Author: SG Budget Babe

Review: Which Maternity Milk is the Best?

During my pregnancy, I wasn’t sure if I ought to consume maternity formula milk as I received varying opinions about it.

  • My gynae was for it.
  • A nutritionist I spoke to at a Cordlife conference recommended it after I shared that I only had the habit of eating 2 meals a day.
  • My mother-in-law was against it as she believed drinking it will make one fat.
  • A few mummies on Dayre were also against it, claiming that the high sugar content could cause gestational diabetes later (not so sure if this is scientifically true though!)
I also have a bad habit – I can be quite the workaholic at times, and there have been many occasions (even during my pregnancy) where I’ve been so tied up at work that I’ve simply…forgotten to eat my meals.

Having heard from different folks and after consulting my gynae, I eventually decided to drink maternity milk throughout my pregnancy to ensure that I would be getting enough nutrients to feed my growing baby. This decision came about because I examined my own diet (two meals a day) and realised I really wasn’t getting enough nutrients from my food and lack of meals. Moreover, my gynae was supportive of me drinking maternity milk as my baby was underweight during our scans.

For those who already are consuming enough nutrients from your regular meals, perhaps it’ll be better to speak with your gynae to see if they would recommend it in your situation.

However, while the instructions on the cans typically call for 1 – 2 glasses a day, I modified it and only stuck to 1 glass a day, which I usually consume together with my granola as a snack in the afternoon. 
The great thing about maternity milk in Singapore is that you can first sign up for free samples so that you can try out the different brands before committing to one:
Goodie bag from Nestle’s Baby Club…I loved this!
Dumex sample + changing mat + a really useful pregnancy guidebook.

Photo of the Abbott Similac sample and goodies, taken from a fellow mummy friend because I
didn’t get to take a photo of my parcel before my mother-in-law kept it.
Goodie bag from Cryoviva when their sales rep came to pitch their cord banking plans to me.
I ended up not storing with them though, for reasons detailed here

Since my decision to drink the maternity milk was largely due to its nutritional content, I set out to compare across all the different milk brands in order to discern which would be the best (green denotes the best in that nutrient):

*Note: The above comparison is only done across the normal / vanilla flavours. The chocolate ones (offered by Anmum and Enfamama) and strawberry (Similac) were not included as it wouldn’t then be an apple-to-apple comparison with the other brands given the additional flavouring.

Abbott Similac Mum came out superior in this regard for nutritional level and low fat.

Aside from nutritional content, the taste of the milk and whether it dissolved easily were other key factors that I considered. Here’s how they fared for me:

If you’re looking for the best-tasting one, I felt Enfamama A+ Chocolate was the nicest tasting. For the vanilla ones, I often ended up adding 1 spoon of Milo powder so it’ll be more palatable to me (disclaimer: that’s because I’m generally not a fan of cow/goat milk and only drink soy or flavoured milk). However, adding Milo would also add to the calorie and sugar intake of your drink, in contrast to simply drinking Enfamama A+ chocolate directly.

In terms of price, I paid nothing because I managed to get sufficient free samples to last me throughout my pregnancy (I only started consuming the milk from the 4th month onwards) by signing up directly with the various brands. Just as I was about to run out, a fellow expecting mum (who didn’t need her maternity milk as her baby was of good weight) gave me her samples as well. Thanks Isabel! 🙂

So in the end, I didn’t have to fork out a single cent to purchase any of the milk that I was consuming as a result of all the free samples. I was really lucky in that sense!

Where to get free samples of maternity milk in Singapore:

On average, the samples from these online sites took 4 – 8 weeks to arrive, so I would suggest to sign up early if you can. 
Another great place to get samples would be when you attend pregnancy conferences (Thomson Medical holds quite a number of good, educational seminars every year to help expecting parents, and the entry tickets usually cost under $10 per person!), which usually give out a goodie bag to all attendees and where you’ll find some sample sachets of maternity milk as well. Baby fairs and your gynae’s office might have some samples as well (mine did, for Dumex, Anmum and Enfamama).
I would HIGHLY recommend that you attend some of the pregnancy conferences as they are not only affordable, but also extremely educational. I attended a few and learnt about breastfeeding tips, labour techniques, cord blood banking, and more. 

When to start drinking maternity milk?

Anytime! In my case, I couldn’t really stomach anything in the first trimester because I suffered from really bad nausea, and the smell of milk itself was enough to send me running to the sink. It was only in my fourth month (second trimester) onwards that I started drinking it for its nutritional content and ensure that both my baby and I were consuming enough nutrients.
I hope this post will help those of you who are considering whether to drink maternity milk, and which brand to get! With so many samples available, you can also try them out for yourself before making a decision, but if you don’t have the time or energy to compare them individually, I hope this post helps you to make a decision for yourself 🙂
With love,
Budget Babe

What should the sandwiched generation do?

So your parents didn’t plan their finances or save for their retirement. They were so caught up in giving you the best of what they could (bless their hearts) that they forgot to think about themselves, and now you find yourself caught in the middle as you worry if you have enough money to take care of your parents while also providing for your children. 

What should you do?

In the aftermath of the viral “Worst Parents in the World” ad, I’ve been receiving a number of readers’ questions on what I think would be good action steps for those who were not savvy enough to be like the parents in the video when it comes to planning their retirement.

Is it too late now?

It doesn’t have to be. While nothing will beat a plan that was set up decades ago and has been running since (time in investments is a powerful thing), I believe a plan set in place now will still outdo not having any plan at all. 

I’ve recently shared a heartwarming reader’s story here about how her parents failed to plan as well, so when she grew up and got married, she decided to take things into her own hands and managed to turn things around. Today, she’s adequately prepared for what the future might hold for her family. You can read what she did here, but of course, not everyone may be able to execute her methods, given our differing life circumstances. 

