In this Insider Talk, FWM’s own CEO and Co-Founder, Dominic Gamble, caught up with longtime Singapore expat and Partner of St. James’ Place, Rob White to chat about his own move to Singapore and his ideas on what expats need to know from FX, wills, and insurance, to even hailing cabs!
Rob is now a veteran in Singapore having moved here from the UK. He’s a financial adviser to expats by day, and a family man by night with his wife and 3 year old son.
DG: Rob, what brought you to Singapore back in 2008?
RW: I was head hunted off Linkedin! Having been in the UK all of my life and being a single, young man I was keen for a new challenge so a one way ticket was booked and out I came! Now that the so called ‘two year itch’ is long gone I am very rooted here and have since started a family.
DG: So what happened when you landed at the airport? Had you prepared much?
RW: My new employer had kindly sent for a driver – but don’t get visions of grandeur, they had booked a taxi, there was no red carpet or limousine! I had already arranged a property to rent from the UK but to be honest that was a lesson learned as I should have taken more advice on that.
DG: Let’s talk more about property. In my time here I have a few war wounds with finding property rentals.
What’s the recipe for success for an expat moving here from the UK?
RW: Finding a good property agent is tough. The local agents understandably tend not to be well versed in what we expect given our differing needs so show the same stock irrespective of brief. School location, access to parks, reliance on taxis and public transport – these are all major considerations which are not necessarily easy to achieve.
DG: So what’s the solution?
RW: Try and find a trusted, like minded soul. Probably an expat to be honest. Any readers who are moving can drop me a line here and I’d more than happy to walk them through the property market. It’s not my day job so they’ll get an impartial view!
DG: What were your biggest challenges when moving over?
RW: You have a certain image of Singapore before you move with lots of press around the rules about chewing gum, drugs, so I was afraid to simply J-walk!! But the reality is that this is a great, easy place to live. I’m still learning the art of flagging down a taxi though, that’s a difficult one to master (laughs). On a serious note finding a retail bank and the right credit card has way more nuance to it than the UK. Ending up with the wrong bank for your location and needs means that you practically will find it difficult to withdraw money. Again happy to guide readers on that if they drop me a line
DG: You deal with expats day-in day-out, what are they biggest financial issues that expats face?
RW: Foreign exchange is something that expats forget about time and time again. You are likely exposed to at least two currencies. An adverse move in your income currency, Singaporean Dollar, could mean all your savings accumulated in Singapore during your stay could be dramatically lower if/when you move back to your home country. What a waste!
DG: I wasn’t expecting that answer, I thought you would say insurance or wills. So what does an expat do about that?
RW: Invest in something that takes Foreign Exchange out of the equation via an investment portfolio or have a good FX broker here who can make the currency switches at a good time for you.
Wills and insurance are really common expat solutions. If you have kids, you need to check your overseas will and complete a ‘temporary guardianship form’ here in Singapore. This will ensure your children don’t get taken in to state care by default in the event of a parental death.
Its also important to check the small print on your life insurance, it might be affected by you living away from your home country. This is basically my day job, helping expats with solutions to these issues
DG: Ok then Mr Financial Advisor, as an expat yourself, what are you doing with your money right now?
RW: Putting money aside for education costs for the kids.
DG: Just cash savings?
RW: No, cash is a bad asset to hold because of inflation and the potential for depreciation in value over time which is a real disaster. I have a cautious investment portfolio, aiming for modest single digit annual growth. That’s all that’s needed, the cumulative effect of compound investing is so huge that 5% per annum returns are all I need with a long term view.
DG: What’s the future of Singapore for expats?
RW: Expats these days are not on a 2 year contract like in years gone by. The average time span in Singapore for an expat is five to six years.
Planning is more important. Staying for 2 years meant it was great to earn well and spend it. All in the name of fun and experience. But for 6 years that equates to 15/20% of your working career and usually at a time of increasing earnings. That income should not all be spent, it should be invested for the future.
So get planning. Better still get someone to do it so you can still enjoy everything Asia has to offer.
DG: Many thanks Rob, some really interesting insights in there. I can’t believe you are still hailing taxis on the street, you’re so 20th century!