September 04, 2012 00:00 By Achara Deboonme
All Thais must admit that we are living in an ageing society.
The number of people aged 60 and over is about 7 million, or over 10 per cent of the population.
Many who are now over 40 years old are making plans for their retirement. That explains why investment in retirement mutual funds (RMFs) is rising every year, along with the popularity of savings insurance policies. Aside from being a tax haven, these channels can somewhat guarantee savings for the time when we can no longer work.
Some Thais are living the retirement life that we should envy. Some were born with a golden spoon in their mouth while others built up their own fortunes. Decent living is one thing that can smoothen retirement life.
At 79, Chatri Sophonpanich, chairman of Bangkok Bank, is having fun with a dozen of his grandchildren. Though going to the office often for board meetings and other tasks, he has found more leisure time after relinquishing power to his son, Chartisiri, who is now in charge of Thailand’s largest commercial bank.
His half-sister, Khunying Chodchoy Sophonpanich, who introduced the “Magic Eyes” campaign, spent her early retirement days ballroom dancing.
Once in a while, General Suchinda Kraprayoon is spotted at his favourite oyster bar.
While many elderly Thais worry about how to pay for the next meal, the only thing these people have to worry about is their blood pressure or cholesterol level.
On the other side of the coin, though, we need to admit that they had some difficult times before comfortable retirement.
For Chatri, it was an ordeal inheriting the bank from his father, Chin Sophonpanich. He had to prove himself to all the board members, and during the 1997 financial crisis his bank suffered along with other financial institutions. After the crisis, the family’s holding in the bank also declined sharply.
Until the end, will Suchinda ever forget the May bloodbath during his reign as prime minister?
The life of the wealthy can cause envy in all of us. But life is full of the unexpected. Chaleo Yoovidhya, the late co-owner of Red Bull, worked hard to build the business empire. On his retirement, his fortune was in the billions of US dollars, but he lived in retirement modestly until the end of his life. If he were alive today, he would be very sad that his grandson was charged with negligence for a hit and run incident that claimed a police officer’s life.
Some people are trying to avoid repeating others’ mistakes. Chaiwat Utaiwan is giving all his love to his wife and four daughters. He had no objection when his third daughter, Nong Tarn, became one of the contestants in Academy Fantasia. As president of Siam City Bank, he was often seen in the front row with the family, cheering his daughter. With a degree from the US, Chaiwat built himself from scratch. Joining Citibank with a five-digit salary, he left the bank seven years later when that salary was about to hit the seven-digit figure. Saving enough, he thought about retirement when he turned 45. But he went to Thai Danu Bank, where he observed the failed merger of the bank and Finance One.
Now, at 59, he is the managing director of Bangkok Metro (BMCL) – the operator of the subway, a board member of the Government Savings Bank and chairman of Suvarnabhumi Hotel. Now, he plans to spend another few years at BMCL, until the Blue and Purple lines are scheduled for completion, which should increase the number of subway commuters.
While planning for a peaceful retirement, Chaiwat is happy that his daughters will get themselves decent jobs. Despite tight schedules that keep him away from home, he enjoys his life as best he can. Last Saturday, after a press conference on the mass transit system, which his wife attended, he took the press to a restaurant. He answered all questions and, after that, sang some songs. Leaving the restaurant at 10.30pm, he prepared to join a walking marathon at 5am the next day.
Asked about Pin Chakkaphak, the former chief of Finance One, who reportedly returned to Thailand safe and sound, Chaiwat had no idea. Pin, 62, lived in exile for the last 15 years. A source who asked not to be named said that Pin did not have a fancy home of his own. Aside from his father’s house on Sukhumvit Road, he has a small townhouse in a Bangkok suburb.
What these episodes can tell us is that power and money are not everything. Only a decent lifestyle will make us comfortable both now and when our physical strength fades.