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TRANSFORMING STOCKBROKING

Down S$740k after penny-stock crash, he clawed his way back

Joey Choy, a new dad in March 2014, had to settle the trading losses of a client who had declared bankruptcy

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To make good on the debt, Mr Choy dug into whatever savings he had and also mortgaged his parents' home. He knew he had to work hard, and turned to online platforms to share stock tips, and later, to teach.

Singapore

JUST two months after his first child, a son, was born, Phillip Securities remisier Joey Choy was S$740,000 in the red.

It was March 2014, and an over-leveraged client, saddled with massive debts in the aftermath of the 2013 penny stock crash, had just declared bankruptcy.

This meant the client's trading losses were now Mr Choy's to settle.

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The now-33-year-old told The Business Times: "I was completely crushed. Everything was perfect. I was doing good, then it happened.

"I was like a zombie. I didn't want to go to work. I even wanted to sell my four-room HDB flat to pay off the debt, but I couldn't because it was still within the minimum occupation period."

Grimly, he picked himself up. He cleaned out the S$60,000 to S$80,000 in his bank account, and the extra deposits of S$150,000 that had been kept at the brokerage, accumulated from his contributing some commissions every month - and still found himself some S$500,000 short.

He was forced to mortgage his parents' condominium to make up the difference.

He then resolved to just work as hard as possible.

"Every single day, late nights, till 2 to 3am, I was doing all kinds of things to reach out to people, to help my clients, to improve performance, trade better, make more money," he said.

He began using online tools to reach out to new clients. He made more posts on his blog. He set up a Facebook page.

His new work also entailed him to overcome his shyness in front of a camera; he began recording video clips and posting them on YouTube

"I realised I had to wake up. I had to really step it up," he said.

"When I first shared tips on my blog, I didn't think anybody looked at it, but I just did it, every single day."

His perseverance paid off.

Ten daily pageviews grew to the hundreds, then thousands.

"When you share trading ideas, people follow. If they make some money, they want to know more," he said.

Video was a breakthrough medium, because few people were using it then, he said.

As more clients came on board, Mr Choy knew he was on to something.

The online branding strategy he embarked on out of sheer desperation - video, social media and online marketing - was working, and he was cementing his online presence.

Monthly commissions, at around S$10,000 at end-2013, grew gradually to more than S$20,000. Every month, he kept around S$1,000 for himself, and gave the rest to his mother.

His wife, an assistant relationship manager at Citibank, took over the reins and supported the family, including paying the mortgage on their flat.

"I was very glad my wife was working in Citibank, in a very stable job," he said.

The couple have since had another child, a girl, who arrived in September 2015.

By June the following year - 21/2 years after the fateful penny stock crash - Mr Choy had repaid the S$500,000 debt to his parents.

"On hindsight, if the crash didn't happen, I would probably still be in my comfort zone, not really wanting to push myself," he said.

Another breakthrough came in 2016. Realising people were inspired by his story, he started a training business.

"I was always in my little shell, thinking I was just a broker.

Last year, I thought, why can't I teach what I know as well?"

Mr Choy keeps the class size small - 50 people each time - and runs it only twice a year. This is to maintain exclusivity, and also because he still wanted to trade for clients full time.

He uses the WhatsApp platform to reach out to selected clients. His Facebook page utilises a chatbot to connect potential clients to him.

"Trading can be a lonely job. It helps to have a strong support community to learn from," he said.

Ultimately, he hopes his story can inspire a beleaguered industry.

"A lot of colleagues are very negative, with commission rates coming in lower. A lot of people are not entering the industry; before you step in, you hear people complaining that stockbroking is a sunset industry.

"You can choose to listen to those who say it's a sunset, or you can choose to follow those doing well."

Looking back, he doesn't know what exactly clicked in his head. All he knew was that he had to fight.

"I really had no choice. You do whatever is needed to survive. You push yourself to do things you never think you'd do. You cannot be conservative."

Today, his trading volumes can be S$1 million to S$2 million a day, more than what some remisiers notch in a month. A month ago, his wife was able to resign from her job and think about setting up an online business or blogshop.

"We've been talking about it. She supported me, went through tough times with me. Things are better now, she can relax. Last Friday was her last day at the job."

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