These days, Ngeth Chou spends most of his time not in the air-conditioned office room. Instead, he enjoys running, biking, hiking, camping, and traveling.
Currently, Chou is chairman of the board of directors for F.I Vision Capital, an investment group he co-founded at the dawn of the pandemic.
When Chou graduated from university and started working his way up, he learned two key lessons.
“One is I've discovered that job income will never make you rich. I never saw myself as a permanent employee until my retirement,” Chou said as he shared his journey with Kiripost in an interview.
He wanted more flexibility and freedom, so he started learning how to invest.
“When I was young, I told myself that I don't want to be poor. Being poor is not comfortable. I knew early on that I won’t be an employee until I retire.”
As the oldest brother of four sisters, Chou didn’t want to be a burden on his parents in Takeo province. “I rarely asked for pocket money. I didn’t want to add any hardship to my parents,” he recalled.
Over the years, Chou has gained experience from investing, ranging from small to big, informal to formal.
“Money should not be despised as money value entails earning, saving, and investing money.”
University degrees and diverse work experience
To embrace financial freedom, Chou spent decades working in the financial, banking, and investment sector. Chou told Kiripost that his insights in investing and running companies come from his decades of work experience.
It was in 1998 when Chou completed his diploma to come to Phnom Penh from his hometown, Takeo, for university. “At first I learned Chinese language at my parents' wish, but soon I realised that I couldn’t catch up.”
Chou went on to get a dual bachelor's degree. At the National University of Management, he decided to major in marketing as he had no other choices, but was interested in consulting work.
Ambitious yet rational, he also chose to study Philosophy at the Royal University of Phnom Penh knowing that understanding people and society is a key ingredient for future business endeavours.
Upon graduation, several key positions at microfinances, banks, and private companies were among the schools of hands-on to shape Chou’s strategic and forward-thinking nature.
At Emerging Markets Consulting (EMC), an investment advisory firm, Chou worked his way up from an analyst to senior analyst to senior consultant.
“I began at the lowest level of the position rather than the top. I started working for NGOs, banks, and microfinance. I learned to view big landscapes and prefer to see the entire forest rather than a single tree.”
While at EMC twice, he learned forecasting, analyzing, and comparing cases from the past, present to predict the future. “It helps me develop broad views and a clearer, long-term vision.”
After a three-month probation period at AMK Microfinance Institution, Chou was hired as a savings manager and was promoted to head of product. “The position required fresh-thinking and innovation. I also enrolled in many short courses to develop ideas and learn how to be a leader,” he said.
“At AMK, I learned a lot about personal finance services, whether product design is based on all-encompassing requirements. Financial services take household expectations into account. Research, observation, data collection, and analysis helped me better understand people’s behaviour and mindset.”
As a market research consultant to Sathapana Microfinance in 2008, Chou forecast that the banking sector would be consolidated as big companies would buy out small companies, which he sees happening now.
On his new investment firm, F.I. Vision Capital
“Integrity and character are critical in any partnership,” said the co-founder of F.I. Vision Capital.
The real estate investor said that to acquire a large plot of land to split into small plots or for house construction projects for profit would become tough in the future because of market consolidation, increased scale, and more competitiveness.
Thus, by developing F.I. Vision Capital, future trends are predicted that affect the investment and real estate sectors.
As a result, this prediction requires more large amounts of land that renovate existing borey housing projects because it is less expensive, neater, safer, and more aesthetically pleasing than building new ones.
In the future, a large plot of land could be turned into an industrial zone, an economic zone, and a hub for SMEs, he explained in a recent interview at his new company office in Sen Sok district.
“As a product developer, I design products with my own capacity and according to the economy,” Chou said, adding Cambodia has the opportunity to do that in an urban city.
“Cambodia has a family model, but not a company scale. Our team developed a new model, which was inspired by a Thai family millionaire and is based on a research study,” he said.
“Working with people is always challenging. Do not expect you and your partner to be together forever; instead, be willing to learn and understand one another.”
He added, “You should try to work together and face challenges. This will not be easy, but it will be a good test of maturity. Do not expect perfection; perfection does not exist unless you do something well first.”
Chou has advice for the young generation to know themselves better and be involved in society. “First of all, know yourself and what you need,” he said, adding that most Cambodian students are not yet certain of who they are and who they want to be.
“The more you engage, the more you can define who you are.”
Chou added that this tip is not ideal for everyone, but based on his experience, “by switching jobs regularly you may test out what will suit your passion or interests and find the ones that make you feel more suited to your interests”.
He added, “When you understand that the work isn't a good fit for you, you define your character to be more appropriate for that profession.”
He said that young people should be involved in volunteering, social activities, and attend seminars. “When you understand more about your work in society, you may sharpen your abilities and choose which field and what you want to accomplish.”
He explained, “The purpose of founding F.I Vision Capital is not to amass capital, rather it is to provide a chance to scale and shift to a new mindset for real estate investments that are advantageous to the economy of the country.”
A personal finance guru
Chou now sees himself as a personal finance guru. Through training, he believes he can help more people understand the attitude and behaviour around finances, decision-making on investments, and money management.
Chou hopes his work will encourage more people to learn how to manage their personal finances. He said, “Cambodians who invest without proper knowledge tend to imagine that buying a house and some land will make them rich.”
Talking about leaving a lasting legacy, Chou said, “It’s about my life story of who the person I want to be known as.”
He said people should learn to recognize their gift and how they want to spend the rest of their life protecting their creation.
“The purpose in life, money is not everything. It's necessary, and to avoid becoming a slave of money, but to think more than money.” While money and real estate are his lifeline, he sees his life purpose as much more than that.
Chou believes, “When people realise this, they leave behind better things rather than terrible things because they want to leave a good reputation. Yet, people are still greedy and materialistic, we’re not progressing.”
He said his long-term goal is teaching personal finance, which plays a key role in how he wants to be recognised. Chou told Kiripost, “[The] next step is to write a book on managing personal finances.”
Talking Business with Entrepreneurship Guru Stephen Paterson