I know I can’t, but that doesn’t mean it is still a dead end for folks like us. So here are some options:

Disclaimer: For the purpose of simplicity in this article, I’m only looking at general solutions and the products offered by NTUC Income – the folks behind the viral ad itself.

1. Outsource your biggest financial risks to an insurer 

Hospitalisation Insurance
If your parents are still young enough (i.e. under 75 years of age) and in good health, get a hospitalisation plan for them so that you can offset the risk of (and emotional burden of having to handle) large hospital bills to an insurer.

This was one of the key things I did for my in-laws since my husband is their only child, and they had zero insurance coverage for themselves before I stepped in.

You can find out more on how integrated shield plans (IPs) work in a previous article I’ve written here, and then compare against all the current IPs in the market to find which is the most suitable for your parents (or for you, if you’ll be paying for it). IncomeShield remains a favourite among many Singaporeans for their affordability, and you can review their premiums here.

Critical Illness / Disability / Income Replacement Insurance
Depending on your income and affordability, you may also wish to consider whether to add on insurance coverage for critical illnesses and/or disability. These policies work such that in the event that you become physically ill, you can get either a lump-sum or monthly/yearly cash payouts to help you defer against outpatient healthcare costs and/or loss of income.

Personally, we’ve gotten critical illness coverage upon learning that we’ll soon be parents. We’ve not opted for disability insurance at this moment due to liquidity issues, but will consider adding it on later when our finances permit the extra expenditure.


2. Build up your cash savings


You can do this either by 

(i) diligently accumulating your own savings and parking it either in a high-yield bank savings account, fixed deposits or investments, and then drawing down from this sum later on throughout your retirement years or 
(ii) parking your savings with an insurer, especially if you’ve no faith to manage your own money well to last you throughout

For instance, if you find it hard to be disciplined in doing your own savings, then perhaps turning to an insurer might work better for you instead. For instance, Income’s Limited Pay RevoSave was designed for such a group of people, who are looking to save up money by paying premiums for a limited duration, and then receiving the cash payout after 2 policy years till the end of the selected policy term. Contrast this to traditional endowment plans, where your money tends to be locked in for a much longer duration. 

If you and/or your parents have financial liquidity right now and would like to buffer against the future while taking self-discipline out of the picture, then such plans where the premiums will be invested in the underlying PAR funds to give both guaranteed and non-guaranteed returns could be options to consider.

Getting retirement cash payouts

For Singaporeans/PRs, don’t forget that CPF Life payouts can also be a good tool to rely upon if you’re looking for monthly retirement monies. But the question is, will it be enough to cope with rising costs of living?


If you don’t require the cash liquidity of Income’s Limited Pay RevoSave so early, another product would be RevoRetire, which offers monthly cash payouts only from your selected retirement age onwards (so there’s more time to accumulate cash value before starting your payouts). It also comes with a disability care benefit by giving you an additional one month of cash benefit on top of each monthly payout in the event that you’re diagnosed with a disability and need extra cash to pay for treatment or caretakers.


If your parents are 60 years or younger with at least $10,000 in cash savings, but neither you nor them are inclined to invest it on your own and take on the risk, SAIL might just be suitable as you get to:

  • Pay in one single premium today
  • Choose your desired retirement age from the choices available
  • Get regular retirement income over 20 years

Thus, if your parents have some cash lying around without any idea of what to do with it (and you don’t wish to take on any investing risks), you can choose to use this (or your SRS monies) to pay the lump sum premium which is then used by Income to invest in their participating funds to generate returns, which are then returned to you for your retirement later. Even if they lose money, you have a guaranteed buffer of getting at least your capital back (vs. when you invest on your own, you stomach your own capital losses), provided you at least hold until the stipulated period.

And when you reach your specified retirement age, you can either convert your plan into a stream of regular retirement income over 20 years then, or receive a lump-sum cash payout. Additionally, you’ll also be covered for total and permanent disability before age 70 and death.

3. Leave behind cash for your children and/or loved ones


Choose between Whole Life Insurance or BTIR.

Whole Life Insurance
The debate against term and whole life insurance continues to wage on, but I’m of the stand that when it comes to which is better, this really depends on what you want and prioritise. Term life has lower premiums (but you’ll have to pay all the way until the policy matures, and for some term policies, the accumulated total premiums paid over the policy lifetime can actually be HIGHER than a limited-pay whole life plan) and also typically has no cash value when the policy terminates. 

On the other hand, a number of whole life plans offer you an option to pay for a limited period and then enjoying the coverage for the rest of your life (vs continuing to pay even when you’re retired or jobless). If you decide to terminate a whole life plan later on (after the breakeven point, please), you’ll also get a lump-sum cash payout, in contrast to term plans where you may get absolutely nothing.

Some people also see whole life insurance as a legacy i.e. they leave a sum of money behind for their loved ones in the event that they pass away. 

Buy Term Invest the Rest
The reason why I still favour term is because I prefer to pay cheaper premiums right now and invest the rest, since I’m already actively investing and spend a significant amount of time analysing investment opportunities as you can see from past articles like here, here and here. However, I recognise that not everyone might be able or want to do the same. As a DIY investor, you’ll need a few things:

  • effort (opening a brokerage account, setting up your investments, studying and monitoring your investments, etc)
  • emotional competency (to stomach the wild market rides of fluctuating stock prices)
  • time in the market (for compound interest to set in and work to your benefit. Generally, the older you are, the lesser risks you can take as well)
  • recognise that any capital losses is on YOU
As I’ve always maintained, choose between either BTIR (Buy Term and Invest the Rest by yourself) or get whole life insurance and outsource this part of your finances to someone else, for a fee. The first option requires two steps while the second requires only one.


