*Produced by SilverKris for HC Consultancy*
Singapore’s business landscape tends to be dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises and a smaller proportion of big corporations and tech start-ups, but whether big or small, glamorous or down-to-earth, one unsung corner of the private sector bears witness to it all, providing vital support every step of the way: corporate secretarial firms.
From the time a company is first registered, Singapore’s corporate secretarial firms offer critical, nitty-gritty legal know-how that many businesspeople and founders may not necessarily possess. HC Consultancy (HCCS) is a leading business advisory and consultancy firm, working with over 1,000 Singaporean and foreign clients across a range of sectors, from F&B and medicine to education, trade and even charitable organisations.
“Starting a business is not the same thing as actually establishing a business entity,” says Helen Campos. “You might have a business plan and a business model, but legally registering your company, doing the compliance work and everything else is a whole other ball game.”
Helen founded HCCS in 2008 to complement the work of MC Corporate Services, one of Singapore’s top four corporate secretarial firms, which she also co-founded. One of the few corporate secretarial firms that is headed by a lawyer and chartered secretary, HCCS also boasts clients in the government sector – clients that the firm has been working with since day one.
“For a single client, we could offer services as diverse as company registration, accounting, tax compliance, employment contracts, changes to the board, changes to shareholders and the shareholders’ agreement, offshore company formation, dispute negotiation between directors, corporate secretarial and compliance services, PR and employment pass application in Singapore – the list goes on. We have a wide menu of services. The business concept and plans are just the start.”
A corporate lawyer by training, Helen has worked at firms such as Deloitte & Touche, Rodyk and Withers KhattarWong. Combined with her time as director on the board of the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) and chairperson of the SME Centre at SICCI, she has over 20 years of big-picture perspective and legal experience in the private sector.
Helen says that some 60% of her firm’s clientele are overseas businesspeople who have established entities in Singapore. According to her, the city-state certainly has key advantages over its neighbours that make it attractive to foreign businesses.
“We have, most importantly, political stability, good infrastructure, a skilled English-speaking workforce and a transparent, progressive and attractive tax system,” she says, adding that the structures are even more beneficial to local companies, with an increasing number of grants and tax deductions available to SMEs.
At the same time, she notes that changes in the law have kept her on her toes. Not only have compliance, accounting, tax and employment laws in Singapore become more robust, professional certifications required of Helen and her staff have changed as well. “Back in the day, once you were qualified, you were qualified,” Helen recalls. “Now we sit for exams every two years.”
But this continued dedication to a changing landscape is what keeps HCCS competitive in the market, and able to offer valuable services in the face of digitalisation and the widespread availability of information online.
“A lot of young businesspeople are very enterprising, with an appetite for risk. They come to me having already done their homework,” she says with a chuckle, “and I have to make sure I know more than them in terms of regulatory compliances. Otherwise, why would they need me? I have to be at the top of my game.”
Helen gives the example of restaurateurs, who may already generally know how to set up a business and register their company, but in the F&B sector, there are certain particularities that need special attention. “There’s a quota system for service staff. There are certain passes you can get for certain jobs. There is a salary range in each sector. I should be able to advise my clients on these details, which, by the way, keep changing.”
To serve local clients, being on top of her game also means knowing about the ever-changing landscape of government grants in Singapore, advising which ones are applicable for a particular client and might have the best chances of success.
Of course, the other major change that has impacted business is Covid-19, and like all enterprises in Singapore and the world, it has challenged HCCS on how they are able to serve clients. During the circuit-breaker, Helen and her team had to work from home, a situation, she notes, that was only possible because the firm had the foresight to digitalise well before the crisis.
She remains optimistic about Singapore’s economy and businesses during this time. “This is just a period, and we will get through it. We have to tighten our belts, work smarter and digitalise more to increase productivity and efficiency. But Singapore will retain its position. It always has been an attractive location for businesses, and it will remain so.”
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the drive it takes to start a company and make it successful. Over the years and across many sectors, Helen has observed vital qualities in her most driven clients: knowing the product well, and knowing how it stacks up against the competition. “That’s what I did when I started this business 14 years ago,” she says.
During those 14 years, Helen has steered her company through a recession, the SARS pandemic and now Covid-19, buoyed by her love for the technical aspects of the job, and the satisfaction of meeting people and helping them realise their dreams. Her number one tip for survival? “You need to have passion for what you do. If you’re in it for the money, you’ll quit when the going gets rough. But if you have passion, you’ll persevere.”