Banks and the Financialization of Everything

SINGAPORE – As I sit here I can look out my window and see bank branches, more banks in the distance, and service providers for the financial industry. Singapore has been called the Switzerland of Asia, and it well deserves that moniker. In the last 10 year that I have been based in Asia, I am seeing visibly how Singapore has gained slowly but surely on its nearest rival – Hong Kong. Now Singapore is ranking third in the World as a global financial center . But this post is not about the ranking and relative merits of the various global financial centers, but rather about the way to make a good living around in an industry ever increasing in power and influence, where money and political influence flow to like water flowing to the sea. Financial industry, yes my friend, is indeed that industry.

Just as the Internet has taking power and influence from the brick and mortar industries, in some cases completely destroying the older institutions, so banks have been on a tear creating and drawing more power and influence to itself. Mortgage has been completely financialized – witness the utter inability of lower income Americans to get mortgages after the Great Financial Crisis. The same can be said with technology start ups, gold, and many more types of physical goods and investments. In this low rate, stagflating world, money is flowing like water chasing return, and the Banks and other investment industry titans benefit from it. It’s far beyond me to fully understand what is really happening and to predict the long term impact, but I can see the writing on the wall and I made an important decision a long time ago. This decision, is to work as a supplier to the banks and make money off of them.

You see, I sell software to banks. As the banks around the globe all embracing the Internet, mobile lifestyle, cloud etc, there is a lot of money to be made in the transitions. The World is changing perhaps faster than it’s ever been, but there is no use complaining about it, it’s better to meet the changes head on and benefit from them. As the banks turn into a technology platform on which data and money flow through, there is ever increasing need for my skills and experience. Singapore in particular, is a great place for me to be based out of. How many cities can you think of in the World with a comparable size and density of financial institutions? Singapore is one of those world class places with local banks (Singaporean), International banks (US, UK, European), Chinese banks and other Asian players. I can go to Changi and throw a rock and hit the operations centers of 4 big banks. From a practical perspective, it means that I am never in want for a client and I don’t even have to commute to get to them. In Asia now I see only two places where this is possible: Singapore and Hong Kong. As for the other banking hubs, namely Shanghai, Tokyo and in some measures Australia, as an expat you have to deal with the languages in Shanghai and Tokyo, and Australia is just too far from the rest of Asia.

This blog is mainly about investment and personal finance, so I’ll share that while I make money in technology and banks, I never invest into these two fields directly (investing indirectly due to index funds is inevitable). I’ll write about why in a future post.

As usual, your thoughts and thoughts are welcome.

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(View of Singapore from downtown)


The Asian Century

SINGAPORE – I’ve been living in Asia for close to ten years now and have seen first hand how fast the World is changing. You don’t realize how fast moving and energetic Asia is, until you go somewhere else. In my case this somewhere else is often when I go back to the US visiting my parents, or when I go to Europe for vacation and the occasional work related trips. This is usually when I think to myself, wait, these places haven’t changed in the last ten years! In Asia, things are moving so fast that often you are seeing a new trend before you even got comfortable with the last one. Singapore is a fighter with heart, and it punches way above its weight class. I was in Nanning, China, a few months ago, and noticed that the biggest taxi company is now operated by Comfort Delgro. Similar things are happening everywhere. I see CP animal feed granaries in Manila port, large international companies setting up Asia headquarters in Singapore, and the relentless investment of mainland Chinese businesses in Hong Kong. This truly feels like the Asian century. The media hype we see in the news, I must say, doesn’t even capture half of what’s really happening on the ground. The energy is manic!

With an emerging (ascending) region with its 3 Billion+ people, there will be incredible opportunities. We all have limited time and energy, and the best way to invest those limited resources, is where the greatest macro opportunities manifest themselves. It’s only maybe 5 years ago when I was hiring some people in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and thinking to myself, there is such a skill gap here, it’d be great to get some real professional expats to do the jobs. Lo and behold, 5 years later Standard Chartered bank set up one of their largest back office centers in KL. This is in addition to all the large centers set up by HP, IBM, DHL, etc.

I have friends who are living elsewhere and really want to ride the Asian wave. I always tell them, the hardest person to convince is yourself – we all have such deep rooted fears and insecurities. But once you make that leap, Asia offers tremendous opportunities. You have to be driven and adaptable. I personally think these are the most valuable attributes that can help you make it in Asia. Asia is not a country, but a huge array of different countries, peoples, languages, customs, and political sensitivities. But for the wanderers and the dreamers, the entrepreneurs and the doers, there is rarely such widespread opportunity laid out in front of you. I can see the growth lasting for decades to come. When I get old, I hope I’ll be able to say with pride, “something happened here in the last 30 years, something wonderful and profound, something that changed the World, and I was a part of it.”

Readers, are you an expat or thinking about becoming an expat? Leave your thoughts and comments below please.

(Night view of Singapore downtown from a rooftop bar)