Financial Freedom in Your 20s Is Not a Myth

Meet SMU alumnus Spencer Li: a professional trader, coach and founder of Synapse Trading, who became ‘financially free’ by the age of 27. How did he do it? By trading 15 minutes a day, while travelling around the world (46 countries and counting), he says!

It’s a dream that many students and young working individuals yearn to achieve. So, we checked in with Spencer who was happy to share candidly on how he got started on this journey, and how he has evolved his business to what it is today.

 

By Spencer Li, SMU Double Degree Alumnus, School of Accountancy and Lee Kong Chian School of Business

A Unique SMU Experience for Everyone

Singapore Management University (SMU), my alma mater, played a pivotal role in the choice of my career.

My first foray into trading started when I was in the army, where I dabbled in Options after picking up some scraps of knowledge from my friends. Needless to say, it did not end well, but thankfully my account was tiny at that time.

When I entered SMU and took up a double degree in Accountancy and Business Management, I started exploring different trading products, such as stocks, CFDs, forex, commodities, etc. The background I gained from my curriculum gave me an edge in grasping the unique features of these varied products.

I also joined the SMU Investment Club, where I got to meet many like-minded trading-savvy individuals, many of whom I still keep in contact with to this day. My keen involvement in the club gave the opportunity to take on the role of Research Director for the club, where I had a hand in conducting weekly trainings (and sometimes live trading!) for club members as well as the general school population. For me, this was a unique opportunity to experience and learn what it is like to coach others, which probably sparked off my interest in full-time coaching later on.

It was also during my SMU days that I started my blog, Synapse Trading, to record my trades and my personal trading journey. I also started writing educational articles (and later added video tutorials), which quickly gained traction in the trading community, and provided a good starting point for many new traders. To date, there are over a thousand articles, which have attracted over a million readers worldwide.

On hindsight, the flexibility in the SMU curriculum gave me the space to pursue my interest in trading and investment. It allowed me the freedom to carry out in-depth research across more than 200 books on trading and investing by the time I graduated.

Spencer Li with his friends from the SMU School of Accountancy

Me (on the left) and my buddies from the SMU School of Accountancy.

 

The School of Hard Knocks

After graduation, my double degree afforded me a diverse choice of careers in the Accounting Big 4s, as well as various financial institutions. However, having previously done several internships, I knew that the typical corporate world was not my cup of tea.

Hence, I decided to trade professionally for private equity and proprietary funds. This was where I turned my research knowledge into practical trading experience, which really helped to take trading experience I acquired during my SMU days to a whole new level.

Unlike the typical corporate paycheck, the remuneration for proprietary trading was based on profit-sharing, which allowed me build up my “first pot of gold” within a relatively short amount of time. The money was good, but the hours were long, and there was little freedom of time.

Soon after, I decided to quit and trade on my own while travelling the world, and at the same time teaching others how to do the same.

Spencer Li - Professional proprietary trading in progress

Professional proprietary trading in progress.

 

The Challenges: From Trading to Coaching

The first challenge I faced was that even though I had the credentials and results, it was an uphill battle striking out alone in this highly competitive field of training. Even more so, since I was only 27, and in an industry that (mistakenly) equates age with experience.

A year after I began this journey, I got my lucky break and was invited to provide training for the Singapore Exchange (SGX)—making me the youngest SGX trainer in history. This was the pivotal point, which helped cement my credibility and reputation as a trading and investment coach.

Another major challenge, which may surprise some given my career choice, was my fear of public speaking. In this respect, the SMU pedagogy of interactive lessons and class participation gave me a good headstart in mastering the art of communicating my ideas effectively to a large audience.

This came in handy when I was selected to share my success story to thousands of people from all over the world at the National Achievers Congress.

Spencer Li speaking to thousands at the National Achievers Congress (NAC)

Speaking to thousands at the National Achievers Congress (NAC).

 

General Advice on Career and Wealth

As a student, I remember hearing of many ambitious people vying for lucrative front office jobs with five figure salaries. The reality is that only a handful would get it, and many who did, later regretted the insane working hours. My point is that your career choice should be based on more than just dollars and cents; it should be something you are truly passionate about doing.

After retiring from full-time proprietary trading at 27, I went on to help many of my friends launch their startups, as well as helped built their wealth in the financial markets. Today, I only spend about 15 minutes a day trading and have travelled to over 46 countries across the globe. Looking back, I am very thankful and blessed that I took the path less travelled.

For an undergraduate or fresh graduate, a starting pay of $10,000+ might seem like the pinnacle of success, but when you step into the world of trading and business, you will realise that amount is just the tip of the iceberg. A friend of mine left the finance sector last year to strike it out on his own, and he is now averaging $70,000 net profit a month. I hope this will inspire you to think BIG, and not shortchange yourself by chasing “popular” career choices. After all, as SMU likes to say, “the world is your oyster”. And the world is definitely one big market.

Spencer Li - The travelling trader

The travelling trader: 46 countries and counting.

 

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