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MY STORY

I grew up in a northeastern city in China. My parents taught mathematics and physics in a Normal University, from which graduates become middle school and high school teachers.

 

If you asked the younger me what I wanted to do growing up, scientist, engineer, … but one occupation I did not want to do, was the teacher. Because I was surrounded by teachers and future teachers on the campus!   

 

In the 1995 university admission exam, I did not get admitted into the top school of my choice for the engineering track. I ended up studying in a banking and finance program. At that time, the program just began to open to students on the science track and add more quantitative components. 

 

In the late 1990s, China opened more and connected more with the world. Influenced by my sister and brother-in-law, I decided to pursue a study overseas to broaden my horizon. 

 

After a busy two-year preparation of TOEFL and GRE, I had the opportunity to study in the MA program of economics at University of Ottawa, Canada. 

 

It took 4 connecting planes for me to arrive in Ottawa - the line to get study permit at the Vancouver custom was too long so I missed the originally scheduled plane. Before that, I never flew on any before! When I left home, I did not know what was ahead of me, but I knew it was a long journey. 

 

Studying in a foreign language is not easy. All three professors in my first semester were not native speakers. I only understood 5% of what they said. What to do? More reading and group discussion after the class. 

 

After six courses, it was term paper time. I chose the topic of the exchangeable pollution permit program, which just started at the time. My professor was rigorous. Everyone finished their term papers within time except me - I needed to stay for another semester to modify the paper. 

 

Since my goal was to find a job after graduation and accumulate a few years experience, I brought two suitcases and my nice Canadian landlord dropped me off at the Greyhound. I hopped on the bus to Toronto. 

 

I continued to write my paper, often in the St. Robert’s library at University of Toronto, while learning computer programming in a college to beef up my skills. 

 

Finally I graduated in 2001 and started the job hunting process. 

 

At that time, there was no LinkedIn. I had never heard of “informational interview”. I did not know what each job posting asks for. I ended up applying to a wide range of jobs - whether suitable or not. 

 

My buddy Shilin in Ottawa graciously offered his insights. His journalist trained observations and summarization played a key role in his transition to his first job in Canada and a long successful career. I was tagging along with him and exploring the employment market in Toronto. 

 

With my master degree of economics, bachelor degree of banking and finance, and computer programming training, in 2002, I started the job as a credit risk analyst at a department store chain named Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), for their credit cards program. 

 

HBC originated as a fur trading company linking Britain and North America. Its 350+ years history is longer than Canada. The old retailer survived many eras with rounds and rounds of pivoting, divesture, and acquisitions.

 

At that time, all large retailers still owned their credit card portfolios. Well, the credit concept started with retailers many many years ago. 

 

I began my journey in the world of consumer credit, learning from the basic concepts such as billing date, delinquency, roll rate, and credit score. Thanks to my managers’ patient explanations - Mr. Pokhrel Bharat and Mr. Mark Christensen!  

 

Then there was a consolidation wave in the industry. In the early 2000s, banks approached retailers courting their credit card portfolios. Banks were able to manage the programs with low cost funding and share profit with retailers. Many retailer portfolios moved over to banks, such as Macy’s and Sears. 

 

HBC credit card portfolio was acquired by GE Money in 2006, the consumer finance division of GE. I moved along with the portfolio. 

 

At GE Money, I led the credit infrastructure team to support all the new build and daily run of credit strategies for various consumer lending products. The experience from early morning production release calls to fire drill issue management probably allows me to run a small IT company!

 

At GE, I was sold on the benefit of working in international markets to broaden my horizon and build experience. Just as I was ready to grow my career further with the great platform of a global company, the Great Financial Crisis hit.  

 

The 2008 financial crisis started in the US and impacted the world. Even though Canada stayed largely unscratched, GE had to retreat from overseas and shrink its finance business. 

 

Do you know that consumer finance and commercial finance once contributed over 50% of GE’s profit at that time? Investors liked the money but they needed to see a smaller portion of finance in order to be comfortable. 

 

I was laid off over a conference call. 

 

I used the financial resources provided by GE and the transition window to study the Financial Risk Manager (FRM) program to gain a systemic knowledge of financial risk. 

 

In 2009, I started a new position in CIBC, one of Canada’s top 5 banks. There I managed risk for their 10 billion line of credit, personal loan, and overdraft portfolios. 

 

In 2011, I switched to BMO Bank of Montreal to work in a centralized decision support function. There I learned more about a full service bank’s customer centric approach and how the different customer interactions at individual consumer credit product level are managed and documented and aggregated. 

 

During this period, I got married and welcomed my baby son. I also finished the FRM and CFA exams, which built a systematic knowledge body for me to look at the financial world, from both risk assessment and valuation perspectives. 

 

I still had the thought to explore a bigger world. 

 

In 2015, I took the leap of faith to drive down to Des Moines, Iowa and started to work for Wells Fargo, at its private label credit card division. In 2017, I joined MUFG Union Bank at San Diego, California to help the regional bank build its unsecured lending portfolio. 

 

Over time, I realized that many of the same questions came up during the conversations with colleagues from risk, marketing, product, audit, legal, etc. How does the risk score get used? What is the Credit Line Increase process and benefit? 

 

Post the Great Financial Crisis, banks beefed up their internal controls with both external regulatory requirements and internal management needed. This created demand for new workforce. 

 

Also the booming of fintechs is attracting a new crop of talents into the consumer lending arena. 

 

All of these were happening when the banks and nonbanks began to adopt more flat org structures. Do more (work) with less (resources). In some places, one key function of a traditional manager is being lost - training and development. 

 

All of these led to my idea of writing my first book - to explain the ins and outs of unsecured lending risk management. The pandemic in 2020 gave me time needed to finish manuscripts.  

 

After the book was published in 2021, I also piloted an online course to serve people who wanted to learn the subject further in a media rich environment. 

 

Writing a book is not a financially smart act. Nine months invested while earning a few dollars a copy. That is a losing deal money-wise. Not sure the ROI is better than working at MacDonald. 

 

However, the benefit to an author is the book’s impact. I got warm feedback from many people - previously known connections or unknown readers. From countries and regions all over the world - US, Canada, Europe, African, Asia, South America, Australia. 

 

Many appreciated the systematic view and practical examples the book brings. They find the content helpful for their jobs.  

 

What is more satisfying than knowing your knowledge has spreaded out all over the world, being absorbed by hundreds of consumer credit leaders and professionals, then being used to make decisions for the financial wellness of millions of consumers? 

 

From Canada to the US, I have worked for quite a few bank and non-bank companies, but now I am serving all institutions, all professionals working in the industry, and all consumers across the world - by spreading my consumer credit knowledge. 

 

Leveraging today’s social media and Internet reach, I found new meaning in the work I do. 

 

I find joy in sharing knowledge, whether through my book, course, social posts, or newsletter. 

 

I began to appreciate my parents’ work more. They have taught thousands of middle school and high school teachers, who are teaching millions of students, who are on their way to many great things ahead of them. 

 

It turns out I am doing the same thing, teaching, in a different setting. 

 

It took me more than twenty years to find my mission. I will continue to explore the world of consumer credit and share my observations, thoughts, and learnings. 

 

If you are on the same journey, let me be your guide and companion, so we can venture together in this risky world.

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