BUT!
The problem I’ve observed is that some people who read about this debate online then decide to terminate their whole life policies and switch to term insurance simply because its premiums are lower, but they fail to invest the difference in premiums (which is the entire concept of why BTIR is superior)! In this case, these folks might have been better off simply holding on to their whole life insurance in the first place. Sorry but that’s the hard truth.

If you fall into this category, then VivoCash Prime is one possible whole life plan to consider. Its key benefits include:


You could technically even use this policy to plan for 3 generations:

  • Yourself : get TPD coverage in the form of a premium waiver benefit i.e. you continue to receive cash payouts even without paying premiums for your later years in the event that you’re diagnosed with TPD
  • Your child : insure your newborn and accumulate the yearly cash payouts for your child’s education, or for use later as you/they wish once you transfer the ownership over
  • Your grandchildren : the centennial maturity benefit paid when your child reaches 100 years of age, or death benefit if he passes on later, can be handed on to your grandchildren



TLDR?


Here’s a quick summary again of the solutions I feel can be used to address the conundrums featured in the ad:

Conundrum

Solution

Used up and have little money left for future needs, especially if physical illness strikes

Outsource your biggest financial risks by getting a:

       Hospitalisation plan (to protect against large hospital bills)

       Disability / income replacement plan (to replace your loss of income when you can no longer work)

       Critical illness plan (for cash payouts to help with healthcare treatments, care and living expenses)

Insufficient cash for living expenses during retirement

Build up your cash savings by:

       diligently accumulating and investing

       take up a savings plan with an insurer to be reclaimed later

Leave behind cash for your children and/or loved ones

       Buy term invest the rest (and ensure that the investment monies can be easily withdrawn by your loved ones in the event that you pass away before you can do the transfer)

or

       Whole life insurance plan 


If your parents didn’t plan their finances well and are relying on you as their retirement plan, what’s YOUR plan from here?


Disclaimer: This article is written in collaboration with Income. All opinions are that of my own. You should NEVER purchase any insurance plan first based purely on information found online. For more information in assessing whether the mentioned products will be suitable for you, please speak directly with a financial advisor for more details.

An Open Letter to the Insurance Agent(s)

(A letter to all the insurance agents I’ve ever encountered and what I wish I could tell them.)Dear insurance agent(s),Please stop hounding us at MRT stations and bus interchanges. We really are not interested, especially when we’re rushing to get…

My Review of Cordlife vs. Stemcord vs. Cryoviva

Hello! This is a much requested post from many of you, who contacted me in private requesting for my comparison table, so I’ve decided to share my findings publicly here. All data are consolidated from my individual meetings with the sales representatives across all three companies (so if there’s any data that is wrong / outdated, please let me know so I can change it, but I will not be held liable for any misinformation in this table as I’m merely replicating what their sales reps told me!).

I’ve also previously written on whether I feel cord blood banking is necessary, and why I’m not entirely for the idea of donating it to the Singapore Cord Blood Bank (SCBB) vs. storing it privately here. I’ve also reviewed about how SCBB’s Family Banking Initiative costs stack up against the private banks – essentially it works out to be almost pretty much the same, except that you don’t get any freebies (such as $300+ UV sterilizers for baby bottles and hygiene and/or insurance, so it actually pales in comparison from a value perspective).

Cordlife

Stemcord

Cryoviva

Accredited by MOH, AABB and FACT



MOH & FACT
MOH-licensed only
Owns their own storage facility

A’Posh Bizhub at Yishun

100 Pasir Panjang and Tradehub 21

Jalan Pemimpin (Bishan), Mapex Building

Units stored so far

315,000
41,000

120,000 in Singapore, Thailand and India

Stores in 2 separate bags

Quality of processing

SEPAX 2 and Smart-Max

(since 2008)

SEPAX 2
(since 2012)

Unknown as their labs are extremely new (set up last year).
Years of history

17 years
(since 2001)

16 years
(since 2002)

4

(since 2014)

Successful transplants with its stored samples

15 cases
None

Public company with transparent financial records for public access

Can store cord blood, cord tissue (i.e. Wharton’s jelly) and cord lining


$6,400 for cord blood + tissue (HSC and MSC cells)



$9,998 for cord blood + cord lining (HSC, MSC and EpSC cells)


$8,800 for cord blood + tissue (HSC and MSC cells)

Not able to store cord lining.

$6,850 for cord blood + tissue (HSC and MSC cells)

Not able to store cord lining.

Price (cord blood storage)

$5,200

$5,500
$4,950

Our decision then essentially came down to choosing between:

  • Want the cheapest? Cryoviva.
  • Want the most flexible pricing plans with low commitment? Stemcord.
  • Want the one with the best track record / technology / reviews / want to store all 3 types of stem cells? Cordlife.
Each of the private cord blood banks had their pros and cons, and it was truly a hard choice to make. As parents-to-be, what we wanted was:
  • A trustworthy blood bank where there’s no risk of contamination or losing of our samples
  • One with very low risk of liquidation (we don’t want to have paid for 21 years of storage for nothing!)
  • One with the most advanced technology for processing and storing the cord components
We first eliminated Cryoviva because although it certainly was the cheapest – we were offered $4,950 after GST with a free Hanil UV steriliser – we eventually figured that we would rather pay more for a company with either FACT and/or AABB accreditation for a greater peace of mind. As Cryoviva’s labs are the newest, it lacks the accreditation that the other two banks and SCBB have – they only have MOH license and ISO certification thus far, but so do the rest. (Previously, Cryoviva was renting and sharing the space with SCBB for cord blood storage.) Theirs was also the only contract which did not contain a legal clause stating that the cord blood unit will be transferred to another private bank or its equivalent if Cryoviva ever shut down, and I had to request for this legal clause to be added in instead (and it wasn’t).

