Max Keeling: Investing Financial Advisor

Max Keeling:  Index Fund Advisor In Singapore

Photo courtesy of Max Keeling

Most financial advisors in SouthEast Asia and the Middle East sell horrific products.  They are also poorly trained.  But today, I’m profiling Max Keeling.  He’s one of the biggest client-advocates in Asia…someone who says he became, “A reluctant financial advisor.”  You can read his story below, in his own words.

 

Max, please tell us a little about yourself professionally, including your qualifications.

I am a Chartered Accountant and had a corporate career for over 17 years, mostly in Financial Services. I started my working life at KPMG and spent 10 years with Barclays Bank including 6 years working at Barclays Investment Bank in Singapore.

My own personal investment journey led me to become a reluctant financial adviser!

In May 2014 I was working at Barclays Investment Bank in Singapore and I signed up with one of the expat financial advisers.  Later that year, I read Andrew’s book and discovered his blog – that’s when I realised my mistake.  I had been put into everything that Andrew suggests you avoid – expensive, commission-based insurance wrappers, using expensive active funds.

I was mortified and embarrassed. As a Chartered Accountant, working in finance, it was my job to check contracts, sense check fees and understand complex transactions.

Then, a miracle happened in 2015.  The expensive insurance wrapper I had been put in was with Standard Life and they decided to exit Asia.  So just 14 months after signing up, I got all my money returned, plus a bonus for the inconvenience caused!

By this time, I had set up my own investment account with Saxo, as per Andrew’s advice, and made sure I didn’t give it to another expat salesperson. 

Inspired by my personal experience, in 2016 I decided  to leave the corporate world and start coaching other expats around Asia to help them set up their own DIY accounts, giving away 40+ copies of Andrew’s book ‘The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing’ in the process.

Editor’s note, the second edition of this book has been renamed as: Millionaire Expat:  How To Build Wealth Overseas

I began to seek out financial advisers in Asia on behalf of my clients who wanted professional help rather than the ‘DIY’ approach.  I soon learned that I am more passionate and enthusiastic about financial planning than most financial advisers!  I was also saddened to learn just how many financial advisers in Asia were in reality financial salespeople earning commissions from products. I really struggled to find anyone that I was happy to refer my clients to.

It became clear that there was a gap in Singapore for an independent  fee-only adviser, with a strong focus on goals-based planning.  So in 2018 I got regulated and joined Providend to enable me to continue coaching expats, and to also be able to manage their investment for them.

 

Max, what can you tell us about you, as a person? 

I don’t just spend my time obsessing and reading about personal finance – I do have other passions in my life!

Photo courtesy of Max Keeling

I live in Singapore with my wife, Laura, and we have been here since 2011. We both love to travel and have taken several ‘mini-retirements’ over the last decade all over Asia, Europe and Australia. We have a house in Ibiza and spend as much time as we can there. The mini-retirements and the house in Ibiza are both the product of thoughtful lifestyle financial planning.

I try my best to keep fit and active, having completed several triathlons and competitive races.  I am also interested in all aspects of work productivity and entrepreneurship. I spend my free time reading non-fiction books, listening to podcasts (Tim Ferriss is a favorite) or at the gym.

Photo courtesy of Max Keeling

 

Max, could you give us an introduction to your firm?

I am Head of Expat Advisory at Providend Ltd – Singapore’s first fee-only advisory firm with more than 18 years in the market.  We think we are still the sole ‘fee-only’ firm in Singapore where every adviser operates this way. 

I am fully supported by an experienced and knowledgeable team of CFP planners, and we only use evidence-based and cost-efficient investment products.  We are probably Singapore’s largest users of Vanguard and Dimensional Fund Advisers amongst financial advisers.

 

Max, what is the minimum account size requirement you have, in order for a person to become a client?

Typically, my clients have $1-20m SGD of investable assets and are looking for help across all of their assets, especially when coming up to retirement.

We can start a relationship with $500k SGD if the client is still accumulating towards their financial goals, and we can help put some financial discipline around their life.

 

Why do you only build portfolios of low-cost index funds or ETFs for your clients?

We want all clients to get the returns they are entitled to and it is incumbent on us to find the best way to achieve that goal. The evidence is overwhelming that the highest confidence strategy for investing your money in the stock market is via a low-cost, index-based, globally diversified portfolio.  If you layer on top of this 60 years of Nobel prize winning academic research into how to best construct a portfolio, it is clear that the best fund managers in the world currently are Vanguard and Dimensional Fund Advisers.

We aren’t looking to outperform the market – we are looking to capture the market. All the independent studies show that if an individual investor had this objective, they would outperform more than 80% of active fund managers over a 10 to 15 year time horizon.

 

Could you give us an idea of the kind of services you offer, as well as your charges? If they differ, based on circumstances, could you give us a few examples?

Firstly, we have an initial discussion without charge to see what the individual is looking for, whether we can add significant value, and therefore whether we are the right firm for them.  If not, we will always try to help them and point them in the right direction.

We would normally start by doing a standalone comprehensive financial plan to understand where they are now, where they want to get to, and what the gaps are.  We would then give them a set of recommendations based on their situation, but the common areas we cover are:

  • Desired lifestyle they want to maintain or reach
  • Help to think about life after being an expat. Very few clients have thought beyond the next few years and appreciate having a structure to work through
  • Review current investments and savings trajectory and see if they are ‘on track’
  • Consider different approaches to company stock options
  • Consider children’s education costs and funding requirements
  • Review insurance needs and gaps
  • Review wills and estate plans

We charge SGD$5,000 for this initial planning work, which typically take 4-6 meetings.

We charge ongoing fees on assets we manage which starts at 1%, which would be scaled down for accounts over SGD$2m.

We also charge an implementation fee on initial funds invested.

 

Contact Details

 

 

Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas. My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions.

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2 Responses

  1. Jen says:

    What is the difference between a reit and an etf for developed markets for example? In Internaxx I cannot find a reit for isahres or vanguard but I can find an etf for developed markets…is it okay to invest in the etf one…as I read on here one could add a reit.

    • Max Keeling says:

      Hi Jen. REITs are very different from global tracker funds, and are not something that I would recommend for a main portfolio.

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