siong not bad. 

Andrew: Shoutout to any supermarkets who want to sponsor the episode. 

Reggie: We are name dropping. We need sponsors. The thing about unions is exactly the missing part in the discussion of wage. Because we have this idea here in Singapore where everything is closed door negotiated… “oh yeah, I hear you. I also hear you. I also hear you and I will tell all of you, we’ll take this.” 

Andrew: Let me bring up the tripartite… 

Reggie: Yeah, tripartite. That’s why it’s 3 people. Are the unions not powerful enough to negotiate? Because I have moved away from this idea that wage is solely a demand supply mechanism. It’s a lot about power and negotiation. How much can you fight? 

Rovik: Yep. 

Reggie: So if the unions are not active and they don’t have the fangs, they don’t have the hustle to fight for wage growth, then yeah. Everything will become the same idea of bit by bit. “We’ll push, we’ll renegotiate” again and again and again in the name of stability and peace and blah, blah, blah. 

Rovik: Yeah. So it’s interesting. I think Singapore has a very unique context in that regard. 

Reggie: I challenge all unique contexts in Singapore. Singapore always uses this thing. When we are doing better than other people will say “yeah you see? Singapore’s amazing. We’re hitting above our weight.” When we are not, we’ll say “oh, you know Singapore is unique. We shouldn’t compare with other people. I hate this. 

Rovik: I hear you. Maybe I’ll clarify. I’m saying that the way we apply ourselves is unique, not that we necessarily have a unique set of circumstances that lead to our policy. The first is that our focus on wage growth is on very specific sectors. They look at very low income sectors. I think they’ve demarcated it on their website around the progressive wage model. 

Andrew: Lets talk about the progressive wage model. 

Rovik: It’s like security guards, janitorial staff and cleaners and all this kind of stuff and they’re basically saying we’ve demarcated certain sectors and we’re going to look at what wage progression looks like. But you’re right that for the rest of our very broad and wide economy, they don’t look at it. They argue that it’s market demand and supply which we can have a conversation around. 

The second thing is about the role of unions which I think is interesting. One would imagine… I guess you look at the US a lot and maybe parts of Europe, around what union practice should be like. Singapore’s unions actually don’t necessarily fight for wage. They focus on a couple of key areas. One of the biggest ones is retrenchment. They basically make sure that if you are undergoing retrenchment, you do it with consideration for your workers and you make sure that there’s fair remuneration, but even then it’s a negotiation process. 

But actually, in terms of lobbying for wage increases and all of that, it’s not within the mandate. So it’s a very interesting decision within the Singapore ecosystem to not fight for that because they see that as market demand, market supply. That is why you don’t see as much of the unions in the news, basically going out and asking for pay increases or going on strike. If they do go on a strike, it’s not… 

Reggie: Other than SIA, right? 

Rovik: It’s not… it’s very… 

Reggie: PIlot union. They are infamous. Shout out to you guys.

Andrew: What a great way to fly. 

Reggie: What a great way to fly. 

Rovik: So in terms of that aspect, yes… in terms of the workers having a lobbying platform in order to fight for wage increases. The other factor is a regional depression. Basically, who are we competing against? We are not competing against London and New York. We’re competing against Jakarta. 

Reggie: Why aren’t we competing with London and New York? 

Andrew: When we talk about wage.

Rovik: Because if you’re accessing Asia, you basically can choose to do it from London and then struggle with all the the cost of distance.

Reggie: No, I think it’s more like if I am deciding to enter Europe, the discussion will be between London, Manchester, Paris, what have you. I’m comparing across different cities in Europe and decide okay, I’m going to do it here in some level. I get that point that’s coming from you. But if we’re really taking the stance that we are the best place to go to, then shouldn’t our people compare with London, New York, Silicon Valley, Shanghai, some of these bigger cities as compared to Jakarta. Like, really? You want to compare with Jakarta? Okay, don’t flame me. Not against Jakarta. 