Stemcord was next to go. While we liked the flexibility of their price plans and the idea that they were set up by medical doctors (they’re the only bank that allowed for a no-commitment package consisting of $1,450 enrolment fee and $275 per year for storage) and their transplant insurance (they offered a complimentary $50k payout to cover transplant costs if your autologous cord blood is used in the future, upon approval from their medical doctor), we were already sure that we wanted to go for a 21-year plan with upfront payment so we don’t have to worry about it for the next few decades. Moreover, they were also the most expensive, but we didn’t feel like they were necessarily the best out of all the three banks. While their sales rep emphasized on the fact that they’re the only private bank to store the cord blood in two separate units, I’m not entirely convinced since most transplant cases up to date have involved using all the blood for maximum effectiveness. Ultimately, how much to use will be determined by your doctor anyway. 


A forum post also then showed that Stemcord seemed to have lost one of their client’s cord blood before and the client was accused of not making payment about 4 years after she first started storing her children’s cord blood with them, when she wanted to retrieve one. I’m not sure what the latest status of this case is, but I only know this sort of emotional rollercoaster ride is not something I want to ever have to experience as a mother, and so my husband and I decided that we would rule Stemcord out for these reasons and more.

We were then left with Cordlife, and the Facebook reviews seemed promising:


They also had the best (and most number of) credentials:
Image credits: Cordlife

The processing

In terms of processing quality, Cordlife is also the first private cord blood bank in Singapore to offer the Sepax®2 automated processing technology, which can recover as high as 99.88%1 of total nucleated cells from cord blood. It is also a functionally closed processing system which ensures the sterility of the cord blood by eliminating exposure to air contaminants. Stemcord, on the other hand, was previously using a manual closed system (triple bag) which has only 82% recovery, but I was heartened to find out from their sales rep that they’ve since switched over to Sepax-2 since 2012.

The preservation 

After maximising the recovery of total nucleated cells from cord blood, the next important step is to carefully prepare the stem cells for cyropreservation, so that the cells can be stored indefinitely while retaining its viability for use in treatments. This is crucial, because you don’t know how many years later you might be needing it, so long-term viability and storage is extremely important. Cordlife is also the first family cord blood bank in Singapore to adopt this fully automated cyroprotectant infuser, mixer and cooling device, Smart-Max, which mixes the cyroprotectant with the stem cells in a uniform manner, thus eliminating the need for human intervention (and thus any chances of human error). 


Because cord blood storage is for the long term, the track record of the company is more important to me than simply going for the cheapest option. After all, surely you wouldn’t want to have paid all that money only to find out years down the road that the company has filed for insolvency! 

Therefore in the end, we decided to go with Cordlife because:


1. They have the longest track record with the most number of successful transplants.

Yes, I understand that being the newest player (Cryoviva) doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the weakest competitor, but given that the price difference is a mere $350 for 21 years (or $1.40 a month), I’d rather pay slightly more for that peace of mind and quality reassurance (due to accreditations).

2. They’re the only private bank in Singapore to offer cord blood, cord tissue and cord lining storage.



Since we’re talking about the future here, I don’t have to have any regrets about not having stored my baby’s cord lining just because the company I chose didn’t offer it, especially when there’s one which does. Cordlife is also among the only 6 banks in the world who offer this storage option and technology. Their patented technology, CellOptima, is exclusively offered at Cordlife only and can isolate both the epithelial and mesenchymal stem cells in our baby’s umbilical cord. On the other hand, Stemcord and Cryoviva can only process cord blood and cord tissue from the Wharton Jelly, and are therefore not able to process or store epithelial stem cells.

The yield of stem cells from the Wharton Jelly is also much lower at 54,000 cells vs. 20 million cells from the cord lining. Cordlife is the only authorised company in Singapore with CellOptima, which is a patented technology to harvest and multiply stem cells from the cord lining.




In other words, if you wish to also store EpSC stem cells, Cordlife is the only company in Singapore who can do it for you.

3. They’re dual-accredited.

Yes, it is indeed heartening to know that all three private banks are MOH-certified, but I’d want to go for the one with more accreditations for a greater peace of mind. Cordlife is the only one with AABB accreditation, which is the international standard for cord blood banks.

4. They were the first to invest and use SEPAX 2 for automated processing.

Stemcord only caught onto this in 2012, whereas I’m still unable to find out from Cryoviva’s website whether they’ve adopted SEPAX 2 for their labs by now.

This gives me the belief that Cordlife will continue investing in newest and latest technologies to ensure the viability of their processing and stored samples.

5. I got to visit the Cordlife laboratory and see their processes for myself.

Even though I was not yet a customer at that point, Cordlife allowed us to view their laboratory where someone from their sales team explained and showed me the different stages of processing (purification, SEPAX-2 machines, ISBT 128 Standard for Cellular Therapy Coding and Labelling, storage facility, backup generators, etc). Unlike some of the other labs who only allow existing members to view, I really appreciated the fact that Cordlife was willing to open their labs up to a mere prospect (aka yours truly) who hadn’t yet decided which company to bank with.

Cordlife also stores the cord blood units in a 20-80 bag, so if we reallllllly wanted to just use a little bit and conserve the rest for future treatments, they technically can do that for us as well. This was a concern I raised initially as I read from online reviews that some parents who chose to go with Stemcord decided based on the fact that they don’t have to use up all the cord blood in one sitting. However, all of this ultimately rests on the decision of the medical doctor overseeing the case and depending on the case severity as well anyway, but it is good to know that we also have this option.


