Financially-savvy Millennials: Singapore has plenty

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Millennials are often under fire for being a financially clueless generation – too much student debt, can't afford a house – or even afraid of the stock market.

But many young people in Singapore are stepping up by joining university investment clubs, where they learn financial savvy before starting their working lives.

Toh Zhen Zhou was only 20 when he first bought stocks recommended by his local newspaper. Those initial investments did not do well, and that's when he realized he needed to learn more.

"I do not think [millennials] are afraid of the financial markets, rather I think that they are more confused about how to get started," Zhou, a 23-year old statistics undergraduate who's now president of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Investment Society, told CNBC in an email interview.

The NUS Investment Society - which welcomes students from all majors - conducts weekly workshops that teach basic investment skills through fundamental or technical analysis. Members also publish research reports on equities, global macro issues and quantitative strategies on the club's website and accessible to the public.

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Last year the NUS Investment Society also held a public symposium at the Singapore Stock Exchange, with prominent guest speakers from the likes of Suntec REIT and Phillip Capital.

Alumni members of the society also return to network and share experiences with the students. Some even offer finance internship opportunities for members to get a deeper understanding of the industry.

Business management undergraduate Sebastian Seow, 24, was another investing newbie when he joined the Singapore Management University Student Managed Investment Fund (SMU-SMIF), his university's investment club.

This student club boasts a Singaporean equities portfolio that has generated a 94 percent total return since it started in 2006, with compounded annualized returns of 6.4 percent, beating the Straits Times index (STI) which generated 3.5 percent in the same period.

"[The selection of] star performing stocks like HCL Technologies and First REIT helped to boost our performance," said Seow to CNBC in an email interview.

Wannabe members for the SMU-SMIF have to undergo a strict selection process that involves a number of interviews, and those selected are trained for a year and even deliver investment pitches, all on top of their usual school workload.

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Members are divided into industry sectors, such as consumers and industrial, where they start out as a 'junior analyst' and gain an in-depth understanding of the industry, companies and market dynamics.

The student club even publishes a daily internal 'morning note' with financial news updates, latest market activities and indicators.

"We also encourage members to use their knowledge and skills to do their own personal investments and build up their portfolios," Seow said.

SMU-SMIF members have personal investments that range from a humble $2,149 to $35,800, and some even attended the Berkshire Hathaway's annual general meeting, the financial jamboree in Omaha, Nebraska, that's known as Woodstock for Capitalists, this year, he said.

Put off by financial risks?

Millennials' distrust of financial markets is understandable as they experienced the whirlwind of several financial crises in their formative years, including the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the dotcom bubble and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

But Toh is undeterred by the risks and volatility.

"I am generally not too worried because I like to analyze companies from the bottom up, so they are less affected by macro factors," he said.

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He said his biggest mistake was an investment in Vard Holdings, a firm that specializes in oil and gas-related ship-building, where he made a 30 percent loss.

Now he advises other young investors to "avoid such mistakes by looking at your own analysis when your investment is down by 10 percent, and question if you missed anything," he said.

Toh also shared that he is holding more cash on hand while hoping markets will offer opportune discounts in these periods of volatility.