Andrew: Because top engineers and developers are coming from places like Vietnam, Thailand. 

Reggie: Yeah, they come for a reason. 

Andrew: And their pay is anecdotally lower than Singaporeans. 

Reggie: I’m super against the flood of cheap labour. I think the excess of cheap labour definitely pushes the wage negotiation power. 

Rovik: I wouldn’t even say it’s flood of cheap labour into Singapore. I would even say it’s the company’s ability to arbitrage around Southeast Asia. They can say “we’ll keep some of our key roles here, but then actually, everything in the middle, we’ll put it in Kuala Lumpur.

Elliot: Yeah. I mean, that’s the same thing that let’s say, a lot of startups nowadays… 

Reggie: That’s what I do also. 

Elliot: Same, as in I have a branch office right in KL as well. A lot of my… the blue collar jobs, so to speak, kind of stay in KL and then management, we generally think as the strategic, the front facing guys, the brains behind the operations, they kind of sit here. Of course, compare wage, one for one or whatever, I would pay a senior marketing guy… let’s say 10 grand SGD, I would pay 10 grand RM in KL. 

It’s a very strange way of looking at this, but we are comparing not one to one kind of jobs. There is a very strong brain drain that I feel that happens regionally because Singapore tends to want to attract that kind of hub and it wants to say oh, we are the branch… like the international space, but especially English being our lingua franca, for example, we’ll speak it and kind of house it.

So we have this very clean face, I would say, most of the time compared to let’s say, doing business in Vietnam, which we’ve tried before but it’s just not as sexy. In the past 20 years, I think Singapore has always had that stronger air of presence moving into a global market.

Rovik: Yeah, yeah. 

Andrew: I’ll take a step back and go back to the original myth we are busting, which is Singaporeans workers. If you listen to online chatter long enough, Singaporean workers are not paid well enough but now we are talking about we could be overly paid or more expensive than other workers because of course, it depends on sectors, depends on positions, right?

Rovik: Yeah. So this… I wouldn’t say we’ve busted the myth. I would say… 

Elliot: I think we complicated the myth. 

Rovik: We’ve added some nuance to it, which is what [indiscernible] does. 

Elliot: The myth perpetuates itself but then we just find other ways to think about it and also see why these things appear in the first place, like why this narrative stem out in the beginning. 

Reggie: I definitely think Singaporeans should get out of Singapore. Go out, explore the world, see what’s out there. I have a lot of friends that are working in Israel, Shanghai, Tokyo. So amazing, because it’s not just about life there is definitely better, but life there is different. Novelty is something that I think we don’t have here. 

Elliot: That I would agree, 100%. 

Reggie: You can’t shift to another city, like where? Tampines to where? Toa Payoh? 

Andrew: East to west? 

Reggie: That’s why the constant… but yeah. So I think the value of novelty and experience is absent here. If you’re young, professional, you got something going, hey, go out there. Check out the world. See what’s out there for you before you make a decision. You don’t need to be here all your life. 

Elliot: You just hold a passport here and live somewhere else. Like you’re… 

Reggie: Amazing. 

Rovik: Yeah, I would… yeah just a very quick point on that. I would definitely agree that when you look at New York, London, even Hong Kong, the reason why a lot of them even get paid much better is because they get regional mandates or global mandates from the very beginning. If you’re in a New York office, you’re very likely looking after Europe, Middle East from New York whereas from Singapore, a lot of times looking after Asia in itself. A lot of people struggle with that and then to go beyond Asia is a whole new boundary. I think people need to push themselves to want to take on those mandates as well. 

Reggie: Yeah, get out… not in a bad way. Go out there, explore and see what’s for you.

Rovik: All right. Shall we do the next myth? 

Elliot: Yeah. Okay. We have a couple of more. We can do this. This was something which I learnt earlier on just by predicating. CPF gives you no options over a sum of your monies. 

Rovik: People basically say you’re locking your CPF, right. 