6. Their salespeople were much more responsive.

I reached out to all the three private banks and met with them individually to understand more about what they could offer, and how they differentiate themselves from the rest of the competition. On this regard, Cordlife and Cryoviva were very prompt in getting back to me (within 1 – 3 business days), whereas Stemcord took 2 weeks to get back to me from when I first called them to enquire. In fact, it was only after I got impatient and followed up 2 weeks later on why no one ever called me back (using my email for this blog vs. the other two where I enquired via a personal address that was harder to trace back to my blogger status!), that they finally got back to me.

This then made me wonder if their service for existing members who are already storing with them are as prompt, or as slow. Although it might be two different teams handling sales and processing, nonetheless, it made me think twice about banking with Stemcord, and so I narrowed my choices down to Cordlife and Cryoviva.


7. Cordlife’s business is well-run and sustainable.

In fact, the demand for their cord blood banking services is so high that Cordlife has expanded to 8 other countries – the most among all its competitors here in Singapore. 

8. They’re a publicly-listed company on SGX where I can review their financials.

This is to ensure that they’re always held accountable and that I can review their financials regularly to make sure they’re doing well and not at risk of liquidation. Moreover, I’ve also recently bought their stock so I can have access to their AGMs where I’ll be able to follow their updates and question their senior management if there’s a need to! 

As such, after weeks of arduous research and speaking with a sales representative from each of the companies (including calling SCBB, to understand about donating vs. private banking), my husband and I have decided to go with Cordlife for storing of our baby’s cord blood, tissue and lining. Call us kiasu, but we’ll rather be safe than sorry.

I was initially only for the idea of storing the cord blood because of the cost, but as my husband says, “We only have to give up on one Europe family vacation just to afford it. This is worth it, let’s not have any regrets.”

Sounds similar to what another mummy shared online!

Anyway, I hope my homework will bless future parents-to-be and aid you in making your own informed decision as well! While I’ve chosen Cordlife for my own, ultimately please review the pros and cons of each provider and decide for yourself which is the best for you and your baby.

Disclaimer: Information in this post is accurate to the best of my knowledge as of 2018. I have reached out and personally spoken with each of the companies’ sales representatives in order to consolidate the table of comparisons here to try and ensure I’ve gotten my data right. If any mistakes are spotted, please feel free to reach out to me with the correct data and I’ll recheck to ensure accuracy of information is properly reflected.

With love,
Budget Babe

What’s the BEST insurance plan? (And how you can DIY)

I think it goes without saying that the current framework and service standards in Singapore’s insurance industry is SORELY lacking when it comes to addressing consumer needs. That’s why many of us struggle and still don’t have adequate, nor the best plans, for our needs.

In fact, when MAS conducted their mystery shopping on the insurance industry in 2011 (you can read their results announcement here, and the breakdown of the methodology here), they came to a similar conclusion too. The results were frankly quite shocking, especially when you consider that:

  • Most representatives obtained information on the shoppers’ personal particulars and employment, but less on other factors such as investment experience / financial objective / risk preferences / financial situation
    • BB: Sounds to me like they just wanted to find out how much the consumer earns so they know how much they can sell -.-
  • Most disclosed basic information about products recommended i.e. whether it is meant for protection, savings or investments, BUT disclosures on risk / amount and frequency of fees and charges / warnings / exclusions and other caveats were omitted!
  • The top three categories of products recommended were endowments, unit trusts and investment-linked life policies, which the industry panel assessed to be unsuitable. 
    • BB: I don’t like either of the three either, for reasons I’ve explained on this blog before. They’re suitable only for a VERY select group of people, but have been grossly mis-sold to the masses in my opinion.
This needs to be changed. And although some improvements have been made since (for instance, there’s a more comprehensive needs assessment survey that consumers need to filled up before purchasing any insurance policy now, but I still feel most agents I’ve seen do it in a very slipshod manner today just to “tick the boxes”), but if you ask me, they’re still not enough.

The reason why we still don’t have the best insurance plans for ourselves? I think this is due to the following 4 issues:

Current Problems in the Industry




4. Many consumers continue to overpay for their insurance policies.
Unfortunately, I think we have a very real ticking bomb on hand, and if something is not done to address these issues soon, they will only escalate into something bigger and more painful. We consumers will pay the price.


Despite this, I’m not idealistic or naive enough to believe that everyone can and should now DIY their own insurance. If you’re financially-savvy and make an effort to read up, and you’re self-aware of your own needs and limitation, then there really is little need for you to go through an insurance agent (unless you just want the convenience of calling up someone for your claims when something happens). 

But the sad truth is, most people aren’t equipped or confident enough on these two fronts. And while I fully advocate financial literacy and self-improvement (especially so you can smell the crap that your insurance salesperson is telling you), for many people, it may be too late to wait until you’re financially-savvy before you purchase insurance. This is largely due to something called exclusion clauses and pure bad luck. 

You don’t want crap to hit the fan only to find out you’re uninsured and have to bear the financial costs yourself, do you? I was recently hospitalised for a bad fall during my third trimester of pregnancy, but thankfully because I’ve gotten for myself hospitalisation + personal accident + maternity insurance, I had all my grounds covered and didn’t have to worry too much about my hospital bill. Otherwise, the 2 days I stayed in hospital would have easily wiped out more than a month of my salary!

But the problem is, how do you know what you DON’T know?

You trust that your agent is working in your interest, when in reality he/she might be thinking of and prioritising their livelihood instead. That’s why problem #2 exists, and I’ve shed some light on how much commissions agents earn here previously so you understand why some products are pushed more than others. 

