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From Quitting the Rat Race to Investment Blogger. Willie Keng Shares His Journey Building Dividend Titan

Moving from a corporate job to running his own investment blog is not an easy journey.


This article was written in collaboration with IG, Singapore’s No. 1 CFD/FX broker (by total number of client relationships. Investment Trends 2022 Singapore Leverage Trading Report). All views expressed in this article are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg based on our research. DollarsAndSense.sg is not liable for any financial losses that may arise from any transactions and readers are encouraged to do their own due diligence. You can view our full editorial policy here.AdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisement

With the growing interest in personal finance as a topic, it’s common these days to see bloggers, YouTubers, and TikTokers creating content and having conversations on topics like investing and trading.

An experienced investor who has worked in the finance industry but has since left his corporate job to pursue the road less travelled is Willie Keng, CEO and Founder of Dividend Titan, a site that is dedicated to helping its readers and subscribers understand how they can be successful in generating passive income from their investments.

Before starting Dividend Titan in 2020, Willie worked in various analyst roles at financial institutions, including Phillip Capital (Investment Analyst), Bank of Singapore (Research Analyst) and DBS (Associate Director). Willie is also an experienced investor, having started his investing journey in 2010 when he was in university.

I was introduced to Willie and his work at Dividend Titan when he started contributing articles to DollarsAndSense. Over the past year, we have spoken a few times and shared similar interests and experiences in life. These include deciding to leave our corporate job to focus on full-time financial writing while also being parents to young children.

In this article of the #MyFirstHustle series done in collaboration with IG, I spoke to Willie about what prompted him to leave his full-time job at a bank to pursue entrepreneurship. Willie and I also discussed the challenges of being a financial blogger in this increasingly competitive space.

Read Also: Sara & Aaron Wee Of The Weeblings Shares Why They Started Their TikTok Channel & How They Are Building Their $1 Million Portfolio

Timothy Ho (Timothy): It’s a pleasure to have you as part of the #MyFirstHustle Series. You started work in 2012 after graduating and the roles you took in your corporate career were mainly analyst roles in financial institutions. Was this the career path that you wanted when you were in school?

Willie Keng (Willie): I never had an ambition. I studied materials engineering in university because my mom told me it was a professional degree. Yet I was lost – I didn’t like engineering. And I struggled. By my second year in university, I almost got kicked out of school because of my low-grade point average GPA.

It was only when I chanced upon a book called The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham (Warren Buffett’s mentor) that changed my life. Back then, I was also interested in generating passive income. The idea that you could use money to make more money intrigued me. That threw me into the world of finance.

In my banking career, I was a junk bond analyst. It’s a fancy term for analysing high-yield bonds. I spent most of my professional life helping banks and fund managers find potential opportunities in the corners of the bond market. I dug deep into annual reports, met company management and ran financial models. My research often takes me across Asia to uncover these hidden gems.

Timothy: Many young finance and banking students aspire to be investment analysts. What insights about the role would you share with a younger person hoping to get a similar role?

Willie: This is a tough question. Hiring for investment analysts is quite different today.

It’s also getting harder to enter the industry today as more young graduates want to be in finance. I got rejected many times before – with hiring managers saying I didn’t have relevant experience and that my grades weren’t good or my resume would be tossed in the bin.

Because I didn’t have a finance degree, I had to learn things the hard way.

Aside from taking the CFA Program, I first learned how to invest. I was surprised that many professional analysts don’t know how to invest or that they don’t even bother learning. And that set me apart when I got into the industry.

I spent my waking hours studying all the finance gurus I could find. From Warren Buffett to other finance gurus like Benjamin Graham, Howard Marks, Seth Klarman, John Burr Williams, Phillip Fisher, Joel Greenblatt, Ray Dalio, David Einhorn, Michael Burry, Bruce Greenwald, and so on. I read their books, shareholder letters, and memos to understand how they invest and what makes them different.