Elliot: Yes. We actually think that there’s a deluge of options. How do you use… for example, your Ordinary Account for housing, investments… whether to put your money in your Ordinary Account or Special Account? 

Reggie: Do you invest with your OA? 

Elliot: No, I don’t earn enough? I put it all into my resale flat, basically.

Andrew: Do you wipe it out? 

Elliot: Yeah, I wiped it out. 

Andrew: You have to leave $20k, right? 

Elliot: Yeah. So I basically just make ends meet, but I don’t have to pay any cash for my house, which is a great thing. But I think CPF is a very complex topic and this episode that we did actually, it was to help us understand a little bit more about the flexibility of CPF for something that which we’ve… if you have Chinese parents like I do, they will always drill into your head that CPF has strict and stringent rules. My Chinese parents are definitely like that. May not apply to all… 

Reggie: Just want to shout out. Do your parents… 

Rovik: My parents kind of leave my personal… 

Reggie: Clarification… I was like really? Chinese only? 

Andrew: “I obviously don’t have Chinese parents”. I thought he was going to say that. 

Rovik: I feel like Asian parents probably do that. 

Reggie: Really? 

Rovik: But my parents are unique in that they give me some agency over my own personal finances.

Andrew: What is their take on CPF compared to Elliot’s parents? 

Rovik: Well, they basically say try to maximize it, try to use it. The whole point is that CPF is in a vortex which your money goes into and doesn’t… you don’t see it, right? You can see it as a different sort of a bank account. A bank account with a unique set of rules, but still options and permutations you can work with. 

For example, whether you want to go into investments, whether you want to put it into your SA and get a much higher interest rate. These are choices that sometimes I get paralyzed by as well. I’m like “what is going to be the opportunity cost if I move my money from my OA to my SA? What’s going to be the opportunity cost if I start buying property and can I pay back the interest later on?” And so I would say that very premise of “there are no options for your CPF” prevents you from actually thinking about some of the opportunities that exists. 

Elliot: Yeah, but actually what we found there was an abundance of options. 

Reggie: I think there are too many. 

Elliot: Yes, the thing is that there are too many so that people generally don’t maximize the worth of it. What was, I guess translated and passed down from generations was that it’s a very stringent… and you just don’t touch that money until you’re like… withdrawal age.

But in reality, we saw that there were things that you could do with your CPF that were actively been trying out… sorry. They were actively trying to promote for you to invest it. There’s a huge call. In fact, this year’s campaign from CPF were specifically to get you to try some simpler options compared to other years where you just leave it inside and let it rot. 

Reggie: Oh, yeah. Shout out to our many sponsors. Thank you. 

Andrew: “You can invest your CPF in…” Inserts sponsors. 

Reggie: Inserts sponsors. Anyway, if anyone of you want to sponsor, yes… 

Rovik: We are also open. We can do a multi series campaign. 

Elliot: I think that’s really fun. Maybe just pick your brains since I’m not a genius on this, but are there simple entry options for people to think or find out about CPF since you guys kind of talk about the financial aspect of investment a lot of the times.

Reggie: I think CPF has definitely churned a lot of materials these days. They have a website. I can’t remember exactly what’s the name of the website. 

Andrew: They changed the way they give you your annual report. Every year, you will get a letter and they changed it to… more graphical. It helps you to understand. 

Reggie: There is an app. Do you know? 

Rovik: Yeah, I use the app. 

Elliot: You use the app? 

Rovik: Because… 

Reggie: The UI is way better than pieces of paper. 

Rovik: I like the app. 

Reggie: I think that’s a good push with the whole UI. It gives you a better understanding of what’s going on. 

Andrew: Sidenote: before I would go to uni after NS… so I was working part-time at CPF for a short period of time. Back then, there was some… I forgot. So basically, you get some money through your CPF… what grant and what scheme? That was so long ago, there’s like a past lifetime. And so I was there. So I think the thing about CPF is it’s so complicated, it’s so hard to explain. Every day, I have people coming in to ask questions about their CPF and most of them are elderly. It’s not easy to explain, let alone understand it. 

