Q&A with Lynette Koh | Review of business law in Asia

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Q: Tell us about the business, banking and finance practice at Helmsman. A special or successful case study of your company that you would like to mention?

A: There is a sustained global movement from the banking, trading and shipping communities towards cleaner fuels and decarbonisation. With this, we get more submissions for financing renewable energy and low-carbon projects as well as carbon trading. It is a very interesting and developing space that I am watching carefully.

I was responsible for the legal and commercial administration of the Asia and Oceania administration department of Mizuho Bank for more than six years before joining Helmsman. The banking sector in Singapore is highly regulated. My experience has given me good exposure as to how these regulations aim to protect and stabilize the market for borrowers and lenders. However, I was always brimming with ideas on how to generate funding and capital other than through traditional lending and borrowing.

At Helmsman, we regularly advise clients on alternative lending and borrowing issues and structures, and I use my banking experience to explore new products and types of structures to meet the needs of clients who want to be able to access the financing in a way that is modeled differently from traditional banking.

We were recently mandated for a biofuel financing operation. This was not simple debt financing, but involved complex equity and security arrangements in Singapore and elsewhere in the region. With the completion of this transaction, our client has entered the biofuels market in Southeast Asia for the first time.

Q: How do you see your practice developing over the next year?

A: Commodity and shipping finance is a traditional area of ​​expertise for our firm, as we started out as a commodity and shipping specialist. Although the firm has now evolved into a full-service law firm, commodity and shipping finance continues to be a key practice area at Helmsman.

However, drawing on my in-house experience and network in the banking sector, and having been exposed to large corporations and other financial institutions, I now act not only for banks or financial institutions, but also for large companies and multinationals, beyond banking or finance.

My team works on general corporate issues as we also support various clients as they scale or grow through M&A in Singapore and the region. Our team at Helmsman continues to grow and a new recruit is expected to join us later this year. With a larger team, we will be better placed to attract, support and collaborate with our customers on their different needs.

I am also pleased to add that our firm has also recently partnered with a leading bank in Singapore, which is no small feat for such a young firm!

Q: Could you tell us about some recent developments in banking and finance that are relevant to your practice?

A: Covid-19 has shown us that despite the pandemic, the global supply chain is an essential lifeblood to ensure the continuity of our world. Yet, the trade finance industry still relies heavily on paper documents and manual processes. I’m sure many of us remember the Hin Leong saga which left many parties, banks and traders included, with unexpected exposures and a grim reminder of paper risks.

Recently, paperless commerce solutions provider, essDOCS, enabled the first electronic bill of lading transaction governed by Singapore law, in accordance with amendments to the Electronic Transactions Act. Digitizing trade processes enables greater efficiency while reducing the risk of parties in the chain exploiting the documentary trade finance process for money laundering or various other purposes.

On top of that, I think everyone has an eye on sustainable finance and the environmental, social and governance space. Singapore is well placed to create this sustainable finance ecosystem in the region, with the commitment of our own Singaporean government in its recent green bond issuance.

This is a rapidly developing space that will continue to evolve as the legal market and the world watches.

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