Sep 7, 2008

me & me money

At 28, he made his first million

He was an NS trainee pilot who failed to get his pilot wings, but his mortgage consultancy is now soaring

By Lorna Tan, Finance Correspondent

He's just 29, but Mr Bryan Ong has his own company, owns two private properties, has various investments, drives a new Mercedes Benz C200 and hopes to retire by the age of 40. -- ST PHOTO: LIM WUI LIANG

Bryan Ong made his first million last year when he was only 28, mainly from his mortgage consultancy business, but he lost one-third of it in the stock market within nine months.

He was doing contra trading, which is a short-term trading method in which the investor aims to make a profit without stumping up any capital. This is possible because brokers here offer three days' grace for stock traders to pay for the shares they have bought.

Now wiser, Mr Ong said: 'I learnt that making money is not easy and you need to understand your own greed and fear. I realised that stock trading is very addictive. You can get glued to it.'

During those nine months, he put 80 per cent of what he earned into stocks. Now, he diversifies into other financial instruments. He still invests in stocks to keep himself abreast of the market, but puts in only an amount that he can afford to lose, which is 5-10 per cent of his income.

Mr Ong, a Nanyang Polytechnic graduate, did his national service in the air force. He was training as a pilot but didn't make it for his pilot wings, so he left after four years, in 2004.

He worked for less than two years as an agent for property agency Propnex before setting up his own company, BC Group, in late 2005 while he was still a part-time agent.

As a mortgage consultant, he helps clients sieve through all the loan packages put together by banks and finance companies. The service is free since the banks pay BC Group if a match is made.

Despite the property market slowdown, his business continues to be robust this year, particularly when more home owners are finding it worthwhile to refinance their mortgages.

The bachelor has made more money in the first four months of this year than the whole of last year. So far this year, he has brokered $260 million worth of loans. BC Group has attracted about 1,000 private property clients since it started operations.

Q: Why did you decide to be in the mortgage consultancy business?

There is always a demand for such services because Singaporeans have a love affair with property. I find that it is a useful service to be able to advise customers on something important in their lives. After all, buying a property is likely to be the biggest investment or loan in their entire life. I had brokered about $700 million worth of loans since January 2004 before I even started BC Group.

Q: What are your money habits?

About 50 per cent is invested, 10 per cent goes into fixed deposits, 10 per cent donated to church, and 30 per cent for daily expenses.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

Besides my fixed deposits, I've invested 15 per cent in stocks, 25 per cent in property and 10 per cent in unit trusts which comprise global equities and resources funds. I also have a substantial amount in savings accounts. Cash is king now. I'm waiting for opportunities. Sometimes, not doing anything could be a better move.

Q: What about insurance planning?

I have endowment, whole life as well as term insurance plans. My annual premiums amount to about $20,000. I'm insured for about half a million on my life.

Q: What's your investment philosophy?

I will invest only in things that I am very familiar with, which means I will not touch bonds and currency.

Q: Any other investments?

Last year, I invested $18,000 in a unique tracing system which helps me to monitor the sentiment of the property market. With this knowledge, I'm in a better position to advise my clients on when to buy and sell.

Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

I come from a middle-class family of six and I'm the second oldest. We lived in an executive HDB flat in Pasir Ris. My parents ran an import-export business. They provided for us, including enrolling us for piano lessons, but they were not investment-savvy. There were times when they failed to budget and plan ahead and that made me very insecure about the family's financial circumstances.

From young, I resolved to be different and that was a motivation to be money-smart. As I'm an independent person, I moved out when I was 23 and have lived alone since.

Q: What has been a bad investment?

I lost about $300,000 last year through contra trading. I also didn't have a stop-loss strategy in place. I was in penny stocks like Jade Technologies, Rowsley and Baker Tech. Now I don't trade actively.

Q: Your best investment to date?

They are my investments in properties and my business. I bought a 1,276 sq ft Summer-

dale condo in Jurong for $405,000 in December 2006 and sold it at a profit of $145,000 in April last year.

Q: What's your retirement plan?

I plan to retire by 40. I hope to set up a trust fund that invests in properties or equities which will also cater to the needs of my next generation.

Q: Any tips for house buyers?

When the property market is good, everyone talks about making money from capital gains. What goes up is perceived to go higher. But the property market is volatile and property is illiquid. You must always think of what to do if the market sentiment turns bad. If you can't sell at a good price, you have to think of mortgage interest rates and rental yields.

Property investment is all about holding power. Generally, you should be able to make money if you can hold for 10 years.

As the property market is still soft, home buyers should buy only for owner-occupation. When it comes to loan packages, rates that are pegged to, say, the Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (Sibor) would be advisable with no locked-in package.

Q: And your home now is...?

A three-year-old 1,033 sq ft apartment in Moulmein Rise near Novena Square. Last year, I bought a 1,033 sq ft Centris condo unit next to Boon Lay MRT Station for $600,000. It is worth about $700,000 now.

Q: And your car is...?

A new black Mercedes Benz C200 which I bought in April for $150,000. I paid for it fully.

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