There’s so much complexity built into the system and I can understand why because at first, you have a basic system and then after that, you have to take into account a scenario and therefore the policymakers have to add this and add that and now it’s just a whole convoluted mess.

Reggie: Yeah. I just want to put it out there that CPF is not like fibre broadband. It’s not like… 

Elliot: It’s not plug and play. 

Reggie: It’s not like “oh, we built this out of nothing.” It’s more like a mutated mushroom or something. 

Rovik: It’s an interesting tension between wanting to give you flexibility within some parameters and then information overload and option overload where basically…what is it called? Something paralysis… 

Elliot: Choice paralysis? 

Rovik: Choice paralysis… and so I think that’s where this myth comes about because people say it’s too confusing. You just want to keep my money and therefore, I can’t do anything with it. I get that, I can sympathize with that.

Elliot: I’m very sure if people can make a flow chart about who can dine out during this period of time, we can definitely do a flowchart. 

Rovik: To be fair, those flowcharts aren’t even that great. 

Reggie: But I do think the CPF team is trying. I really feel… I’m not saying because we are friends but it’s like I really can tell that… 

Rovik: No, I agree. 

Reggie: They’re putting a lot of information. 

Andrew: CPF to me is like insurance. I sit down with my insurance agent and understand what this policy is about. Two weeks later, I’ll forget everything that was mentioned during the conversation. There and then, I understand it. Like CPF, there and then if you sit down and if you go to a CPF office, you can sit down with them. They’re very helpful. They will really… 

Elliot: They will go through the steps and everything. 

Andrew: Yeah, they will really explain it to you. But two weeks later, you’re like okay, what was that conversation about? Cause it’s just not easy to hold all this information in your head unless you are reviewing them every now and then.

Elliot: I think it’s a lot of like creative accounting and financing basically because when I was trying to finance my house, someone explained to me what was the best way to go about paying through my OA. I was like okay, this seems pretty straightforward the way you’re explaining it. But if I had to tell Rovik about what it was… 

Rovik: On the podcast? 

Elliot: On the podcast? Yeah, I’m going to record whatever the person said and play it on the mic. 

Andrew: You have to add a disclaimer called “do your own research”.

Reggie: “This is not financial advice.” 

Rovik: Why don’t we invite them onto our podcast? 

Reggie: Fair enough. I’d rather do that. 

Andrew: Okay, so we have to unravel this beast. 

Reggie: We’re releasing a lot of episodes around CPF. We’re also doing some cross-pollination with CPF. Let’s talk CPF, some collab here and there. 

Andrew: Build up the knowledge. 

Reggie: Yeah. 

Andrew: Could be helpful. 

Reggie: It’s not as complicated as… after a while. After a while, it’s less complicated. There’s the basic stuff and then there’s more… 

Elliot: I think what was interesting about the myth is actually people didn’t think it was that complicated before. If you ask someone from like Gen X or maybe a boomer age, they will probably say CPF is straightforward. Put some of your money in there every month, you’re forced to deposit. You reach withdrawal age and you get your money back. In reality, it’s not that clean cut. We can’t even go to our withdrawal age and just take the money straight out back.

Rovik: You need to have above a minimum sum and all this kind of stuff. 

Elliot: There’s all these little caveats here and there that we, in our generation, we have to play around and downloading that information to be smart about it is the difficult bit. 

Right. 

Reggie: Yeah, and I think CPF is not after your money. I think that’s something that people need to recognize. I know a lot of people are saying “you know CPF want to eat your money” and all that shit. 

Rovik: But I just don’t understand how that makes sense. 

Reggie: I just want to put it out there that if you can trust a for-profit financial institution, whether is it your insurance company, your brokers, and what have you, then I think you can extend that same trust to CPF because CPF has an additional layer of social goals and political goals. That’s a reality, right? If CPF is messed up, you can be certain that the next round of election is gonna… 

Elliot: It’s not going to be the same.