I read annual reports, which to me was my finance bible. It was my source for learning about business. Everyday, I read the annual reports of different companies. I also read the past ten years annual reports of the same company.

Once, I made a goal to learn about all 700+ companies that were listed on the Singapore Exchange. I commit to studying one annual report of a different Singapore company each day. In less than two years, I could tell you the types of businesses of these companies listed in Singapore.

Timothy: You started investing in 2010 while you were in university. What got you interested in the financial markets?

Willie: I came from a middle-income family with three kids. I was the eldest. One day over dinner, my mom said we had to spend less. The company my dad had worked for wasn’t doing well. The global financial crisis had disrupted his company. That scared me. Especially when I knew my parents still had to pay for my sisters’ university education.

I had to think of a way to make more money. I tried giving tuition, but that meant my entire Saturday afternoons got burnt. I worked during my school holidays as an admin assistant. But I got bored at the desk.

I knew I wanted to work without exchanging my time for it. Yet I could still enjoy the work. That planted a seed in my head – how to make passive income. It was only when my university hallmate passed me a book called I Intelligent Investor that I got that “aha” moment.

I realised investing was a money-making, life skill that, if I could master it, I could make money without exchanging my time. And I would also enjoy the intellectual challenge. I was hooked. I didn’t become interested in the financial markets. I became obsessed. That kicked off my journey in the financial markets.

Timothy: You make a career switch from a full-time role at a bank to becoming a self-employed investment blogger. What led to this decision?

Willie: I’ve always wanted to become a fund manager. However, I realised I was uncomfortable with the rigid structure and politics of the financial industry. Back then, I was also tired of going through the many restructurings of bankrupt companies that clients had lost so much money on.

I knew myself as a quiet worker. And the harder I worked, the more burned out I got. My face would look crumpled, my back and shoulders would be tense, and sometimes, I didn’t even dare look at my work phone. Some nights before I slept, I got heart palpitations and sweaty palms. The toughest thing about the situation was that I loved financial markets, yet I knew I couldn’t survive the corporate world.

One Saturday evening, I read a book about leaving the corporate rat race. It described my situation perfectly: work in a 9-to-5 job, get a salary, and work five days in exchange for a two-day break. Do this for the next 30 years. That woke me up. I decided I didn’t want to get beholden to this endless cycle. So I quit.

Timothy: Entrepreneurship is no walk in the park. How concerned were you that financially speaking, this may be a risky decision to make? 

Willie: There will always be uncertainties when leaving a stable job. However, I wasn’t too worried. By then, I felt I was financially secure with my savings and investments, having built a comfortable 6-figure portfolio (you don’t need a million dollars, by the way). I had enough income to cover my monthly expenses. So that gave me confidence to pursue my passion. In the worst case, I could always return to my old job.

More importantly, my wife and I are frugal. We live in a modest 4-room HDB flat, don’t own a car, and don’t spend extravagantly. Unlike many of our peers who’d rushed to buy cars and upgrade to condos, my biggest spending is on books. If we had rushed to buy a private condo and a car, quitting would have been a risky decision.

Timothy: What are some common mistakes that you see people making when they first start investing and trading?

Willie: I made this same common mistake when I first started investing. And that’s not learning how to do proper stock research. In fact, owning a stock without doing any research is not investing. It’s gambling.

Once, I lost close to $50,000 after borrowing money from my family to bet on a single US stock. It was a painful lesson. I didn’t know what the business was doing. It was more painful because it wasn’t my money.

I still see many people who don’t research the underlying business before buying the stock. Research means learning how to read financial ratios, understand business models, their durable advantages and assess their business valuations.

In 2022, a friend asked me what to do with some of the high-growth stocks in his portfolio. When I quickly scanned through these stocks, I knew why he lost over 80% of his money. He invested in businesses with high revenue growth, but none of them made a single dollar in profits.

