More on Singapore’s HENRY (High Earners, Not Rich Yet) Generation: Part Two
Private hire car stops abruptly in front forcing sharp braking, and he reverses so you can see the rude finger gesture and refuses to move until cars behind start honking at peak hour.
You really should not have honked just now when he pulled out imperiously after dropping his passenger-cargo at a no-stop zone because he probably feels entitled to.
Another week and we hear of another retrenchment—2 this week. Senior folks who are close friends of a friend, let go unceremoniously from their head jobs at the bank, late 40’s, one with young children the other with grown kids, with mortgages on nice properties and DBS Treasures accounts.
Our friend decided to quit last year which was easy because he has no kids and could not take the persistent fear of being laid off without notice. Our mind swings back to the rude driver as we say a prayer for his mental well-being because a car can be a weapon these days in London and elsewhere around the world although it seems ISIS has been calling on followers to light up forest fires in the West.
Are they the “Fallen HENRYs”, High Earners Not Rich Yet?
After all, 23.5% of Singaporean households are earning >S$15,000 a month as of 2018.
Unemployment headlines of Singapore job market showing strain as economy slows, coupled with the feel-good ones that half of Singapore is in the world’s richest 10% (and 226,000 are among the elite 1%), and then we are reading about all the inequality driving the protests around the world (along with corrupt, dictatorial or totalitarian governments). Who would not imagine that the case of mistaken identity and an innocent pay-slip would cause a public outburst just because someone else was earning S$66,000 a month, feeling more sorry for ourselves than the victim of abuse?
According to the report, the re-employment (“re-entry” rate) “dropped sharply to 59.9 per cent as of the second quarter, with those with “diploma and professional qualifications” declining to 57.7 per cent from 70.9 per cent in the first quarter.”
And we read about a former Deutsche bank employee facing “an uphill task to find a suitable one despite their best efforts to reskill themselves… Even after more than a year of job hunting, she is not giving up. “The past year taught me a lesson in staying positive and resilient,” she says. “I’ve moved out of my comfort zone through all these temp roles… you learn new skill sets, no matter what you do. There is no job too small.” She is taking active steps to become more employable, such as networking and trying to pick up new skills in other in-demand areas such as anti-money laundering and technology. She also intends to sign up for some courses to refresh her skills.”
Is that what happens to the HENRY cohort when they lose their jobs unexpectedly?
In the current era of “disruption”, short for disruptive innovation, careers get wiped out in a flash and anxiety is running high to get that quick buck and get rich before the rat race gets you. It is much like WeWork in their mad rush to get the IPO before they ran out of cash and failed for founder Neumann’s greed to become a multibillionaire left him just an ordinary billionaire (albeit still a billionaire, unlike the Forever 21 owners after bankruptcy) after Softbank’s buyout of the firm. There is a hurry to cash out just like the largest IPO on planet Earth is attempting because no one with a good asset (or idea) would be in such a hurry to share, really.
And to prove the point of quick bucks, just look at how Bitcoin managed to rise 38% on a Saturday after dropping to its lowest level since June mid-last week just because Chinese President Xi decreed a concerted national pursuit of blockchain (Blockchain is not Bitcoin!) but that is how the hustle works in the new world—race to get rich quick!
It is logical because hard work doesn’t really go very far now and career permanence or ‘iron rice bowls’ are a relic of the past. There is virtually no way to accumulate wealth if one has to change careers 5-6 times in their working life which means one’s salary resets to ground zero each time for all the re-skilling one goes through along the way. No one is willing to work hard when the profits only accrue to the shareholders and wage growth does not match stock market gains.
Dim prospects not just for the HENRY millennials—for the quinoa bowls and avocado toasts—but just about every wage earner out there in this age of disruption, as FT journalist Helen Barrett described changing careers is “difficult, lonely, daunting and expensive”, to start at the bottom and halved her pay. Is there time to even think about retirement?
And thus the rush for the quick hustle and get rich scheme, punting for success like this tongue in cheek approach outlined by an anonymous FT contributor, alluding to WeWork, no doubt. Yes, FIRE movement—save as much as you can for financial independence, retire early! But real riches come from the IPO and side hustles.
Source: FT Alphaville
Boasting the third lowest fertility rate in the world aside, let’s talk about white-collar crimes and financial scams, of which there has been a sharp increase in that is consistent with the global trend. For those who cannot be bothered to save their way, then there is the easier route of crime in terms of theft and misconduct which does not include securities fraud, insider trading, and stock rigging.
