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Free advice is the worst advice? Think again

2 Aug 2017 by Benjamin Loh
NAV Hub aims to help young adults meet their financial goals. Photo: DBS

5 key takeaways by entrepreneur Benjamin Loh after attending the launch of DBS’ free financial advisory centre, NAV Hub

If you ask me, two of the most important assets in our lives are time and money.

Both these assets share some intricate relationships too.

We doggedly spend time on our careers and businesses to build a bigger pot of gold. Yet the irony is that sometimes, when we finally have the money we think we need, we realise there’s not the time or energy left to spend it on our passions and loved ones.

Can we do it in a wiser and more enlightened fashion? How about managing money in a way such that it buys us more time to ultimately spend it with who and what matters?

Money and personal finances were pretty hush-hush topics when I was growing up. But thankfully with social media and content creation, young people these days are more empowered to educate themselves on money management as well as share insights on managing their personal wealth better.

I’m not saying trust everything you read on the Internet since everyone’s contexts, constraints and objectives are different. But there’s no denying the playing field is a lot levelled with more quality financial education.

Of course, discernment is always key.

So you can imagine, when I was invited by DBS as a millennial coach and blogger, to the media launch of DBS NAV Hub, Singapore’s first financial planning centre by a bank which offers free advisory services, with no financial products being sold… I would be lying to say I wasn’t sceptical, at all.

After all, we are talking about the largest bank in Southeast Asia. Not the largest non-profit organisation or charity.

Nestled in a quaint shophouse in the Tanjong Pagar district of Singapore, I had in fact initially found it difficult to navigate (no pun intended) myself to the hub. This was largely because there was no DBS logo in sight. Later, I realised it was an intentional move with the aim of neutrality and staying true to the mission of financial education.

NAV, your financial GPS 01:11

Designed for young adults as the primary beneficiaries, the free personalised financial planning sessions teach participants about their current financial health, as well as help them understand their financial goals and how to achieve them. Each individual session spans between 45–60 minutes only.

During the launch proper, here were the five lessons that truly resonated with me:

1. Financial planning is not a common practice

A DBS study with its customers aged 20–35 years old revealed that over 50% of its customers do not plan and do not know how to plan their finances. Furthermore, the majority of young adults who actually do plan for financial goals do not know the estimated target amount needed to achieve each goal!

Photo: DBS

2. We all hate getting sold to

 I still recall that the first financial product I purchased was an Investment-Linked Product (ILP) / savings plan from a pretty financial adviser (yes, judge me) outside a MRT station as a National Service Full-time (NSF) personnel. Later I realised that it was poorly performing and when I terminated the fund, I got back less than the principal sum I invested! The truth of the matter is that when it comes to something as sensitive as our finances, the worst kind of situation to be in is a sticky one, where you’ve a pushy adviser who’s trying to hard sell you products.

Which brings me to my next point.

3. Financial education need not be intimidating

Although I have an education in accounting, numbers do not come intuitively to me, not to mention learning about financial jargon and formulas. But at the NAV Hub, I took comfort that the team had gone to great lengths to help you understand your financial habits and goals.

They collaborated with IDEO, a human-centred design agency, to develop an innovative engagement tool called a “Mindset Card”. With this exercise, you ease yourself into the process and walk away knowing whether your present or future mindsets are the likes of a “Sleepy Panda”, “Impulsive Magpie”, or the “Passion Saver”.

Intriguing enough if you ask me.

For who may find financial planning conversations daunting, DBS has collaborated with partners such as IDEO to develop innovative engagement tools. Photo: DBS

4. What gets measured, gets managed

The NAV crew was clearly trained and knowledgeable when they ran through the “deliverables” of the advisory session. The participant walks away with a six-page personal financial report that provides an immediate snapshot of his or her financial health, key metrics like the availability of an emergency fund, savings ratio, debt-to-assets ratio and also, one’s progress towards the standard financial goals like getting married, purchasing a home and retirement.

I found the report informative enough for you to walk away knowing the gaps and opportunities for your financial planning but not intimidating in the sense that it paralyses you from further action.

5. Free financial advice — yes, it’s for real

Finally, during the Q&A segment, a fellow media participant and I asked about the “end outcomes” of the free advisory session. After all, not everyone would have watertight financial plans. Furthermore, there are also bancassurance and personal wealth management business units within DBS so I would be the first to call bluff if there was no referral mechanism in place to help generate new business.

However, I was assured that DBS NAV Hub was strictly a place for free financial planning and the staff are not advisers whose remuneration would be premised upon product sales.

Of course, the caveat is, if and only if, the participant asks for a follow-up session to look into relevant products to support their financial planning, then a relevant personnel from DBS would follow up on the request. Otherwise, participants are free to walk away with their personal report and grab a cuppa at one of the hipster cafes nearby.

Overall, I personally found that this process is fairly clean, straightforward and justified.

The 70+ participants who have had their financial planning sessions done since the soft launch a month ago, would probably agree with me too. After all, they gave a big thumbs-up with a 4.6 (out of 5) rating for overall experience and 4.7 for the usefulness of advice.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And as much as the sceptic in me will say FREE advice is the WORST advice, my experience with DBS NAV Hub proved otherwise.

Don’t believe me? Make an appointment, head on down and judge for yourself!

NAV – Your Financial GPS officially launched last week at our newly opened NAV Hub at 45 Tras Street. Said Brandon Lam,...

Posted by DBS Bank. Living, Breathing Asia on Monday, July 3, 2017

NAV Hub
45 Tras Street, Singapore 078984
Opening Hours:
Tues - Fri: 11am - 7pm
Sat: 10am - 5pm

This article was first published on the Huffington Post.

Benjamin Loh is an executive public speaking coach, TEDx speaker, author and professional speaker on millennial matters. As the youngest Associate Certified Coach in Singapore and possibly, Asia-Pacific, he has coached over 100 corporate executives and entrepreneurs individually with over 750 hours of direct coaching and trained over 3,000 clients in high impact mass trainings in public speaking, presentation skills and leading the multi-generational workforce and millennials.

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