I encourage everyone to learn how to do proper stock research. I cannot guarantee you will make money on every stock by reading financial reports. But I promise you’ll remove many lousy companies that will save you from heavy losses.

Timothy: What are some tips and advice to share with someone thinking of leaving their full-time job to start their own business or hustle?

Willie: Two things.

First, as a solopreneur, be prepared to pivot. I discovered many things about myself I hadn’t discovered before – what my strengths and weaknesses were, what I liked and disliked.

For instance, after quitting my full-time job, I started a financial training business since I was always passionate about the financial markets and loved sharing my knowledge. But starting a financial education business meant I had to do seminar selling and I realised I wasn’t good at sales. I had to explore different paths that allowed me to use my potential before I finally launched dividendtitan.com.

Another thing is self-discipline. When I left my full-time job, I realised I no longer had a boss to tell me what to do and when to report to work. I was my own boss, and I was very disorganised. At the start of your solopreneurship, I think getting a friend or a peer to be an accountability partner is a good idea. Talking about your goals, schedules, and targets for the week, month, quarter and year will motivate you to do what you do.

Timothy: What does the word “hustle” means to you?

Willie: “Hustle” means following your conviction and going all in.

Passion & Self-Learning Beats A Finance Degree

Though trading and investing are two different ways of making money from the financial market, there are also some parallels from Willie’s investing journey that we can apply to those who are hoping to kickstart their trading journey.

For example, Willie didn’t study finance at university. Instead, he converted his passion for investing into tangible actions by expanding his knowledge in the field. He did so by reading many books and annual reports – to the point of even describing his passion as more of an obsession.

Similarly, for those who want to start learning how to trade, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of trading in the financial markets. We can do so by reading trading books like The Systematic Trader by Collin Seow, following popular trading YouTube channels like Trading With Rayner or getting started in our learning journey in a structured environment such as the IG Academy.

Offered by IG (Singapore’s No. 1 CFD/FX broker (by total number of client relationships. Investment Trends 2022 Singapore Leverage Trading Report), the IG Academy offers a wider variety of valuable content, such as online courses that cater to all levels of trading, live sessions and a trading webinar library. We can also be part of the IG Community and participate in the IG forum. To gain access to these materials, we would need an IG trading account.

Whether it’s investing or trading, one key point that Willie stressed during our chat was that anyone who enters a position in the financial market without doing their research is essentially gambling. This is true. Without knowledge, traders and investors entering the markets are basically just punting and hoping for the best. This isn’t a strategy, let alone a way to generate sustainable income consistently over time.

To enter the financial market, it’s important to have a strategy. For Willie, dividend investing is the approach he prefers. For others, it could be active trading where we aim to use the volatility in the financial market to capture profits when the prices of assets change.

Regardless of our approach, learning how to invest or trade is a life skill that would take time for us to develop. However, if we are successful in it, it would allow us to generate income regularly so that we are no longer just reliant on our day job.

If you are keen to start trading, starting with an IG demo trading account first would be advisable. A demo trading account allows you to develop your trading skills on thousands of markets and to practice trading with $200,000 virtual funds. This way, you can learn (and make mistakes) on a demo account before switching to a live trading account and making real-time trades with actual money.

Read Also: Meet Chris @ HoneyMoneySG, The YouTuber Who Is Creating Personal Finance Videos For A Living

#MyFirstHustle is a content series featuring individuals who have gone beyond their comfort zone to build something on their own. This could be starting a business, a side hustle or just taking the road less traveled. If you know of someone who fits this profile, reach out to us at [email protected]

This article was written in collaboration with IG, Singapore’s No. 1 CFD/FX broker (by total number of client relationships. Investment Trends 2022 Singapore Leverage Trading Report). All views expressed in this article are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg based on our research. DollarsAndSense.sg is not liable for any financial losses that may arise from any transactions and readers are encouraged to do their own due diligence. You can view our full editorial policy here.

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