Reggie: It’s not going to be the same. They actually have more vested… they are more invested in you than you believe. I think that’s something to point out.

Andrew: Yeah, okay. All right, let’s go to… 

Elliot: The last point. 

Andrew: One last myth, and I want to talk about content creator since we have content creators in the house, social media influencers. Okay, I’ll bring out the myth, Rovik can debunk it. Yeah the three of you… He has gone the intellectual route now, Elliot. 

Elliot: Pseudo, pseudo. 

Andrew: Pseudo intellectual. 

Reggie: Moving away from… 

Andrew: So the myth is content creators or social media influencers don’t have to pay as much tax as they get paid in goodies. Tell us about it. Personal experience. 

Rovik: To be fair, we don’t get as many goodies. 

Andrew: Tree Potatoes get more, right? 

Elliot: I got so many goodies back in the day. 

Rovik: I will see your Instagram and you post all kinds of… do you know one of my favourite things that Elliot did was back in his heyday as a YouTuber, he posted this random picture of just a floor. I remember being right next to him when he had posted it and it was just the floor, literally nothing. It got a couple of thousand likes. I was just like, how ridiculous is it? 

Elliot: I was trying to prove a point like hey, if i took a picture of the floor, I’m pretty sure a couple thousand people will like it and comment on it. 

Andrew: Influential. 

Elliot: I was just like “cool floor.” 

Reggie: That’s like what the hell? 

Rovik: That’s how ridiculous I thought the influencer economy was. 

Andrew: No, there must be something deeper to the floor. 

Elliot: People were asking me like “what is this floor about? What is this picture about?” and I was like “it’s the floor”. They were like no. 

Rovik: Yeah, and people would give him goodies and all this kind of stuff and so… I mean, these days, even when we were doing The Hidden Good, which was my YouTube channel alongside yours, when we got goodies, there was a question of “do we have to pay taxes on this?” What is the rule? The reality is that yes, you have to file taxes and… 

Reggie: Wait. Clarity: what are goodies? 

Rovik: Freebies like free… 

Reggie: like things, right? 

Andrew: Like a tea company sends you some tea. How do you know the value then? 

Rovik: Elliot, why don’t you tell them?

Elliot: Back then, when we were still partnering with agencies and stuff to get these things, you would actually have to ask for the declared value of said products. This was like a couple of years into the influencing scene so let’s talk about 2013, 2014, at the peak of being laughed at if you were an influencer. At the point in time, people were questioning, we were getting watches, we were getting full paid vacations. Just talk about Boracay. Wow. 

Rovik: Oh I remember that. 

Elliot: Do you remember Boracay? I remember Boracay. Wow, it’s 2021. 

Rovik: I think AirAsia did that. 

Elliot: Yes, and they will just give you all these things and all they ask is for you to mention them in the post. That’s when regulation started kicking in and they said okay, all posts that you didn’t take any money from, you have to put “#sponsoredpost” or something like that. We were all like “but we wouldn’t know how much to get taxed. That’s when they said we had to declare it. 

In your tax form, if you were a registered business… so Tree Potatoes wasn’t registered business, you’d still have to list down every single item. Our accountant would ask us like “hey, we need to jot down every single piece of value.” There must be an invoice if we can request for one and then file it all to get the [indiscernible] under a special category basically. If it were individual, sometimes say… 

Rovik: When you’re basically a freelancer or self-employed… 

Elliot: For legal reasons, let’s call them Benuel Bellington. So this wallet brand… 

Reggie: Benuel Bellington. I was like what the? 

Elliot: For legal reasons. 

Andrew: Similarites to any real brands is coincidental. 

Elliot: Yeah, if let’s say Benuel Bellington gave you a watch, you have to find out the value of said watch and declare it as well. 

Andrew: I’m going to say that there’s no way you can a hundred percent get it accurate. 

Elliot: No, and the thing is… I mean this was a long time ago, but people would fake those numbers. 

