Episode 12 with Sam Van

Written by Xinlan

On March 4, 2020

Sam Van, Former Associate Principle of FINRA, shares his experience of being a finance industry veteran and working in New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Have you ever wondered what is the difference of financial markets globally? By working between The Bahamas and the United States due to his projects with Deltec, one of the biggest banks in The Bahamas, Sam shared with us his opinion with the financial market in both countries.

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Angela– On episode 12, we are introducing Sam Van. How are you, Sam?

Sam– I’m good.

Angela– Sam’s professional career is dedicated to new business development and relationship building specializing in global capital markets throughout Europe, Asia, and in the U.S. He was the director of international business at the New York Stock Exchange. Sam originated 50 plus company listings on the exchange through IPO’s from Asia. He’s currently the head of advisory at Deltek International Group in the Bahamas. So, let’s talk about the Deltek bank and your experience there.

Sam Sure, I’ve been with Deltek for roughly two years now. Incredible team, great platform. 70 years of history in the Bahamas, one of the oldest banks in the country. I love the people and get to know more about the team working there. They’re a very unique group, a very dedicated group to client services. There’s no better place to be than the Bahamas!

Angela– I’m sure you go to the beach while you’re there right?

Sam– (laughs) You have to dip your toes in the sand and the water sometimes!

Angela– (laughs) Exactly, exactly! So now, how different are the markets in the Caribbean and the U.S.? It’s a silly question, but I really want to know. There must be a big difference?

Sam– Sure, sure. I mean being the largest bank in the Bahamas, obviously is a small country, but when you compare our banks to an international group; it is a very small bank. Right now, our bank is worth a $12 billion asset and our management has no debt and our liquidities are 2:1 in terms of global requirements. So, financially we are very well positioned but, in terms of competition we always look at where our clients’ intel. Today, most of our clients come from 35 different countries, the top one is from the U.S., and the second part in Europe and the third part is Latin America. You know, I always tell people. Just because you are based in the Bahamas, that doesn’t mean that you are being secluded on that island.

Angela– So you have a broader set of clients.

Sam– That’s right. That’s right.

Angela– So, let’s go back to your experience in the New York Stock Exchange. How was that?

Sam– It was a fun ride! I started my career at the New York Stock Exchange and I worked my way through and up the corporate ladders. I got the chance to meet some incredible people from the trading floors to the human touch and the technology that involved day-to-day trading. The regulations involved regulating the marketplace, as well as the evolution of technology and how it actually changed how people transact on the floor.

Angela– And I’m sure that paved a lot of roads for you.

Sam– To a certain extent from a lot of contacts and network. At the end of the day, I always say the New York Stock Exchange or whatever exchange that may be; it’s really a place of connecting with people. I think it’s the ideas, the execution of the ideas that deliver good companies and get the companies on to the marketplace and raise capital. That’s what the exchange is there to serve as for entrepreneur companies.

Angela– So when you first entered the finance industry and you started at the New York Stock Exchange, what was the best advice that you’ve received?

Sam– You get a lot of advice, right? They’re all great!

Angela– Maybe there was one that stood out to you and utilized to this day?

Sam– Sure, just be genuine and kind to people. Those are very soft skills, but you say what you mean and you mean what you say. I think that holds up your credibility as to who you are individually, and people buy into you. Service is one thing but, if people cannot trust you, believe in you or connect with you, it’s a place of humans. It’s what we do. It’s no different from us sitting here and talking versus talking over the telephone. You take away that interpersonal element out of it.

Angela– And I’m sure that’s the corporate atmosphere, but not with Deltek right?

Sam– That’s right, we’re very personal. We treat every client like they are part of our family.

Angela– And I think you have personally known some of the clients, right? (“You have to” – Sam) Have you ever taken out a loan to start a company, and would you recommend them for other companies, not just startups? Even the existing companies that need funding?

Sam– So, I look at a lot of companies that I have come across over the years if you’re entrepreneurs most of the time what is your first line of finance. Either you go with your family or family members, you go through your own personal account, and many of them live on credit cards. But you have to manage that credit card because it’s a high risk, high rate, and you do have to pay your suppliers as well. Along with your employees, the electricity, etc., and maybe once you’ve got onto that phase, it’ll last you maybe 12-24 months. As your business model evolves and you’re able to get traction and customers; then you talk about receivables. Sometimes it can be 30 days or 60 days, you still have to manage that cash flow on your balance sheets. The question becomes “Do you want to hire more employees,” to service client intel; because clients can sometimes demand and as it should be since you’re offering a product and services. So I think sometimes certain loans will fit the business need for that reason, and as you grow obviously they’re series A, series B, series C, (a different round of finance depending on your business means), but in the U.S. and around the world, globally a lot of these smaller companies still very much dependent on either bank loans or an alternative way of getting short term loans to fund operation inventory.

