All lending includes evaluating the risks involved. Luckily for VFS, Renee Hiner has a knack of seeing the whole picture, even when pieces of the puzzle seem to be missing. Having adopted an orphan from Russia, she’s not averse to taking a few risks herself…
“Credit is like a puzzle,” says Renee Hiner, Vice President of Credit and Underwriting in the Global HQ of VFS. “Only you rarely get all the pieces. The trick is to work out what the whole picture looks like and where the risks in the deal are. We are right more than we are wrong, yet deals do go bad from time to time. If they didn’t then we’d probably be acting too conservatively – and if they went bad too often we’d be guilty of being overly aggressive in our lending. It’s my job to get the balance just right.”
After a decade running the Credit & Risk department for VFS Americas, Renee now does the job globally. Only the biggest deals come across her desk, and it’s Renee’s job to help everyone understand the risks involved. “The salesperson wants to do the deal – I get that and I do, too – but from a finance company perspective we have to be sure that the customer will pay back the loan over the whole term. It’s my job to be the devil’s advocate and look for trouble.”
Credit where it’s due
Renee, 52, was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Richmond, Virginia. She was the tomboy middle child between two brothers. Their father was an architect and mother a chemist, and young Renee was expected to do well at school – which she did, along with being a gifted swimmer. By calling off plans to be a physical therapitst, then a chemist she decided to be an economist. The young Renee looked up to her father, who was always there to help his friends and family. But while Mr. Hiner was an extrovert, his daughter is a self-confessed introvert. Except when she’s talking about credit.
“I hate talking in public, but I love sharing with others the secrets that companies’ financial statements are telling us – that’s fun!” she laughs. Over her 22 years at VFS, Renee has taught countless sales people and credit analysts all over the world, and helped establish the company’s Credit Academy, which forms the basis of VFS’s credit culture.
Best risk decision
An MBA course brought Renee to Greensboro, North Carolina, USA where she’s lived ever since. It was here that the 35-year-old Renee decided to take the biggest risk of her life – adopting an orphan from an extremely poor part of Russia. “Natalia was 17 months old, but wasn’t walking or talking,” says Renee. “She’s a cool kid now, though, a good gymnast and an all-American girl in high school.
“Natalia is awesome – we look just like each other and I think we were meant to be together,” Renee says. “It’s the best decision I ever made but I had no idea – no idea – how hard it is to raise a child on my own. I have nothing but respect for working single moms – you have to be ‘On’ at work and at home all the time; you just can’t walk away.”
Renee is now a role model in the business and encourages open dialogue. “I don’t think I’m a great leader, but I am willing to listen and be open-minded,” she says. “When we are considering something I say: ‘This is what I see – what do you see?’ No one is always right, so it’s good to listen to the other side of the debate.”
With Natalia now 16 Renee enjoys more ‘me time’. She finds relaxation in her holiday home by the lake, where she loves to read murder mysteries, or enjoy a glass of wine while painting by numbers – her new hobby.
“I think it’s good to see that women can succeed in business,” Renee concludes. “VFS has more women in senior positions than the average bank, and that’s to everyone’s benefit. Women are good at admitting they don’t know all the answers, and know that only by coming together can we work out what the pieces of the puzzle are telling us.”
“I’m proud to be a woman of VFS.”