Andrew: Because that’s estimation. 

Elliot: They would put things like cost price instead of the actual retail value of said product. This was not just for the influencer themselves, but the business that was trying to give out these things, because it would be seen as an expense. It would be marketing expense.

So to reduce that on both ends, I would just say “put down as cost price. This watch maybe like $10”. Not that Benuel Bellington is worth $10, you know what I’m saying? That’s what they would do. 

Rovik: Like [indiscernible].

Elliot: Just be creative about it. 

Reggie: Virtual version. 

Elliot: It was interesting. Nowadays, you’ll notice that a lot of influencers still abide by that same sort of practice. Micro-influencers… so we’re talking about less than 5,000 followers or if their engagement rate tends to be about 2 to 3% of a much smaller number, what happens at the end of the day is that they might not declare it because it’s too small an amount vis-a-vis their income.

If you’re a big person, say you’re Xiaxue or someone. Definitely, the scrutiny on you is all time high. 

Rovik: I’m sure there are teams within IRAS to basically look after these things. 

Elliot: Yeah. 

Andrew: Well, she’s part of a company so that helps as well. I’m sure she has people helping her. 

Reggie: Wait, is she still with Gushcloud or…?

Rovik: She was never part of… 

Elliot: She was always fighting with Gushcloud. 

Reggie: Oh yeah. 

Elliot: That tea, I know very well. 

Rovik: Our guest on that episode was Althea from Gushcloud. That was where we got some of that insight into the influencer scene and basically whether there’s actually a career in being an influencer. It’s so much of a creative… you have to pay taxes on the stuff.

Elliot: Regulation around it year on year has been more stringent, that’s for sure. We always talk a little bit about how influencers calculate their income, for example. It’s not as simple as I’m going to try to have 10 social posts this month and each post is $500. It’s not so… it’s one of those unstable type of things and you try to find stability by actually having your agents sell these things. How you declare it at the end of the day, still in a nebulous zone. 

I think this goes to say for a lot of freelance talents, especially in the arts side of the house. I always see influencers as just another form of content creation, another indie artist, so to speak. How do you value your work and what do you declare the end of the day is something which I think is still very fresh territory honestly, right?

Because I could easily say yeah, this person paid me like a hundred bucks for this post work and there’s a market rate, for example. 

Rovik: I guess my big takeaway was that all the young folks who want to be influencers as their career move, don’t see it as a free ride. You still have to make economic choices and you still have to think about the cost benefit of doing certain things and yeah, in kind goodies are also going to be taxed. 

Elliot: It’s not the freebies that you think they are. 

Rovik: Yeah. 

Andrew: So if you want to be on the right side of the law, you got to have an Excel sheet and track everything.

Elliot: Oh yeah, they want you to file it. 

Rovik: So think about it and here’s the unique thing about taxing goodies. When you have to tax on declared value, you don’t actually have cash. You have to pay from cash that you’re getting somewhere else. And so it’s not so clear cut. You need to be very clear that if all your income is in terms of goodies… 

Elliot: How are you going to pay for your taxes? 

Reggie: Carousell. 

Elliot: You have to sell off the items that you got. 

Reggie: Carousell should have a… 

Andrew: What if you don’t even really want that product in the first place? 

Rovik: You could reject it. 

Andrew: Oh you can reject it? 

Elliot: I’ve never rejected things. 

Andrew: But that spoils relationships.

Elliot: Yes, and you definitely don’t want to close too many doors. That’s for sure. The only time we really rejected products was for things that we didn’t believe in or we felt like there was a disconnect between our audience and said product. I imagine if a beauty… like SK II came up to me… I mean SK II, I’m still looking forward to the day you open the conversation with me. But if SK II came to me… 

Rovik: He needs it. 

Elliot: I do, I do. My outbreaks have always been pretty bad. But I wouldn’t be able to connect with my audience. 

Reggie: You still have outbreaks, that’s not too bad. 

