Elaine Ho is a diplomat and a detective, a strategist and a psychologist, a counselor and occasionally a confessor. Ho is executive director of regional premium account management-Asia at Marina Bay Sands—in other words, a bill collector. In most cases, Ho uses tact and finesse to get past-due high-value clients to pay up.
“My boss taught me that people need to feel good about paying you,” says Ho, who’s based in Singapore and also oversees collections in Macau. “I didn’t understand it at first, but it’s so true. This may be a returning customer who’s having a down time. He may want you to understand and listen to his problems. Six months down the road, when he’s happy, he remembers you. He remembers that even though he owed you money, you didn’t treat him like a criminal.”
Born in Malaysia and educated in the U.K., Ho is a former barrister who joined MBS as part of the legal team. Five years later, at the urging of Christopher Melton, senior VP of global collections for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., she took “a giant leap of faith” to cross over to the casino side. She’s become an expert at the sensitive, cross-cultural relationship-building that’s critical to her job.
“Different patrons of different nationalities in different jurisdictions require different approaches. Chinese patrons, for example, will talk to you about the balance they owe, but it can be very difficult when it comes to funds transfers (from China). Then we have Japanese patrons. I learned you have to go to dinner with those patrons and not talk about the debt. And they will somehow pay some of the balance.”
She recalls one customer in financial straits who described himself to her as “a wounded dragon,” but promised he would make good when he was able. With tact and understanding, Ho was able to retain that patron’s long-term loyalty. “He thanked me for my patience,” she says.
Legal action is a last resort. “Many of these patrons are high-caliber,” says Ho. “Some are rich and famous. If you sue, the casino doesn’t look good. Most of the time if you call them, you find they overlooked the balance, or were unhappy about something—a misunderstanding with a host or a bad F&B experience.”
Ho calls the MBS legal department her university, and its executives her mentors.
“Penny Lo, vice president and deputy general counsel of MBS, is my go-to person when I feel challenged or encounter setbacks at work. I am particularly grateful to Andrew MacDonald, our chief casino officer, and Faris Alsagoff, our general counsel, who supported my transition from a legal role into a gaming role. I’m extremely lucky that I have had the privilege of working with great positive individuals at MBS.”
She especially thanks Melton for his guidance and tutelage, and for helping her master the soft touch. “He taught me this business. I believe my success is at least in part due to his sincere support and mentorship.”
Ho sums up her role as getting to know her patrons, “solving their problems, and making them happy again.
“This is not the way a bank collects money,” she says. “It’s totally unique.”