Angela– So, in other words, it’s better to take out loans than to utilize a credit card with all these high-interest rates.

Sam– Yeah, that’s right.

Angela– What is this secret that you use to build relationships with the businesses you work with and what are some characteristics that you look for (for business partners that work with you.)?

Sam– There are two parts to this question, right? I think when you look at the business beyond the business, but really the person; can you believe in that person and their ability to deliver what he/she said they can do. The other part is, is the product itself competitive? Because there are so many substitutions today, but you really need to understand the individual needs. And we’re not here to give advice but we are here to identify some of the needs that maybe we can support. That’s probably one of the strategies that we normally work and are able to help a company build. And the reason behind that is because entrepreneurs are much closer to the business front. They understand their customer, they understand their needs, they understand the market. And for us, we come from a later stage and we’re able to see the best practices that we have accounted for in the past. Best practices don’t mean that it might apply to that company, depending on the stage of that company. So, what we normally do is talk to the clients and see what their struggles are. Give them some optionality, obviously, they have to pick what is best for them.

Angela– You guys work together.

Sam– Exactly, it’s a partnership, and it’s not a one-way direction. Sometimes, we might think it will work but it might not work at that stage of their investment. It’s a two-way street. So, it’s something that we think is relevant, identify the issues, and how to overcome those issues. It’s never a single solution but we have to be creative in this environment.

Angela– What are the characteristics you look for when working with a business partner?

Sam– Obviously, trying to get another person from their family and let me tell you, a family is important. The upbringing of that individual can tell you a lot about that person, how they make decisions, the background. As much as we don’t care much about it on the surface, besides looking at Facebook pages and pictures on Instagram.

Angela– I was going to ask; how do you get to know them better in that sense?

Sam– Right, so the superficial surface looks great on the picture but you have to get to know the person. We all have our story, what triggered the person to want to do this, what motivated that person to want to do this and commit their time to do it. Because I always believe there is an opportunity cost, you’re doing something that you truly enjoy and able to commit to it; that shows that you’re giving up other stuff in your life. It can be something of greater value or lesser value. But you chose to do this because you believe that this is something worth today, based on that decision mechanism. So, you want to understand their thinking process behind the decision that a person is making.

Angela– Alright, so now I’m going to talk about the U.S. economy. Do you see the U.S. economy slowing down at all? It seems to be going great so far.

Sam– Right, I think there are very different views in the broader markets. If you look around the world, the engine has been viewed as a moderate or actually slowed down. I think if you look inward into the domestic market in the U.S. for sure, on the financial market, which represents maybe 13 or 14 percent of the overall economy, is really not the true representation of the economy. But if you look at the more mid-sized companies today that you know of loan market service, I am not sure if they are well off in terms of seeing what the market is performing. Many of them struggle if you walk down Broadway today how many retail stores do you see is empty space?

Angela– Do you think it’s from E-Commerce?

Sam– It could be playing a role, but at the same time, you look at Amazon. The company is probably one of the first few that become a trillion-dollar by market cap. But if you look at the performance from a financial standpoint, Amazon makes revenue but has a negative net income for many years. So, I can’t say that E-Commerce is taking away, but I think the consumer’s behavior has changed over the years in some of the ways we spend, we click on our choices, and what we want to buy and experience what we want to endorse with our funding’s. So, I definitely think that behavior has changed a bit, but answering your question: I am not sure if the U.S. economy is as strong as the market presents it to be. I could also be wrong but we are here to speculate. However, I do believe that it has a really nice run, the rates are at their lowest, and there has been some quantitative easing in some way to the corporate tax structure. So, I think that is either what you call synthetic support of the market, which is a different argument. I am not an economist but, without these kinds of structure in terms of organic growth, I don’t know if these companies can continue the way it does.

Angela– And what about in the Bahamas, are there many storefronts there? Or do they resort to online shopping as they do over here? Or how do you see that in the rest of the world?

Sam– Right, I mean in a small country like the Bahamas, with 700 keys and islands with 400,000 people; so, the storefront isn’t going to be as many as Broadway Street, but people do shop. It’s also because the individual income is tax-free, everything you pay for in terms of consumer purchase, this is where you would have to pay the higher V-80 tax. So, you end up contributing to the local economy and government funding. So, people don’t shop as much but they do shop.

Angela– What are some advice you can give to a finance student?

Sam Keep an open mind. You never know what ideas out there can drive your curiosity. Talk to as many people as you can, build connections.

Angela– What’s the best way to build connections?

Sam– Just be a person. Stay away from those cellphones and be real.

Angela– Well, thank you so much, Sam!

Sam– Thank you!

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