Elliot: Thanks Dad for the oily skin. It was one of those things where we had to be more discerning not just because free stuff is great, but you have to be able to show your audience that you’re not a sellout. I think that was the hardest bit. If you took a product that you just endorsed for the sake of it and people saw right through you, there was backlash back then.

Now, the conversation has eased up a lot more. We know that influencers will say “hey, you know, I’m just trying to make a living. I need to do these sponsored posts because…” If you watch YouTube, there’s always… now, they even mark out the timestamp. This is the sponsored ad content for today and then you’ll skip it. You will still skip it but the whole idea was subterfuge. Can you blend the product or the service of the brand into the content. 

Rovik: Jack Neo style. 

Elliot: Jack Neo style… I mean, old Jack Neo style. New Jack Neo Style is “oh man, this…” 

Andrew: As an example or counter example? Excuse me. 

Elliot: I love the… the last Ah Boys To Men… 

Andrew: Subtle. 

Elliot: It’s like Nets Flashpay. It was great. It was great. 

Reggie: I only remember “that’s the beer”. 

Rovik: That’s called good brand placing.

Reggie: That’s crude brand placing. It’s so crude that I remember it. 

Elliot: It stuck. 

Andrew: But Elliot is correct. We are more accepting. I feel that we’re more accepting. I see a YouTuber and then he, or she gets an ad and you see the comments saying “oh, finally you are getting sponsors!” Maybe they deleted all the other negative comments but I see comments like that. Seeing comments that… encouraging the YouTubers to get more sponsorships. 

Elliot: And they will still do it if you enjoy the content. i think it’s about authenticity and that’s always the question. 

Rovik: And trust.

Elliot: And trust, yeah. This is a conversation and we talked about influencing as though it’s been around for a long while, but it’s barely a decade old.

Rovik: For social media influencing. In that episode, we talked about old school…

Elliot: Yeah, old endorsements and stuff like that. But in the modern age, we are only about 10 years into this, give or take. So I don’t know. What I like to think is that the conversation on how to regulate and help people who are independent content creators still needs a lot more work.

But at the same time, there has to be some sort of moderation on scrutiny, on what is advertising. How can I… we don’t want to flip it off overnight in the sense I can just give you $10,000 worth of retail goods and then now you owe me that same amount as an influencer, in terms of your content worth. Hard conversation there.

Andrew: Okay. I think we’ve covered pretty much… quite a lot of ground today. What we want to do… take some time to do a shout out, like this is the sponsored advertising. Tell us about SG Explained! Where to look for you guys? What you usually talk about? 

Rovik: Yeah. SG Explained is an explainer podcast on all things Singaporean. If you think about some of the other podcasts like Stuff You Should Know or How I Built This, it’s basically looking at different features of the Singaporean identity and really tracing evolution, tracing the story and actually learning new things.

So we bust a lot of myths or we add nuance to a lot of myths in almost every episode. We’re pretty eclectic. We do stuff like Singapore theatre, we’ve done prata, we’ve done even like military episodes like Pukul Habis, which is a very interesting… 

Elliot: We can be edgy too. We’ve done prostitution. 

Rovik: We’ve done prostitution.

Andrew: You mean the topic? 

Elliot: We covered the topic of prostitution. Mum, if you are listening to this, I have never… I have never. 

Andrew: That’s edgy. 

Reggie: That’s kinda sad that you have to say you are edgy too. Like “we’re edgy too”. 

Andrew: That’s really edgy. 

Rovik: So yeah, Elliott and I are just two guys who chat on a weekly basis and yeah. 

Elliot: Not the smartest tools in the shed… that’s what I meant to say, not the sharpest tools in the shed, but we try our best to learn alongside the audience and we do the research so that you don’t have to.

Rovik: Yeah. So if you care about the Singapore identity or you want to build a closer relationship with being Singaporean, then yeah, tune in and join us and be part of our community. We look forward to having you there. 

Andrew: #notsponsored. Thank you. 