My Experience as a DIY Consumer for Maternity Insurance – Meh!

When I was shopping around for maternity insurance previously, I realised that there was very little information when it came to quotes and benefits cover among the different insurers. As a result, I had to meet individually with agents from every single company, which took up A LOT of my time. How many consumers will go to the extent of doing the same?

(Psst, you can benefit from my hours of sweat and research though, and see the results of my efforts in this comparison table of Singapore’s maternity plans here (2018 edition). 


Guess what I encountered during these sessions?

Lots of hard-selling to upgraded plans, each agent claiming their product was THE best (only 2 were objective enough to admit theirs wasn’t the best for what I needed) even when it wasn’t, too much time wasted telling me about their expertise / credentials / MDRT status -.- and too little time properly going through the policy details and caveats, etc. I hated the experience.

Some didn’t even understand how their plans compared against the other options available by their competitors! I grew frustrated when I said no to one particular tied agent, only to have him shoot me back about how I’m missing out because his plan is THE best. To shut him up, I had to justify and educate him on why his plan was NOT better than another using facts and direct comparison of features. Hello!? Who’s the agent and consumer here ah?! I don’t disclaim that his plan may be the best for someone else in a particular situation, but to claim that it is THE BEST among all? Oh please!

Another even had the balls to tell me I was WRONG in not wanting a tied-ILP because he generates over 30% of returns annually and consistently for his clients. Wow! Even better than Warren Buffett sia! Just take my money already! 



They met a terrible consumer in me because I clearly KNEW what I needed and wanted. So I didn’t fall for any of their sales pitches. But how many consumers have / would have?

The information asymmetry in the insurance space makes it hard for us consumers to really be fully educated on what our options are. 

And when we don’t fully know or understand our options, it is hard for us to make an informed choice. 

So we rely on our financial advisor(s) for this. But how many of us have then found out that we misplaced our trust? I’ve trusted one too many advisors to make the right and suitable recommendations for me on many occasions, but most have only left me disappointed.

But hey, what else can we really expect from an industry that does its recruitment by saying things like:
  • YOU HAVE UNCAPPED INCOME POTENTIAL. 
  • THERE’S NO LIMIT TO HOW MUCH YOU CAN EARN!
  • PASSIVE INCOME! EARN FOR YEARS EVEN AFTER YOU’VE SOLD!
  • MILLION DOLLAR ROUNDTABLE (MDRT) YO!
SEE? I’ve also attended insurance recruitment talks myself when I was a fresh graduate and
this is how many sell you the “dream”.

Let’s get one thing clear: 

There is NO such thing as the BEST insurance.

Instead of looking for THE BEST, you should really be looking for “the best for you”. Even among all the different Integrated Shield Plans available, there are pros and cons tagged to each. Which “pro” do you value, and which “con” do you really not want? Everyone has different needs and that’s why all the different policies co-exist.

And that’s why I feel financial advisors will still always be needed. While robo-advisors may help to plug the gap through a preliminary needs analysis, they still won’t be able to do the human job of discerning between the qualitative factors that make one insurance policy more suitable for a client over another. Insurance is, after all, a human business.

Can I DIY My Insurance?

Sure you can! There are currently two avenues for you to do so:

  • CompareFIRST : founded by MAS, CASE, LIA and MoneySense in 2015, which allows you to compare quotes across different insurers for the purely-DIY customer who’s savvy enough to bypass insurance agents. However, you’ll have to go direct to each insurer to purchase, which can be quite a chore (and lots of paperwork!)
  • DIYInsurance : founded in 2014 to address the gaps in the MAS industry report. You can buy directly through them as their staff (agents) will help you through the process and paperwork. Also provides financial advice if you need additional clarifications or support, or simply want to hear a second opinion.

I’ve reviewed both before a few years ago on this blog as well, but have recommended DIYInsurance over CompareFIRST to many of my friends and readers because not everyone may be savvy enough to go without financial advice. And while DIYInsurance has done pretty well on several fronts, there are also areas where I think they can still improve on today.


The good:


1. You can compare among different plans and purchase directly.
Rather than having to meet with an insurance salesperson and subject myself to their hard-selling tactics, I can simply go online and check DIYInsurance’s portal to estimate how much it’ll cost me if I were to purchase this for myself. Once I’ve made my decision, I can engage one of their staff to help me through the paperwork and application process without worrying that they are going to upsell me something else.

CompareFIRST also offers this same benefit, but where CompareFirst falls short is that it couldn’t offer me up to 99 years cover (I could only get quotes for up to 65 and 75 years old), I cannot buy directly through the platform, and it doesn’t help to guide the clueless consumer on what to buy. I’ve also detailed these shortcomings here in a previous article.

2. No conflict of interest as their advisors are salary-based and not commissions-based.

And that’s why they don’t upsell, nor see the need to upsell. When one’s livelihood is no longer pegged to the policies they sell, it allows for greater objectivity and focus on truly meeting the consumer’s needs.

I can attest to this, as I mystery-shopped on their website before. Here’s a previous email I exchanged with one of their advisors, which I greatly appreciated.

See the highlighted section in red? I went to them for a 99-term quote, but their advisor went above and beyond to show me for 65-years to consider as well, while at the same time informing me that I could get more bang for my buck for a higher term cover for lesser premiums as well if I wanted to. I really appreciated that.

