My name is Siu Ling. I established In-Context Finance in 2002 to provide small and medium sized businesses with the quality of finance services that large family-owned private companies enjoy.
I completed a degree in economics with a major in accounting at Monash University, Australia. Soon after graduation, I decided that “bean counting” wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Accounting (bean counting) is about compiling and tracking the historical numbers of a business (which didn’t appeal to me at all – apologies to accountants!) whereas finance is about using the numbers to drive business strategy. So, I became a business banker, where I could use my strategic and business skills to help clients across many industries with financing their growth.
More Than Numbers
Thanks to one of my first managers (who was a great mentor for me), I learned and mastered the art of the “sniff test” with numbers and people. This ability to detect when there is something wrong when even the numbers (or people) look “picture perfect” has been an invaluable business skill. You could think of it as “bean reading” meets forensics.
In my years as a senior banker with various major financial institutions including Citibank, Westpac and GE Commercial, virtually all of my clients were large successful private companies.
The business owners were all self-made people who had built their business empires up from literally nothing. Business banking for family owned companies is a very personal affair where relationships really do matter.
For example, in most cases, the key people I dealt with had been with the business for decades and were almost part of the family. My role as their business banker also even extended to attending to non-business related matters such as arranging credit cards for their children. I have been fortunate in that many of these relationships have lasted long after I stopped being their banker.
Being Trusted Banker for Privately Owned Businesses
Life was never boring with such entrepreneurial clients. Their businesses had complex structures. They often had “out of the box” requirements which pushed the envelope in credit terms. And they needed answers very quickly too.
Delivering results for them involved lateral thinking combined with the ability to build a strong and persuasive credit case (as well as burning a lot of midnight oil because deadlines were always tight).
A good dose of business acumen, strong financial and risk management skills doesn’t go astray either. It’s immensely satisfying to know that my clients regarded me as a trusted banker.
As one client said to me after I had taken over management of the banking relationship, “Everything works now.”
Good Times & Bad Times
These same skills enabled me to foster good personal relationships with clients in what is known as “work out” situations. In these situations, the challenge is to try to minimise if not eliminate any possibility of loan losses whilst working with the owners/managers of the business to turn the business around from losses to sustainable and profitable growth. In some cases, I had to arrange additional financing to enable the business to trade itself out of difficulty. It’s rewarding when a client in this situation says, “You were tough but you were always fair and open with us. We didn’t always like hearing what you had to say but we know you had your job to do.”
I believe that understanding the key drivers of a business and the industry it operates in is essential for developing good financing solutions.
Numbers on their own without business context are meaningless. I’ve been involved with financing for a wide range of industries: clothing & textile manufacturing, abattoirs, petrol wholesaling and retailing, auto-wholesaling & retailing, funeral parlours, commercial and residential property development, golf clubs, vineyards, mining, etc.
There’s nothing like walking through the physical operations of a business to get a real sense of what a business is about and I always do this with my clients.
The only site visit that was a bit freaky for me was going through 6 funeral parlours – including attached morgues – in a day. Fortunately, none had any “work in progress”!
Contact me to find out how my depth & breadth of experience with financing privately owned and fast growing businesses can benefit you.