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We have three questions for both of you. The first one: what’s one core life principle that you hold? Rovik, you want to have a go? 

Rovik: One core life principle is that we are the masters of our own destiny. Anything that you feel is a given, challenge it and ask yourself “what would you do if you could change things?” 

Elliot: Dang, dude. How am I going to follow up on that? 

Rovik: Just be yourself. 

Elliot: But I do have one and I have it tattooed on my arm. It says “everything grows with love”. I think that’s very important. No matter what happens, I always show love and respect towards the subject, angry or not. That’s the only way we evolve. 

Rovik: Can you see how balanced as a co-host?

Andrew: Next question, and Elliot can go first for this one. We’re a finance podcast so what’s one piece of financial advice that you think should be shared more often?

Elliot: I think it’s like… personally, I learned this just this year, but save more than you spend. Save more than you spend. 

Andrew: Very important. 

Reggie: Dude, I was expecting something more sophisticated. 

Elliot: I’m not a man of sophistication. I think… Reggie, you heard me in the past hour. Not my strong point. 

Andrew: Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.

Elliot: Because I was not… I’m an art student like through it through, literature, history, philosophy. That’s my jam. So when I started caring about my personal finances, what I learnt was that the easiest way is to give me a simple principle and then elaborate from there. One of my best friends, he works in the finance sector. He was like “El, if you don’t hear anything I say today, just remember: save more than you spend. Then after that, we’ll talk about investments.” 

From there on, start learning and start putting money in stocks now, buying into index funds. because I’m very risk averse. Wow, look at me grow.

Rovik: I would say don’t let financial choices shape your values, let your values shape your financial choices. To me, that decision to rent was such a big one because I had to ask myself “do I care about asset appreciation or do I care about independence?” I said one of my values is independence and that shaped how I planned the rest of my finances. 

Elliot: You’re right about the balance thing. 

Rovik: Yin and yang, man. 

Elliot: A hundred percent. 

Andrew: Final question: what’s one area of your life that you are giving additional focus right now? 

Rovik: I would say I am trying well… so this is not related to SG Explained or personal finance, but I think I’ve been very curious about how we build communities and how different groups of people can come together.

I think in Singapore, we’re seeing that a lot more. I actually went to a facilitation course just because I felt I wanted to do that more so yeah, I think we can do a lot more to bring different communities together. Maybe in SG Explained, we are doing that by putting the spotlight on different groups of people and really showing how that contributes to that identity.

Elliot: Yeah. You and I aren’t so different in that regard, Rovik. So I… recently, in the past couple of years, I started a creative agency called Start Something Studios and that’s where all my focus has been in the meantime: trying to help not just in like company growth, but I’ve been putting a lot of particular attention into talent development. Trying to help a lot of the youngsters who joined startups. 

For them, this is their first job, trying to understand what it’s like to be in the working world and I’ve been part of some pretty bad jobs in my life. Not YouTube., YouTube is the best. Back when I was working in MNCs… 

Reggie: That was so loaded. “Not YouTube ah”. 

Elliot: I wasn’t going there but since you brought it up… because I’m scared that people will be like “oh, maybe you had a bad time. Work before Tree Potatoes wasn’t always the best and that’s because of the work culture. 

Reggie: You mean like the other fruit company? 

Elliot: Yeah, yeah… Yeah, I really wanted to make sure that I put a lot of particularl attention into working culture, making sure that someone’s first job, whether it’s an internship or their first full-time stint, it’s something fruitful and they understand their value and worth. Companies don’t have to be robots, right? 

Rovik: Yeah, yeah. In that regard, I feel like we’re pretty similar then. 

Elliot: I think this is the only thing that we overlapped today. 

Andrew: Finally, we’ve reached common ground. Thank you! Thank you, Rovik. Thank you Elliot… both of you. Thank you. 

Rovik: Thank you for having us. 

Elliot: Honestly, what a great time. 

Rovik: I can’t wait to have you on our show pretty soon. 

Elliot: It’s going to be great.

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