3. They advocate what I feel are the “right” ethics.

Prior to DIY Insurance, the only folks who were publicly advocating term insurance over whole life insurance were the financial bloggers and some consumers. You’ll realise that no other insurer really openly and vocally stands up for this. In fact, since 2003 when Providend started publicly advocating the merits of term insurance in local media like BT and The Straits Times (here, here and here), they were attacked by many advisors who insisted whole life was better (ha!). I’ve also previously shared about their e-book highlighting the difference between term and life insurance here.
I won’t deny that whole life insurance still has a place for certain profiles of consumers, but I will also readily tell you that term insurance is so much better when you BTIR (buy term invest the rest) as an alternative to whole life. It is not only much cheaper (sometimes up to 10x cheaper!) but also yields better results compounded over time.

DIY Insurance sells both, but is open and transparent about your options and alternatives so you can decide for yourself (vs many agents I meet who keep pushing whole life only -.-).
But of course, there are areas where I think they need still improvement on:

1. Quotes are not exactly specific.

The parameters can still be quite limited – for instance, I could only choose up options of $200k or $300k for a death + CI quote. But as you know, many insurers offer “accelerators” or “boosters” for you to get a higher coverage during a specific term. The current platform is still far from addressing all these nitty gritty differences between policies as it is not always a straightforward comparison. This is why I still go the long route sometimes through IFAs to obtain more accurate quotes for myself to compare.

Also, many of the platform’s quotes are also estimates, so the current offering doesn’t fully address the issue of information asymmetry. If you want an exact quote, you’ll have to reach out to their advisor to generate one for you, like I did.

2. Only insurance products (and also limited offerings).

You can purchase whole life insurance, term insurance, critical illness plans, disability income and endowment plans (for retirement and your children’s education) from DIY Insurance right now, but there are still other products that I feel they can afford to add, especially when their parent company Providend offers so much more to their clients. Some examples include maternity insurance and lifelong annuity plans, just to name a few.

3. More integration of technology please.

I quite like DIY Insurance’s SelfCheck tool which they launched in end 2016. You basically fill up some fields and let the tool assess your insurance shortfalls.

While this is helpful, it’ll also be great if more parameters were considered like the ones I’ve mentioned above. And although I keyed in dependents to provide tertiary education for, I was surprised to see that no education endowment fund was suggested to me.

We already have robo-advisors for our investments. What about doing more for our insurance?

Since I know Christopher personally (CEO of Providend and DIY Insurance), I highlighted my feedback to him over lunch last week and he mentioned that they’re also aware that they’re not perfect. What’s promising is that they’ve been working on a solution to address these gaps, and shared with me that at the end of the month, they’ll be rebranding and doing a new launch.

I certainly hope I won’t be disappointed, and you can be certain I’ll review it when it comes out. I’ll give credit where improvements are made, but if it’s no good, I won’t hesitate to criticise it either.

Let’s wait and see!

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by DIYInsurance, but all content and all opinions are that of my own, as you can clearly see from all my remarks scattered across the different points, ha!

With love,
Budget Babe

    My Favourite Cashback Credit Cards

    It is no secret that I prefer cashback over miles credit cards – after all, I’ve also written extensively on the topic in numerous articles before, including why I’m on team cashback, the best cashback cards to get for 2018, authored the&nbsp…

    9 Financial Must-Dos When You’re Having A Baby

    How much should a couple have before having a baby?While expenses differ between families (and your preferences), it is always a good idea to start saving up early while you’re trying for a baby, or the moment you find out you’re expecting, so that mon…

    Reader’s Story: I’m the Sandwiched Generation. This is what I did to turn things around.

    What should you do if you’re sandwiched between your parents, your children, and your own retirement?

    I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, thanks to the viral video that NTUC Income launched two weeks ago, and will follow up soon with what I think are some steps readers can take. However, before that, I recently came across a 
    sharing from a reader who managed to turn things around by being proactive and getting her finances in order. She has agreed to share her story and I hope this encourages all of you to show that not all is lost:

    Image credits


    Background

    I am an only child, with two surviving parents and a toddler daughter. I may still want to give her a sibling later on. I worry about them as well as my husband and my in-laws (my husband has siblings, but they’re not financially well-off to be able to definitely foot the bills with us should anything happen).

    My mother (early 60s):

    • Has insurance, but simply not enough savings for retirement. Most of her savings went into helping my dad stem his scary spending. Even till today, my dad still dips into my mom’s savings from time to time. 
    • She doesn’t have any CPF, including in her Medisave. 


    My dad (mid 60s):
    • My dad paid for my university education in full from his CPF account, and gave me a $400 allowance every month back then.
    • Has no insurance.
    • Zero savings, except for his CPF retirement account which has a healthy $100k inside. 
    • He also has a almost fully-paid private property which he collects a monthly rental of $2000 on.

    I was my parents retirement plan.


    To turn things around, I needed to make sure I have insurance for all my dependents, and then come up with a plan to fund my parents retirement through passive rental income on their properties. This was what I did.



    Step 1: Bought a resale flat with my mom. 
    Back in the late 2000s, in order to unlock the asset value of my dad’s property, I needed to get another place. The HDB rules hadn’t kicked in then, and as my dad’s property was entirely under his own name, my mom and I partnered to buy our own resale flat. My mother wasn’t able to take a loan, so I paid for the flat entirely.

    Step 2: Applied for my own 5-room BTO flat with my husband and got our keys recently.
    In the early 2010s, I started thinking about how I could make sure both my parents could retire and still have their own passive income to cover their living expenses, if not more. So my husband and I rushed to get our HDB BTO flat. This way, I could give my mom the resale flat for her to earn rental from, whereas my dad can continue to earn rental from his private apartment.

    We received the keys to our new BTO flat recently and moved my parents in with us. This enabled them to help care for my daughter, and be able to fully rent out both their respective properties to maximise rental income.

    Step 3: My parents stopped working and now enjoy a combined income of over $4000 a month from rental.
    This was only possible with prior planning and careful execution every step of the way. Now that I had sorted out a steady income stream for my parents’, I still have to think about the “what ifs” and plan ahead.

