For this week’s iteration for Redbrick conversations, our team at Redbrick is honoured to interview the co-founder of The Smart Investor, Joanna Sng. She shares about her journey to starting up the company, alongside her personal struggles and challenges. She also sheds some light on the philosophy of The Smart Investor when it comes to their members and investing.
Q. Can you tell us more about yourself, and how you got to where you are today?
Joanna: In my previous role, I was responsible for starting up, growing, and establishing a stock-recommendation service business here in Singapore. I had started out by setting up the Singapore office for Motley Fool in 2012, which had spent its earlier years focusing on building brand awareness.
Back when I first started a stock investing education website in 2013, there wasn’t a lot of content produced about the Singapore stock market. We were the first in the market to start producing high-quality stock investing education on a consistent basis that emphasizes the importance of long-term investing. Our aim was to educate Singaporean investors how they can grow their wealth in a sustainable manner.
While The Smart Investor is fairly new, some of our members have been interacting with us since 2013.
Q. What are some of the milestones you have reached on a personal level?
Joanna: On a personal level, it definitely has to be having my two children.
When I first started working, I think I was more gung-ho, and focused more on my career. But life had other plans for me.
I’ve had an incredibly difficult journey in having my children. That whole experience has directly resulted in me starting and continuing to work in building and growing a business in this space in Singapore. Eventually, as the business and potential grew, I ended up here, as the co-founder of The Smart Investor.
Never did I expect that I would go down such twists and turns in my personal life that will eventually lead me down this path.
Q. What does success mean to you?
Joanna: And so, as a continuation to the above, success to me means many different things.
First and foremost, I am a wife, mother, and daughter. It means being there for my family when they need me. It also means bringing up my children to have the right values, to be there to guide them on their journey in life.
As co-founder of The Smart Investor, I believe success is achieved when I help our stakeholders which includes our employees, members, and readers to gain financial freedom through the services we provide and the content we produce.
Q. What do you do in your free time?
Joanna: I enjoy the simple things in life, such as spending time with my family, my dogs. I also relish in meeting my friends and spending time alone reading.
Q. What is one interesting fact about yourself that people don’t usually know?
Joanna: I didn’t start investing in the stock market until I joined The Motley Fool in my previous role. While I wish I learnt investing earlier in my life, I also know that it’s never too late. And that’s why I feel very strongly about providing free investing education on our platform.
Q. What is a regular workday like?
Joanna: I typically start work after I drop the boys off at school and work through lunch. I usually break in the late afternoon to spend time with my sons, make sure we have dinner together. I usually start work again after they go to bed.
Q. How does your organization maintain its appeal to consumers?
Joanna: Firstly, good quality content that is easy to understand.
We provide content to help anyone better their financial future. We want to show that regular Singaporeans, like you and me, that it is possible to invest smartly. I think 2 key factors help us stand out. Firstly, we strictly maintain that the content produced by the team is thoroughly researched and fact-checked. Our research and analyst team has decades of investing experience and we provide only good quality content – whether paid or free.
Secondly, we insist on having content that anyone can understand. Because we believe that the best person to manage your finances is you. And we want to provide content accessible and understandable to anyone, regardless of whether or not they pay us. This set the backdrop for our work, and it became out commitment to provide quality financial advice to everyone for free.
When I established The Smart Investor about a year and a half ago, this was a mindset that I had also brought with me to the business. We find it important to provide free content not just to educate others on financial literacy, but also to ensure that people know our investing philosophy before signing up to be a member.
After all, we are in this for the long-term. The last thing I would want is for someone to pay us a membership fee and start questioning our advice because it is not congruent with their investing philosophy.
Most importantly, our strong sense of responsibility.
We maintain that we do what’s right for our members and our readers. For paid subscribers, that means we put our money where our mouths are, and show them our portfolio. For both paid subscribers and general readers, it means that every piece of content that we produce is responsible. We don’t comment on anything without prior extensive research.
Q. What are some of the important values that the organization prides itself with?
Joanna: That sense of responsibility that I mentioned before. A well-secured financial future allows one to lead his/her life without worry and to sleep well at night. I feel a sense of responsibility towards these members such that our advice cannot mislead them – and this is something I reiterate often to my colleagues at work across departments.
The second value is closely tied to my personal reason for setting up The Smart Investor in the first place, and that is “family first”. In our organisation, we recognise that everyone of us is working to give ourselves and our families a better financial future. In the process, we also help our members do the same. And at the core of it all, is the family. We are a small team, and are like just a family at The Smart Investor. To further allow our colleagues to spend time with their families, we also allow for flexibility in our schedules as long as work gets done. As a mother, I am very grateful for this as I really want to be part of the process of my children’s lives while they grow up.
Q. Could you describe your current property of residence?
Joanna: I’m living in a townhouse.
Q. What do you look out for when searching for a property?
Joanna: For me, it has to suit my family needs. We live fairly close to my parents, who help us with school pick up. There is plenty of greenery and a park nearby for the kids to run around and play and for us to walk our dogs. We have a pool in our estate which the kids love. Location is also an important factor for us. And finally, the layout of the home is another thing we take into consideration.
Q. Do you believe in ‘leverage all I can’ or ‘pay down as soon as I can’ school of thought?
Joanna: I don’t think there is a need to go to either extreme. And the most important thing to consider is one’s own financial situation.
Which brings me back to my point on ensuring the public understand how we build a portfolio before members join us behind the paywall. Our principles and our philosophy have made sense for you before you come onboard with us. We recommend portfolios to be built like a pyramid.
At the very bottom, you will want to buy stocks that are more established and the least risky stocks – the bellwethers in the industry, for instance or companies on SPX. So, these are the companies that you would own shares of, and then you layer it on top of companies that are growing – those that are looking to become a leader in the industry, or the industry itself is growing.
In short, companies that may be doing well but you are unsure if they will continue this trend. Lastly, at the very, very top, you might want to dabble in highly volatile investments just for fun, including the latest thing which is Bitcoin. It could go very well or very badly, but Bitcoin is not for everybody. It can do incredibly well, but it’s for somebody who needs the money for retirement.
So, I think that it’s important to recognise that it really depends on the individual’s personal financial situation to decide whether they should rely on leverage or only pay as soon as possible.
Q. What kind of advice would you give to new homeowners and aspiring property investors?
Joanna: I think it’s important to consider your own financial situation, and only take risks that you can stomach. After all, there is a good chance that buying a home is likely the biggest purchase you will ever make.
Q. Which is your favourite estate in Singapore and why?
Joanna: As biased as it sounds, I like the estate that I live in, which is Bukit Timah. It’s central in terms of location and very suitable for residential as it is surrounded by greenery.
The Smart Investor has put together a report which lists the different brokerage firms in Singapore, the key points to consider when choosing a broker and the commission fees involved with each stock that you buy and sell. Click here to download the complimentary report.