Lynn Ng, a graduate of the pioneer cohort of the MFE program, joined ING in 2007 and is currently responsible for ING’s Commodities, Food and Agri sectors globally. She works actively with her global teams spread across Europe, Americas and Asia Pacific, to provide financial solutions for the Commodities Value Chain, i.e. the producers, and processors of Metals, Minerals, Food & Agri, including the traders of all commodities (Energy, Metals, Minerals and Agri).
Lynn started her career as a management trainee with Standard Chartered Bank, before joining the commodity finance sector, working in international commodity banks like Rabobank and Fortis. A Bachelor of Business Administration (Honours) graduate from the National University of Singapore, with Dean’s Distinction, Lynn went on to study her Masters of Science in Financial Engineering from the same university, from 1999 to 2001.
What motivated you to pursue a Master’s Degree in Financial Engineering?
I wanted to do a postgraduate degree that would differentiate myself from the peers (most of whom went for an MBA), and financial derivatives was a fairly new field at the time. I had wanted to learn more about this, to see if it was something that could be used to help my corporate clients manage/mitigate their risks.
Timing wise, it proved to be a good moment, as it was around this period that the full impact of the Asian Financial Crisis was felt. It was heartbreaking to witness how some of the most established companies with decades of historical track record and reputation collapsed as they had not hedged their positions, or had taken the wrong advice. Some were simply lulled into complacency as they took it for granted that they will never be hit by such extremities at the same time. So they were caught wrong footed when the unthinkable happened. Not only did the Asian currencies devalue (crash) against the USD loans they held, the commodity prices crashed (40-50%), and their buyers defaulted on payments.
Which of the skills/topics you studied in the MFE Program help you hone your talents? In what ways did the MFE Program help you prepare for your career?
I gained a better understanding of financial risk management, starting with better line of questioning – relating the financials to observations about what the client was really doing in reality, to testing these against their stated strategies. This led to a better understanding of how the currency, commodity, credit, operational risks interconnected, and how the risks can be managed or mitigated. The interactions with fellow classmates, some of them are more experienced practitioners from the different walks of life, also added different perspective and insights.
As the Global Head of Commodities, Food and Agriculture at ING, what in your opinion are the key skills required to pursue a job in trade and commodities finance?
A desire/passion for wanting to help our clients do what is right – i.e. being a responsible advisor. This includes having the courage to tell them when we disagree with them, and the tenacity to really be there for them (through the ups and downs) when we do believe in each other.
The willingness to devote time and effort to learning about the basic technicalities of the industry, trade finance, to be able to get into the details, connect the dots so that we see the bigger picture to see how coherent the actions and strategies are.
Can you tell us about some of the biggest challenges you have faced during your career and how you overcame them?
The Asian Financial Crisis was one of my “crucible” moments. I was a relationship manager, responsible already for a portfolio of clients. It was very humbling to see how wrong my analysis was, and how a company with over two decades of track record and significant net worth, could go under in a matter of weeks. For a period, I blamed myself for the losses (it became a non-performing loan), and felt even more guilt as some of my colleagues were retrenched as a result of the combined weight of all the non-performing loans on the branch. It became personal for me – the full responsibility of the work I did, weighed in fully on me. What I do has a real and direct impact on the P&L of the bank, and consequently a real and direct impact on my clients and colleagues. If I do my work well, I help to build them up to realize their dreams and potential. If I am careless, much can be broken. I resolved to get better at what I do and that meant keeping a questioning mind, and being humble enough to know that I do not know everything and will have to continue learning.
With the trust and encouragement from my manager/mentor, I was given the opportunity to recover the outstanding from the non-performing loan, and I learnt much from going to court, preparing for the case together with the lawyers. I learnt how difficult it was to recover collateral in some jurisdictions, and how to deal with the collateral where we were able to. This experience exposed me to the ugliness of the selfish human nature, but thankfully there were also angels who restored my faith in humanity. By God’s grace and mercy, I survived this baptism of fire.
You have been with ING for 12 years, what advice can you give young professionals about charting their own successful career paths?
Do everything with gusto, even the most menial, mundane of tasks whilst keeping the end game in mind. The administrative work is no less important, and is in fact the fundamental building block of our careers. Take it as an opportunity to learn why it is important – how it fits into the bigger picture. This gives you inspiration to do it better, and to find an even better way to achieve the objectives. Never belittle the small details or attempt to rush through the basics, they are often what makes the difference in whether we succeed or not. Whilst looking at the details, always keep an eye on the big picture and check that there is real progress made towards it.
Always do more than what is being asked. Go the extra mile, be considerate of your clients, your team members, your colleagues, your manager and look out for them. Everyone appreciates someone who watches their back for them, and who will help them.
Be true to yourself. Never compromise your values/integrity. I believe in serving others after all, I am in the service line. This however, does not entitle anyone to treat me or my colleagues with disrespect. For any relationship to work, client relationships included, it needs to be based on mutual trust and respect. I am saddened whenever I hear stories where wrong decisions are taken simply because people were blinded by the revenues it provides, or where people feared sharing their views because they did not dare to oppose the client or the leader’s view. As professionals, we must know that it is ok to agree to disagree.
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