Gen-X banker on why he switched from trading to investing, and bought the WallStreetBets bubble: Interview with Chris Lum


Here at Financial Horse, we’re all about investing intelligently to achieve your long-term financial goals.

And what better way to get inspired, than looking at how a professional investor – invests his own personal money?

We interviewed Chris Lum, Regional Head of Digital Sales at Saxo, who has had decades of experience across Asia Pacific and ASEAN financial centres.

Here’s what he has to say about how he manages his wealth and his biggest wins/mistakes in his own investment portfolio.

How and why you started investing?

My father was a Professional Futures trader and he too came from an engineering background before transitioning in his mid-30s into the world of trading and investment. A lot of inspiration came from just wanting to follow his footsteps of success. There were a lot of investment visuals and talk in my household growing up.

My uni years coincided with the dot com bubble high and then bust. So I got to see the highs and lows of it, mostly the lows getting lower, throughout my uni days. I also started my first brokerage account in year 1 and by the time I graduated in 2004 the job market was really poor for new graduates, as the economy was still struggling to recover from the bust.

So investing also became a side hustle of sorts, before side hustles became a buzzword. The concept of making my money work harder for me was also rising in importance.

In that sense, trading and investment was still not so mainstream as platforms were very rudimentary and manual still. It was a time when I was already inspired by the thought that technology will really change trading behaviours all around the world.

What kind of investor do you think you are? 

A curious one. I explored different asset classes and instruments because I was curious about what they could do. From there I found some that matched my risk appetite, that coincidentally could help me grow my wealth.

When I started investing way back in the day, it was impossible to gain exposure to certain asset classes and a lot of funds were only accessible to institutional investors. Times have really changed to the point we take for granted the access we have to financial markets.  

What kind of investor do you want to be? 

As I grow older, my risk appetite has changed for a myriad of reasons.

I find myself transitioning from more active trader to active investor and probably a few more years down the road, a more passive investor.

Personally, this rings true to me more and more every year that time in the markets, is far more important than trying to time the markets.

Your biggest investing mistakes?

There are many. In my years of investing, there’s bound to be good and bad moves.

One of my biggest mistakes would be over trading during the Wall Street Bets saga where the meme stocks were soaring to unrealistic euphoric levels. I had made some money initially but as the bubble began to burst, I kept trying to time my market entries thinking these stocks would bounce back up.

You win some, you lose some but you always learn. Ultimately, it’s about adjusting for your risk appetite and always making sure you don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.

What intrigued you about the WSB saga, and what did you learn from it?

At that time, it was all over the news and had even made it into mainstream audiences. Being the curious investor that I am, I did my fair share of digging into this and trawled through countless mountains of information trying to understand how the rally had came to be because logically it defied all theory and expectation. That captured my attention and made me want to find out more – like we say, investing does make you more curious about the world around you!

We learn from our mistakes and do better the next time around. Often, you’ll find the same lessons can be applied across different situations. For example, being influenced by peers and getting caught up in FOMO often acts against better judgment or your own rationality. We can focus on learning from past mistakes and applying the same wisdom to future situations, so learning to make your own calls based on your own beliefs and research is generally a good way to go.

Your biggest investing wins?

On the flipside, one of my biggest wins include the most recent USDJPY run up. Basically, US interest rates were rising fast while the Japanese government kept signalling their ease of monetary policy. This meant that USD would appreciate against the Japanese Yen.

Also, probably anyone owning property in Singapore is sitting on quite a big win at this moment. With that being said, none of this should be taken as investment advice, we all know markets can change anytime.

Best advice you received on investing?  

I can summarise this into three things –

  1. Time in the markets is way better than timing the markets.
  2. Markets are always volatile.
  3. Always have enough gunpowder or funds to buy into the markets bit by bit on a regular basis.

Do you have any financial role models?  

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, my father is a huge role model to me. We still talk about the markets when we catch up every weekend. He is also a huge proponent of maximizing CPF for retirement, as am I.

He was a huge fan of CPF and was adamant about making the most of compounding with CPF.

He would say that compounding is the 8th wonder of the world and when you maximized CPF, you can see real exponential growth YoY. Starting young is key, so I would recommend looking into this as soon as you can. Secondly, a good trick is to transfer money from your OA to your SA to capitalize on a higher interest rate. You’d be surprised how many useful hacks are available on the CPF website so best to get going and make the most of it!

Another great piece of advice from my father?

Always have some dry gun powder ready.

You never know when a great once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would come, and when it does, DYODD and then make the most of it. Another is to never keep all your eggs in one basket.

Can you share any views on what asset classes investors should be looking at for the next 12 months?  

Knowing your own risk tolerance, ie how much you are willing to lose on your portfolio when the market takes a downturn.  

Most people understand that inflation, improved productivity and economic growth drive much higher long term returns for equities over bonds. However, equities are of course more volatile than bonds. 

Balancing out a portfolio with the right mix of bonds and equities is important for investors to think about in the context of their own future financial needs.  

If you can invest with a longer term horizon, higher equities allocation makes sense, if you need the money in the near future, higher bond allocation makes sense.

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Has your perspective on wealth building and investing changed after kids?

Most definitely.

My kids are such a gift but the minute you have them, something shifts in your mind and planning for their future becomes an immediate priority. Necessarily, wealth planning and better money management becomes crucial in ensuring you can give your kids the best you can afford.

It is a lifelong process and as you enter different stages of life, these priorities and considerations shift. I’m a firm believer in change being the only constant so having the tools to navigate these changes is what will make all the difference.

