Sunday, August 5, 2012

In memory of Dennis Ng Kah Wan 吴加万

Money gurus who charge thousands for their courses are viewed skeptically by experienced financial practitioners. Going by their hourly rate, their students pay more for the course compared to an MBA from a reputable university but do not get a recognized certificate upon graduation.

Skeptics will ask ... "if you are such a good investor and love the game so much, why don't you invest and make money for yourself? Why are you sharing your secrets to strangers and diluting your future gains? Are you making more money teaching than doing? Have I hit the nail on the head?"

The financial gurus will reply something along the line ... "I have already made enough money from the market. I want to give back to the community. I want to help people by sharing what I know."

Since battle-hardened investors are trained skeptics, almost all of them will find it very hard to believe the financial trainer. But if there is one man who can make me believe, he is Dennis Ng Kah Wan 吴加万 (RIP on 26 Jul 2012 at the age of 43)

I state upfront that I have never met Dennis in person. However, I know him online on WallStraits (under another nick) since 2004 long before he got famous after setting up http://www.masteryourfinance.com. Maybe it is presumptuous to write an article on him without meeting him but Dennis spends so much time online sharing his knowledge that it is easy to know him well by reading his posts.

Before Dennis set up his own financial website, he easily ranks among the most frequent contributor to various investment forums like WallStraits (now defunct), ChannelnewsAsia Market Talk and ShareInvestor.com. Yet, on each one of them, he was extremely unpopular and threads end up with personal attacks on his character. His critics blast him as being arrogant, intolerant of opposing views and is a shameless self-promoter. It is hard to disagree with the critics if you read just a few of Dennis's posts. However, if a person has the patience to read through most of his posts and ignore the self-advertising part, one could sense that Dennis knows his stuff and was extremely willing to share his knowledge. What was particularly impressive was his willingness to sacrifice his own time to write long replies to answer questions from newbies. I was worried that such a fine contributor would be driven out of WallStraits forum. Out of selfish reasons, I wrote a long post in support of Dennis so that he would not leave the forum. Dennis was quite touched and I guess that was how I got into his good books and why he invited me to join his inner circle to share ideas on individual stock picks. (I don't think it was because he thought I was a good investor as I never shared my stock picks). I politely declined because while sharing investment techniques is fine with me, sharing portfolio is not fine. On investment matters, I would rather be a lone operator. Since Dennis believed deeply in sharing, I guessed I got kicked out of his good books after rejecting his offer.

I probably would have gained more from picking Dennis's stock-picking brain than he from mine because Dennis was the better investor. He gained his financial freedom around the age of 39 through investing in stocks. Despite his vast investment experience, Dennis was not at his best as a teacher at investing on investment forums (except www.masteryourfinance.com). He gets impatient when his advice is not taken. It may not be that people do not take his advice because they doubt him. In investing, there are many ways to skin a cat. One man's meat could be another man's poison. What suits him may not suit others. He showed this darker side of himself on one of Musicwhiz's blog post. I thought he was not being fair to Musicwhiz when he commented that Musicwhiz's 36.9% returns over a 5-year period was very poor returns with the effort put in. Given that Dennis lost half his fortune in the Asian Financial crisis, Musicwhiz's first 5-year performance was at least superior to his.

Dennis would get irritated and impatient when people disagree and refuse to learn from him. This aspect of him made him come across as arrogant and was one of the reasons why he was so unwelcomed on investment forums. I believed Dennis was deeply hurt by the experience. In a private correspondence with him, Dennis revealed (in his own words) that "the reason my MasteryOfFinance forum was not open to public comment is becos of silly personal attacks I've been through in public forums, which you should know very well, why I left wallstraits.com" In his defense, I think this seemingly arrogant behavior stems from his deep passion to teach. When a teacher is anxious to see results, he will become impatient with students who doubt his teachings. Unfortunately, fellow forummers never had any intention to be his students. Many of them were good investors in their own right and could make good money with their own methods. If Dennis wanted people to listen to his advice, then the most effective way is to get people to pay to listen to him. This was why Dennis was so well-respected in his own forum www.masteryourfinance.com but disliked in all the other investment forums that he actively participated before. Dennis's fault was trying to impose his methods on others but he never held back on what he knew for those who wanted to listen. In all fairness to Dennis, can any of his detractors accuse him of being selfish in sharing what he knows?

