Q&A with Lynette Koh
Q: Tell us about the corporate, banking and finance practice in Helmsman. Any special or successful case study by your firm that you would like to mention?
A: There is a sustained global movement by the banking, trading and shipping communities to cleaner fuels and decarbonisation. With that, we are getting more briefs for the financing of renewables and lower carbon projects as well as carbon trading. This is a very interesting and developing space which I am keenly keeping an eye on.
I was Head of Legal and Business Administration, Asia and Oceania Administration Department of Mizuho Bank for more than six years before joining Helmsman. The banking industry in Singapore is heavily regulated. My experience gave me a good exposure as to how such regulations are intended to protect and stabilise the marketplace for borrowers and lenders. However, I was always brimming with ideas on how to generate finance and capital in a way other than traditional lending and borrowing.
At Helmsman, we regularly advise clients on alternate lending and borrowing issues and structures, and I utilise my banking experience to explore new products and types of structures to meet the needs of clients who wish to be able to tap on to financing in a way that is modelled differently from traditional banking.
We were recently instructed on a transaction for the financing of biofuels. It was not a plain vanilla debt financing, but involved intricate equity and security arrangements in Singapore and elsewhere in the region. With the completion of this transaction, our client has gained her maiden foothold in the biofuels market in Southeast Asia.
Q: How do you see your practice growing in the next year or so?
A: Commodity and shipping finance is a traditional area of expertise at our firm, as we started out as a commodities and shipping specialist. Although the firm has today grown into a multi-service law firm, commodity and shipping finance continues to be a key practice area at Helmsman.
However, leveraging on my in-house experience and network in banking, and having had the exposure to large corporates and other financial institutions, I now act for not just banks or financial institutions, but also large corporates and multi-national corporations, beyond just banking or finance.
My team works on general corporate matters as we also support various clients as they scale or expand through mergers and acquisitions in Singapore and the region. Our team at Helmsman continues to expand, and a new hire is scheduled to join us later this year. With a bigger team, we will be better placed to attract, support and collaborate with our clients on their various needs.
I am also pleased to add that our firm has also recently been empanelled with a leading bank in Singapore, which is no mean feat for such a young firm!
Q: Could you share with us some recent developments in the banking and finance sectors that are relevant to your practice?
A: Covid-19 has shown us that despite the pandemic, the global supply chain is a critical lifeblood to ensuring the continuity of our world. Yet, the trade finance industry is still heavily reliant on paper documents and manual processes. I’m sure many of us remember the Hin Leong saga that left many parties, banks and traders included, with unexpected exposures and a grim reminder of the risks attached to being paper based.
Recently, paperless trade solutions provider, essDOCS, enabled the first electronic Bill of Lading transaction governed by Singapore law, pursuant to the amendments to the Electronic Transactions Act. Digitalising 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.
Besides this, I think everyone has their eye on sustainable financing and on the environmental, social and governance space. Singapore is well placed to create this ecosystem for sustainable financing in the region, with our own Singapore government’s show of commitment in its recent green bond issuance.
This is a fast developing space that will continue to evolve as the legal market and the world watches.
Lynette Koh leads Helmsman‘s Corporate, Banking and Finance practice. Having more than six years of experience as head, legal of an international bank, she has deep expertise in the finance needs and funding structures across a wide spectrum of industries and has worked on the full range of commodities and trade financing transactions with major trading houses across the world. Lynette is one of few Singapore lawyers who also has expertise in derivatives and structured products, including ISDA documentation.
Besides her corporate inhouse experience, Lynette also spent a decade as a litigator at a leading law practice in Singapore specialising in banking and financing disputes, corporate insolvencies and debt restructuring.
Lynette was one of the two inaugural recipients of the Singapore Academy of Law Post-Qualification Overseas Attachment Award – set up to expose deserving lawyers to the best practices in litigation or arbitration. She spent time in London working alongside renowned Queen’s Counsels with established banking practices.