All images by Stephanie Lee for RICE Media.
For the first time in my life, I asked an insurance agent out for a chat. Man, how the tables have turned.
They’re not called insurance agents anymore, by the way; they prefer the title of Financial Services Consultant (FSC). Time to adapt.
If the very idea of dollars and cents gives you the jitters, you’re not alone. I’ve ghosted FSCs far too many times to count—messages blue-ticked for over two years.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Perhaps I’ve unknowingly mirrored this silly dance from watching my parents deal with their own finances. Like many people, they’ve adopted the ignorance-is-bliss, you-only-live-once (YOLO) mindset when it comes to financial planning.
It took a pandemic—a disruption so jarring—that people (including my parents) were sent towards deeper introspection for once. A global crisis single-handedly rallied aspiring fitspos, gardeners and home chefs to the frontlines of social media.
We started questioning what ‘a better life’ even means. In wanting better for ourselves, we scrambled to review finances, relationships, health, and fitness—or our lack thereof.
A Better Life: Kachings and Beyond
A study in 2020 underscores some real actions (or ingredients) we can take toward a better life. Think of it as a self-help book: far cry from being a foolproof magic formula, but a helpful guide nonetheless. The Subtle Art of Not Spending a D*llar.
The study points to things like quality relationships, time to recharge, and a sense of independence as ways to improve our overall well-being. Theoretically, all that sounds easy. But I could speak to one person who might know the answers—an FSC, to be exact.
These folks always seem to have it all together. Please, let me in on your secret. I won’t blue-tick you this time.
I’ll tell you this: Shawn comes across as the picture-perfect FSC with infectious go-getter energy. His life seems so well put together on social media you can’t help but feel a little envious. Think achievements, motivational captions, client testimonials, fitspo shots and large-group gatherings—all markers of a seemingly happy and fruitful life.
Instagram highlights never paint the full story. Like the best of us, the 30-year-old has had his fair share of lost days. Originally a communications major, he stumbled upon a job opportunity in financial services seven years ago.
Long story short: for Shawn, life in media wasn’t it (and speaking from experience, I don’t blame him).
Rather than being bound by a 9 to 6 routine, he yearned for a career that would grant him higher fulfilment and control. That boiled down to having more time—even if it means an extra hour or two to spare for loved ones and the gym.
“Better” is relative. “Better” requires us to first acknowledge what’s missing in our current life. It encompasses not just a good grasp of finances but a constant investment into our physical health and personal relationships.
Shawn points out that this balance is what we collectively wish to have but often lose sight of.
From Shawn’s experience with clients, woes typically extend beyond finances. There are all these other aspects that linger in the recesses of our minds—things like work, relationships and health.
“With every person, it’s always about figuring life together over a meal and heartfelt conversations,” he explains. Questions like “what is not going well?” and “how can we find the solution to the missing piece together?” need to be discussed.
He went on to explain what the all-so-familiar industry term ‘Million Dollar Round Table’ (MDRT) means. For an advisor, an MDRT stamp is proof that you are a high flyer; it also makes you more likely to be considered a good candidate for leadership positions.
But perhaps what’s less-known about MDRT is that it revolves around a “whole person concept,” Shawn explains. Having a solid sales track aside—the advisor must also be someone who manages their personal life, health and relationships equally well.
Shawn half-jokes: “In that sense, this standard applies to everybody. We want to be financially secure at our jobs—that’s one thing, but we also have to juggle everything else at the same time.”
This takes commitment. It’s easier said than done. Shawn recognises that these efforts don’t come easy. I mean, how can someone fit in exercise and entertainment when they’re busy trying to keep the lights on?
Though Shawn has since moved out from his family home, he makes it a point to get together with family once a week—every Sunday, in fact. If his busy schedule allows it, that includes squeezing in some workout time too. “To be honest, I’m always struggling to have it all too,” he confesses.
I notice the little signs of efforts made towards a healthier life in his home. Resistance bands, weights, and even health supplements reside on his dining table. Routine health tests aren’t foreign to him either. On that day, he had just returned from a dental check. As much as possible, Shawn schedules these mundane check-ups as a way to take charge of his health.
Just then, I noticed a motivational quote placed right at his doorway. ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Humble,’ it states. Cliche, but apt.
Shifting Gears on the Ground
It’s safe to say that, within these seven years, Shawn’s done quite a fair bit for people at their most vulnerable moments.
Sure, there may be investment plans that help the rich get richer, but that doesn’t paint the full picture of what FSCs actually do. Shawn’s first death claim, in fact, came unexpectedly when he was only a few months into the job.
His cousin had passed away from an unnatural death during Chinese New Year. It was followed by a series of frantic processing of paperwork. While dealing with his extended family’s grief during the festive season, Shawn needed to remain professional.
Even at this moment, he’s handling breast cancer claims — two women, in their 30s and 50s respectively, who had been diagnosed with the unexpected illness.
Once, Shawn even helped a friend who unfortunately got into a motorbike accident. Left with multiple broken bones, her medical bill rounded up to a stunning S$100k, more or less. This same friend jokes about how her savings would have cratered without insurance.
I couldn’t help but notice the cast wrapped around Shawn’s arm at one point during our initial phone call, which he soon explained to be an injury caused by martial arts (just one of his many active hobbies).
“As an FSC, I knew that I had coverage already. When I needed to go for the surgery for my arm though, I thought about how it would’ve been better if I had bought more,” he jokes.
“I mean, nobody wakes up and wants to buy insurance. People are sceptical and that’s normal. Our job is unique because it requires selling something that you wouldn’t know you need.”
I came to know, through my conversation with Shawn, that there are a few things in life more fraught than conversations about finances, illness and death. Talking to a stranger about these worries takes guts and some level of vulnerability. More so for guarded folks.
For comfort to be met, it requires a level of communication that’s hard-won—I had to be honest about my worries, but he needed to meet me with empathy and sincerity.
Despite my half-interview, half-rant, Shawn remained patient, never jumping in to advise. In all honesty, it wasn’t hard to break down those walls. We found common ground likely due to the close age gap, and soon dug out relatable challenges faced by our generation. He even shared a little about his personal life; how his younger sister faced the same quandaries because her first job offered awful working conditions.
Quit Beating Yourself Up
Only in recent years did it occur to me that much of my family’s financial predicament could be avoided with proper planning in place.
To this day, my parents regret opting for a five-room flat that was way above their spending capabilities. I was too young to understand the magnitude of their decisions then. All that hustling left little for their retirement, let alone the luxury of time for friends and personal growth.
Frightening as that sounds, it’s just part of being human. As Shawn affirms, regrets and procrastination are commonplace. He sees it on a regular basis. I’ve always wondered how different my parents’ situation would look if they had spoken to a professional first. The view I get from sitting on the fence may be great, even enlightening, but I’ll still be in the same spot.
I ask Shawn if it’s too late to turn things around. “Cliche—but rather than beating ourselves up, it’s better to move forward and see poor decisions as learning lessons. That’s the only thing we can do,” he assures.
It’s hard not to panic while gazing into the uncertainties of the world. With financial adulthood comes a series of firsts—loan payments and other complex decisions that keep us away from living our best life. I’m guilty of sometimes living on autopilot. In our quest for better, that often leaves loved ones and our health (both physical and mental) at bay.
One thing is certain: for our sake, let’s start talking about it.