    Image credits

    Step 4: Getting insurance for my dependents.
    It is important to me that whoever can be insured, is. This was the aftermath once I had revamped my family’s insurance portfolio with our agents.

    My mom has:

    • Life insurance + savings plan (which she bought many years ago from her sister) 
    • Personal accident insurance
    • Private hospitalisation plan
    My dad has: 
    • no private insurance, as he is a heart patient and was rejected from various insurers
    • Medishield Life is what we can only rely on
    My daughter has:
    • Private hospitalisation plan
    • Personal accident insurance
    My husband has:
    • Life insurance 
    • Personal accident insurance
    • Private hospitalisation plan
    I got for myself:
    • $50k life insurance
    • Investment-linked plan
    • 2 endowment plans (15 and 25 years respectively)
    • Personal accident plan
    • Private hospitalisation plan
    • A pure investment plan (as I am not good and have no time to invest)
    • Increased my coverage by adding a $100k term plan after our daughter was born


    Step 5: Getting myself insured.
    As my family’s only stable breadwinner (my husband’s job is erratic and there are times when he does not have income, due to fluctuating demand), it was crucial for me to make sure that I don’t have to worry about my parents or my daughter if I should suddenly pass on.

    In total, we spend about 10% of our annual income on insurance for protection, and another 10% for my investments. Some say this is excessive, but if I could and knew how to invest well, my investments portion could be further reduced, but at this stage of my life and given circumstances, I have opted to outsource it to a trusted financial advisor (yes, I’m aware I’m paying a fee which I could eliminate if I do direct). This is my choice and preference right now.





    TLDR Takeaways

    • Take care of your downside by outsourcing as many big-ticket financial risks as you can to the insurers, within your affordability. Get a trusted agent to do the planning for you, if needed.
    • If possible, come up with a plan to generate passive income for your parents’ retirement. This will really help offset your burden if you constantly have an inflow of cash throughout their golden years.
    • Protect or boost your earned income. Work on your career progression. Get a stable job, build up side income, or generate your own passive income through investments.


    I was very heartened to read of this reader’s story and glad that she was willing to share it here, to show that not all is necessarily lost even if we feel like we’re terribly sandwiched between generations. And even if your parents had failed to plan in the past, that doesn’t mean we still cannot take steps today to try and prevent our greatest financial fears from coming true. 

    As long as we plan well and ahead, there might still be a way out. Hopefully this inspires you as much as it inspired me!

    With love,
    Budget Babe

    Should I store or donate my baby’s cord blood?

    This is a follow-up post to my previous article here on whether cord blood banking is necessary, and one that has been highly requested by many of you who can’t decide whether to donate or store your baby’s cord blood privately.(Please don’t ever disca…

    The “Worst” Parents In The World

    Sometimes when you give your children your all (leaving barely anything for yourself), this act of love may end up becoming their biggest burden later on in life.

    I absolutely loved this heartwarming ad by NTUC Income which recently went viral over the weekend. Not only could I relate to it, I also agreed fervently with the key message of the video that perhaps the best gift parents can give to their children is a good retirement plan for themselves (be it through savings, insurance, annuities, or any other means).

    In the video, the groom laments about how his parents (seemed like) the “worst parents in the world” when they didn’t send him for the piano lessons or overseas trips that his friends were going on.

    He then goes on to acknowledge that had his parents given him everything he wanted back then, he wouldn’t have everything he had now.

    By juggling between spending money on him and saving up for their retirement, his parents’ foresight and planning now allowed him and his bride to focus on the steps they wish to take in their new life together.

    This ad really struck a chord with me because I’ve been feeling the burden of being my parents’ retirement fund ever since I started working, as I’ve detailed here in my previous article.

    The other thing I’ve realised while growing up is that what I used to want as a child…may not necessarily been what I really needed. Like the lead in the video, I longed for piano lessons (and ballet!) when I was younger, but my mom whisked me off to enrichment classes instead. I complained when my friends got to go on annual holidays whereas my family didn’t (the furthest we’d been was to Malaysia!), but now looking back, I really didn’t need them as much as I thought I did back then.

    I used to think my parents were also “bad” parents, but now that I’m older (and a little wiser), I realise they brought me up pretty decently after all. Through their own ways of parenting (which admittedly wasn’t as “lavish” or “pampered” as many of my classmates), they enabled me to learn about thrift, hard work, independence, grit, and many more.

    But one thing that differs in the video from my situation? My parents didn’t properly plan for their retirement. Neither did my in-laws. And as such, this is where our stress of having to divide our dual income among five dependents (or perhaps six, as we’re hoping to have a second kid in a few years time).

    If you fail to plan for your own retirement, you’re putting the burden onto your children in the future, and that limits their life choices. 

    I quote from another reader who shared with me her story:

     “I could have walked so many different paths in my early life if it was not because I worried about a stable income to support my parents.”

    As someone whose parents weren’t financially savvy enough and didn’t plan for their own retirement, I’m under tremendous stress today, and I most certainly don’t want my child to have to go through the same in the future. That’s why my husband and I are working towards financial independence, so we don’t have to rely on our child(ren) as our retirement plan and support in the future. That way, they’ll be free to pursue their own life choices.

    Want to start your own business but ain’t so sure if you’ll succeed? Go ahead and try; don’t worry about having to find a job that pays you a regular salary because we’re fine and can fend for ourselves.

    Want to go abroad to pursue bigger career opportunities? Go ahead, but just remember to Skype us regularly.

    So please, get insured and make sure you save up for your own retirement.

    Do it for your children, if not for yourself.

    With love,
    Budget Babe