Stockbroking veteran: I'm an accountant first

Loh Hoon Sun's first brush with the industry arose by chance while dealing with accounts of securities firm

Mr Loh Hoon Sun's main job as Phillip Securities' senior adviser is to acquire new clients, build up the institutional side of the business and keep existing clients happy.
Mr Loh Hoon Sun's main job as Phillip Securities' senior adviser is to acquire new clients, build up the institutional side of the business and keep existing clients happy. PHOTO: PHILLIP SECURITIES

Veteran stockbroker Loh Hoon Sun has spent a solid 27 years as managing director of brokerage Phillip Securities, though he claims he has always been more of an accountant.

In fact, his first brush with the business happened quite by chance when, as a 31-year-old accountant in Ipoh, he was tasked with straightening out the accounts of a stockbroking firm.

"I'm an accountant. I went in as general manager mainly to help do accounting for six months," recalls Mr Loh, 78, who stepped down from the Phillip Securities board to be senior adviser in February.

Back in 1969, the Malaysian company he worked for owned timber logging and iron ore mining businesses, as well as a major stake in a stockbroking firm.

"What happened was it had been in operation for three years during the bull run and, for three years, the company had not produced any accounts. So the owner was quite concerned and got me in to help produce the first set of accounts," said Mr Loh, who was born in Fujian, China, but moved to Penang, Malaysia, at the age of nine.

A three-year bull market convinced him that stockbroking was a "vibrant business" - and highly profitable.

Opportunity came after the 1985 Pan-Electric crisis, when a number of stockbroking firms in Singapore folded because of their involvement in forward contracts that led to the collapse of Pan-Electric Industries and an epic three-day closure of the Singapore and Kuala Lumpur stock markets.

To boost the capitalisation of broking firms, each of the Big Four local banks was licensed to start its own broking firm.

Mr Loh, who was then working in the now-defunct Overseas Union Bank's (OUB's) investment banking division, was assigned to start OUB Securities from scratch. He became its chairman.

The bull market returned and it was a busy and profitable time. Mr Loh said: "I requested that they let me go over from OUB to OUB Securities full-time but my bosses said 'No, you stay in the bank'."

After 14 years at OUB, he was hired by Phillip Securities executive chairman Lim Hua Min, who gave him the newly created post of managing director.

"I knew him as a friend before I joined, and my main attraction was to concentrate full-time on stockbroking," said Mr Loh.

Phillip Securities started as a retail broker and, through the years, Mr Loh built up its institutional business.

In 1997, he executed the biggest trade order of $116 million for a foreign client that year, buying Hongkong Land shares in the market over two days.

The local market has been less active in the past few years, but Mr Loh is resolute: "Stockbroking will not disappear."

He said: "I think it's still a good business. Of course, now you cannot just do broking alone. You have to have more products and services, you need to diversify your income source. Once you do that, you still can survive."

That's pretty much the strategy Phillip Securities has always adopted. For example, it was the first to introduce online broking for retail investors in 1996, with Phillip's Online Electronic Mart System, or Poems.

"That is how we keep ahead of our competitors," said Mr Loh.

In September 2015, as part of a management succession process, four younger executive directors were appointed to the board of Phillip Securities.

One of them, Mr Luke Lim, who is the son of Mr Lim Hua Min, succeeded Mr Loh as managing director in February.

However, the change does not mean that Mr Loh has plenty of time to spare now.

"The only thing I'm relieved of is signing documents. My main job remains acquiring new clients and building up the institutional side of business, and keeping existing clients happy," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline Stockbroking veteran: I'm an accountant first. Subscribe