The Mercantile Story: staying successful through changing times
With the rapid onset of the digital age, it’s no secret that the financial services industry is going through a revolutionary time in how business is being conducted. Constant changes in technology have naturally led to changing demands by consumers and clients, meaning businesses needs to evolve to meet this new challenge.
So how do businesses, particularly smaller companies, ensure success in times like this? Founder of Mercantile Exchange Corporation (“MercFX”), Stephen Lau, reflects on the attitude his company employed when they first started out as the key to success when any new challenges arise. Despite having all their “ducks in a row”, MercFX was hit by the unexpected; the economic downturn in the 1990s.
“My wife and I started this company with the sheer determination to succeed”, says Lau, “When you have a baby on the way and a generous backer to repay, success is the only option you have.”
Stephen and Gabriel Lau founded Mercantile Exchange Corporation with a mission to help Canadian small and medium size businesses save on their global trading deals. Where banks dominated the market and profit margins for businesses, MercFX offered affordable foreign exchange rates that enabled their clients to invest their savings back into growing their businesses. In a climate of financial austerity, they offered much needed savings and a direct relationship to a currency expert whom a business owner could consult with. This winning formula of a dedicated personal relationship that offers financial value remains the driver of success in the MercFX brand today.
In recent years, Stephen and the team have taken their boutique style service to new levels by providing special products to clients who require tailored services.
One such service has now become a standard market offering – the Export Development Canada (“EDC”) No Deposit Forward . Created to offer small businesses access to Forward Contracts without the burden of the 5-10% initial deposit, Stephen worked out a deal that left everyone happy; the EDC sold an insurance policy to the business, the business accessed the currency they required to trade, and the bank stepped in to offer currency through MercFX. For new businesses struggling with tighter financial reserves, the EDC No Deposit Forward left vital funds free for growth.
Times have certainly changed since MercFX first came on the scene. While running a small business is no easy feat, Stephen offers some tips that have helped him run his company through evolving times:
– Knowledge is power: while you can never predict the future, make it your business to stay aware and abreast of new products and competing trends. Accept that something that has worked for years may need to be adapted, and invest in the resources you’ll need for this
– Calculated vs blind risks: anyone in business knows you have to be ready to take on risks to stay ahead of the game. But it is imperative to do your homework and invest in solutions that you understand, and that will prove to have a substantial return.
– Trust your people: as the founder of a business, one of the hardest things to do may be to let go of control. But, this is an imperative part of being able to evolve: no owner will have knowledge of every component that helps a business stay successful, so learn to have trust in the people you hire and give them the room to grow.
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