How do you approach wealth investing for your kids?  

I am the father of two beautiful young teenagers.

While my wife and I have set aside sufficient savings and insurance for each of them, I am also beginning to have regular conversations with them about investing and its importance. I believe knowledge is one of the more important things I can pass down to my kids.

Some solutions allow for more customisation than other. For example, with SaxoWealthCare, there are goal-based portfolios , one of which include goal setting for your children, which I have personally done. I think majority of these solutions often have more generic goals like retirement, but I do find I benefit from having clearer goals.

Do you intend to teach your kids investing? How so?  

Time is probably the most priceless commodity here, and I firmly believe in  sharing my thoughts and journey with them even while they are young.

This way they get to see and understand my own financial journey and can learn from my successes and failures along the way. By the time they are older, they will hopefully have some funds to start them on their way.  

Good financial habits are also very important to pass on, such as saving for a rainy day, no need to keep up with the Joneses, differences between good and bad debt, and dollar-cost averaging.

Any differences in wealth planning between generations you have noticed? Anything you would highlight to your children?

There will certainly be differences because the generation, circumstances and timelines in which we began to accumulate our wealth differ vastly. This also applies to my generation, the Gen X vs our parents’ Baby Boomer generation.

I think the young adults today grew up more tech-savvy and many had some opportunity to be exposed to financial education through their parents, schools, or even social media. This generation is also witnessing one of the largest transfers of wealth in history (wealth from Baby Boomers will be passed down). It remains to be seen how this will work out for the younger generation and how they’ll come to manage this wealth.

Retail exposure to financial markets is a phenomenon we are only now seeing. In that way, there is a huge population of traders and investors that have just entered the financial markets and do not remember or have not experienced 2008. The cards are still out on how markets would react today.

Let’s talk a bit more about yourself – how did you get started in banking, and how did you end up at Saxo?

I didn’t study anything finance related in school. I graduated with Honours in Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering @ NTU But I always had an interest in trading stocks inspired by my father. So from an early age, I knew I wanted to be in sales and investing in some way or form.

After graduation, my first job was Customer Service and Credit Card sales with Standard Chartered. This imbued in me the fundamentals of banking and doing sales in a customer-centric way, a trait I’ve kept with me ever since.

After that, I landed an RM role at UOB which I enjoyed. It wasn’t long till the opportunity to join Saxo came around and I haven’t looked back since.

This year, it would be 18 years for me at Saxo. When we first started out, they hired about 25 sales staff and 15 support staff, one of them being me, and now we’ve grown to where we are.

With Saxo, I’ve had the opportunity to take on various front office leadership roles including the Heads of the Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia desks, as well as a secondment as CEO of our Shanghai office. In my current role, I am the regional head of Digital Sales for the APAC region.

Any differences you’ve observed at the various desks you’ve headed? (Malaysia, Indonesia, Shanghai) 

One key observation from both my time at customer service and heading up different desks is how the needs of clients can change between distinct markets.

When working with clients and partners from different countries and cultures, I came to realise we understand certain terms and slangs differently even when we are all using English as a business language.

A good example of this would be identification and what folks in the region use as their main form of government issued identification. In Singapore we call it NRIC, in Malaysia it is called MyKad and in Indonesia it is called KTP. You’d be surprised but even how you pronounce these terms will make a difference. Goes to show that if you make an effort to understand local lingo and assimilate, you tend to receive a warmer response.

Any important lessons to share in building a career?  

The first thing I tell a lot of our younger working generation, many whom are just starting out in their careers and are ambitious and enthusiastic, is to be more open minded.

The career journey is a very long one, and many will not get the dream job they want, or if they do, realise it was not what they wanted to do after all.

Take some time to trial and error, find your feet and work to give your best in work commitments.

Don’t settle because our career journeys evolve, as do we as individuals. Change is the only constant after all. Prioritise embracing change and be ready to adapt.

If I had to sum it up, I’d say stay optimistic, persevere, and work hard.

Tips on getting promoted at work? 

At Saxo, we have a very strong culture that encourages continuous learning. The hierarchy is relatively flat and people tend to be quite open and approachable. There is also a strong emphasis on mentorship and collaboration between teams across functions and jurisdictions.

Of course, not every organisation will be like Saxo but I think the same wisdom will apply – try to think about participation and involvement, instead of promotion. In many ways, they are one in the same.

When you can be part of more efforts, this proves your value to your team’s performance. Striving to perform across goals in the organisation is also testament to a well-rounded employee, which is indisputably a good way to raise your personal profile for consideration in promotions.  

Why Saxo is a good choice for Singapore investors  

Saxo has one of the most investible platforms available to any trader or investor. Whenever you hear about or discover a trading opportunity across asset classes, you can almost be sure to find the product available on the Saxo platform. Coupled with our state of the art UI and competitive pricing, our clients really enjoy consolidating both their trading and investing accounts with Saxo.

Is there any feature/product that Saxo offers, that you think more people should know about?  

Aside from the large array of products for self-directed trading, our newly launched wealth management solution, SaxoWealthCare, is highly personalised and designed to be digital led and human assisted.  

As your financial needs are unique, you get to invest in a tailor-made portfolio that combines your life goals and return objectives. Uniquely on SaxoWealthCare, you would also be able to log multiple financial goals which will be taken into consideration when building your portfolio. We have designed the platform is such a way as we understand clients often have more than one goal in the long term. You simply need to input your needs, risk tolerance and goals. The algorithm takes your input and builds an expertly managed custom portfolio for you.

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