Source: PWC report
While it cannot be ruled out, in our opinion, that the rise in crime could be due to better detection and surveillance, the urgency to keep up with the HENRYs could be blamed.
We cannot blame the HENRY’s for wanting to live well and flaunting those ski holidays on Facebook with a Michelin meal (or Michelin-standard) at least once a month, kids in tow as well. YOLO = hedonistic indulgences, and there is even a YOLO credit card that appears to target the wannabe HENRY’s because it is getting fashionable to be broke which is possibly true because credit card rollovers are trending near record highs and grown 60% in the past decade.
It is a global trend that could possibly be blamed on the rise of social media and the desire to be living the dream on Instagram as a SMH article on millennials suggests—which gives rise to a misplaced sense of entitlement that can be extrapolated to the other generations as well, really (from observation and experience).
CEO of Australian retailer Winning Group blamed the prevalence of social media and get-rich-quick schemes causing Australians to live beyond their means. The rise of Instagram has been “damaging to society”, he said, as users strived to display the “best 1 per cent” of their lives, leading them to live a lifestyle they couldn’t afford. “I think the world’s living in this desperation of wanting more, and that’s getting people into a lot of trouble. People expect they should be able to spend all this money on eating out because they see all their friends on social media eating out breakfast, lunch and dinner, having these great lives and going to Europe every Australian winter. So there’s a lot of debt and a lot of people really struggling to maintain the lifestyle they’re used to. The world has to go through another huge correction.“
Who cares if they are such a marketable segment?
We have been lucky HENRY’s but instead of congratulating ourselves, we have chosen to believe it is not smart other than luck. Research has suggested that hard work and talent do not translate to success and it’s a serendipitous process, granted that we are not the most successful.
Source: MIT Technology Review
What happened to the Lehman chaps? Not all of them ended in Barclays or had the luck to land another HENRY-sque career. Those unlucky ones found themselves never recovering and looking back at their Lehman stints in wonder.
The main stress is in keeping up the lifestyles and stressing about money takes a toll on the brain and body—the feeling of shame and helplessness—which ultimately takes a toll on the intellect and even the immune system when it develops into a chronic condition. And perhaps that is why we note an inordinate number of acquaintances and friends of friends who developed strange auto-immune conditions.
Perhaps that is also why Moody’s has taken an interest in recent research that has also shown spiking health problems in US millennials that includes depression, hyperactivity, hypertension and substance abuse among other conditions that has become a “vicious cycle” that is likely caused by a tough economy and student debt in addition to their extra healthcare burden.
Spare a thought for the GRAB driver? And our dear friend who paid up for her premium insurance without knowing that the price will be higher this time next year?
The Hallmarks of a Good HENRY (jokingly)
Who does not want to enjoy the finer things in life?
What is the point of working hard and worrying about retrenchment when we cannot reap the fruits of hard work?
The rule of thumb in the face of economic uncertainty is not to have children. And that is what smart Singaporeans are doing with our fertility rate the 3rd lowest in the world (as mentioned in our previous post) because raising one child can cost up to a Ferrari.
Do not gloat! It can vanish in an instance.
Do not get upset over a S$66k a month salary declaration unless you feel you are doing work that entitles that pay and you are not getting it.
Pay up for medical insurance! And mortgage insurance! (just in case)
We are not advocates of the extreme FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement that we read about in the news and how a Japanese woman retired at 34 after living on US$2 a day for 14 years because it is just too extreme for comfort. But the idea is to save up for the rainy day.
Yet, we do advocate not taking on a 30-year mortgage when you are not in a dual income situation or additional mortgages or loans.
Always have a side gig which need not be in a financial product or real estate. No need to maintain a private bank account for the sake of appearances.
Once you have the backup plan, be mean! Yes. Adopt the Rich Asshole Syndrome. Because altruism is not inbuilt into millions of years of human evolution (DNA) hence survival of the fittest and the human “species’ deepest innate values”, as psychologists suggest.
Finally, as we try to talk our dear friend out of buying a new car, we think it is okay to compromise for a modicum of restraint, over the prospect of entrusting your life to private hire car drivers for the rest of your life.
The concept of HENRY is definitely worth pondering, at the least. The potential of the market segment has been exploited in the past and amplified by social media but threatens to be disrupted in the current times of rising social discontent globally.
There are huge possibilities to tap on, yet the few identifiable trends would be the urgency to get rich, low fertility rate and stress issues. Perhaps those will be the starting points?