Dennis was at his best as a Personal Finance teacher. People who took his Personal Finance advice saved lots of money by not overpaying for high-commission aggresively sold insurance plans or buying a car unnecessarily. Dennis never bought a a car. Simply put, owning a car in Singapore just does not make financial sense. Despite gaining financial freedom, his mode of transport remains BMW (Bus, MRT, Walk). He literally walked his talk.

Dennis never really upgraded his lifestyle as his wealth grew. This multi-millionaire still lived in a HDB flat and refused to buy a car. This led to netizens who do not know Dennis well to comment that he was stingy, never sat back to enjoy his wealth, was so keen on making money from his training seminars that he worked to his last breath. I am convinced Dennis did not work that hard for money. What makes me so sure was Dennis's simple, low-cost lifestyle. Does it make sense to work for money and continue doing something you do not like when you have no need for more money? Or does it make more sense to do what you like after you have made enough money to be free to do whatever you want? If Dennis had upgraded from a HDB flat to a Sentosa Cove property, bought a Ferrari, then his detractors may be right in saying he is one of those financial trainers who are out to make a quick buck for themselves. Dennis had already reached financial freedom when he started www.masteryourfinance.com. He has already learnt a hard lesson that few would listen to his advice if he did not get them to pay for advice. Ironically, I guessed he felt he would do his students more good if he had charged them a fee than give knowledge away free of charge. Besides, any good cause can only be sustainable if it generates cashflow. Charity alone is not enough.

I have a theory about thrifty people who remain thrifty despite attaining immense wealth. These people do not work for money. They work for their passion. They live for themselves. Warren Buffet still lived in the same house after 30 years. Through Lee Wei Ling's letters, Singaporeans know that our founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, and his family lived frugally. Likewise for Dennis Ng. Dennis was working for his passion when he started www.masteryourfinance.com. Even before Dennis started www.masteryourfinance.com several years ago, he had been talking about his passion to spread financial literacy. This can be verified even by his detractors who quarreled with him in the investment forums.

According to some web postings, Dennis had a defective heart. Yet, he worked so hard that he was probably the most active financial trainer in the public arena in Singapore FREE of charge. He writes fortnightly (alternate Tuesday) for My Paper.sg. He has a weekly Radio program on Capital Radio 95.8 FM every Thursday 10.10 am to 11 am. He blogs for CPF Board's imsavvy.sg. He writes on a monthly basis for share investment magazine http://www.sharesinv.com/author/dennis-ng. With his wealth, he need not have worked to death. On this aspect, he led life like a fool. However, in his pursuit for his passion, his life was full.

PS: Dennis's death shocked me. My regret was that I never met him in person to express my thanks for sharing his knowledge free of charge on investment forums. Thanks to Dennis, I did not overpay for insurance, did not buy a car and always kept an emergency reserve for bad times. This helped me saved a comfortable sum of money and made my recent period of unemployment more bearable. This long post is a posthumous act to express my gratitude to Dennis Ng. 

Other eulogies for our late friend Dennis Ng;
http://www.bigfatpurse.com/2012/07/eulogy-for-dennis-ng-lessons-from-my-teacher/
http://www.donnadaritan.com/2012/07/how-would-you-know-it-will-be-last.html
http://ivanismyname.blogspot.sg/2012/07/rip-to-my-teacher-my-friend-my-mentor.html
http://www.newagedentists.com/uncategorized/dennis-ng-was-right-rip/
http://www.propwise.sg/in-memory-of-dennis-ng-1969-2012/
http://singaporeshortstories.blogspot.sg/2012/07/dennis-ng-founder-of-housing-loan-sg.html
http://sgwebreviews.blogspot.sg/2012/08/personal-finance-expert-dennis-ng.html