This article appears in the November 2022 issue of Advisor’s Edge magazine — our second last print issue. If you’re a print-only subscriber, learn more about our digital transition and how to continue to receive all the best news and features on Advisor.ca.
Name: Bob Lai
City: Vancouver, B.C.
Occupations: Product manager in the telecommunications field, part-time blogger, part-time financial coach and a proponent of the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) community
Assets: Home in a suburb of Vancouver, investment portfolio with a value in the low seven figures that pays dividends of about $3,400 per month
A propensity for saving
I got a job at a computer store in my teens. Yes, computers were an interest of mine but, first and foremost, I was just trying to make some money. Financial sense kind of runs in my family. My dad retired when he was in his early 40s. I have a cousin who also retired in his early 40s. Another cousin had the means to retire early but decided to continue working.
Being an immigrant family, we’ve always had the idea that you should live within your means and get your money working for you so you don’t have to work until you’re 65. Having said that, I don’t feel any great rush to retire. I enjoy what I do at work. A lot of people in the FIRE movement talk about retiring when they’re 40 or even earlier. But my wife, Ayoe, and I are taking a different approach. We’re building up our portfolio so we can live off the dividends and leave the principal to our kids and our grandchildren. For us, this is about building a legacy.
I think a lot of people in the FIRE community like the idea of having the freedom to do what you like. To me, financial independence is all about having options. I think of financial resources as levers you can pull. You toggle them until they produce the results you want. Even if I quit my full-time job, I would be working in some way or other, whether it’s writing my blog or indulging in hobbies like photography or scouting. If you’re not happy with your work or with your life, reaching FIRE is not going to magically make you happy.
Working with advisors
We talked to a financial advisor at my bank, but I really couldn’t see him as an advisor. I saw him as a salesperson. He was pushing some mutual funds and my wife and I weren’t comfortable with his approach. Finally, my wife suggested we ask him about his net worth. He was probably in his 50s, and we were in our 30s. It turns out his net worth was way lower than ours. So we were like, why would we listen to him? I want an advisor who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. Eventually we might hire a tax specialist to help us minimize the impact of withdrawing money. We don’t mind paying for professional help if we need it, but it can’t be someone who is just trying to sell us stuff.
Advice for advisors
Get to know your clients. Understand what they want to do and be open with them about your interests in a product and the fees you’re getting. We get a lot of great advice within the FIRE community. People are very willing to offer ideas and share their knowledge. That’s been very valuable. I was reading a lot of blogs before I started my own. I never thought I had all the answers. I just wanted to share my personal journey. If somebody finds it useful, cool. If nothing else, it’s a great way for me to organize my thoughts on investing.
Up close and Personal
My family came to Canada from Taiwan in 1995, when I was 13. So, I’ve lived longer here than anywhere else. Canada is home for me. My wife, Ayoe, and I have two children — a boy and a girl, aged eight and six — so there’s always a lot of activities going on. It’s a busy life, trying to juggle between work and family, but we love it.