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DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF GUANXI

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TMF Group

Westerners who ignore the importance of relationships in Asia are losing out, explains Paolo Tavolato, Head of Asia Pacific at global business services firm TMF Group.

If you do business is Asia you should have heard of Guanxi, but how well do you understand it? Practicing this concept is fundamental to the success of conducting business transactions in Asia, yet it remains unfamiliar to many western multinationals. Westerners typically forego the time and commitment it takes to develop long-term business relationships and focus instead on how to complete a deal quickly. However, this is not the preferred way of conducting business in China and the wider East Asian region. If foreign firms are unable or unwilling to grasp the nuanced and complex concept of Guanxi, they will fail to reap the full commercial potential of Chinese and East Asian markets.

The literal translation of Guanxi means ‘ relations, ties, relationships or connections’ – but fundamentally it means much more than simply networking in the traditional sense. Guanxi stems from the writings of Confucianism, a philosophy practiced for more than 2,500 years, which advocates collectivism and prioritising the common good of the group above any opinions or feelings of an individual. Building a network of interpersonal relationships founded on trust and reciprocity is therefore seen as a major asset. People can spend their lifetimes building such networks that are founded on personal dignity, integrity and honour in Asian society. To take advantage of the system, betraying member’s trust and acting in one’s best interest versus the interest of the greater good would mean potentially destroying all connections within one’s network. Outsiders need to grasp the importance placed on this system if they are to gain the trust necessary to thrive commercially.

In business, this means that local companies in China and East Asia will prefer to transact with their peers. Deals are not closed with parties sat opposite each other at a boardroom table, but by spending time outside the office, whether it is on the golf course, over drinks or at a dinner banquet. Developing a relationship on a personal level means that a transaction is based on trust and upheld by the importance of human connection, rather than just a court of law. And crucially, these connections last long after the deal has finished.

Contrast this with western business practices, characterised by short-term transactions that are upheld by the other party’s competence and a legally binding contract, and there exists a clear disconnect. While this is designed to make business relationships more transparent and straightforward, Asian companies consider such practices a reflection of a fear of commitment on a personal level. Moreover, they also find the process of networking with multinational corporations to be rigid, bureaucratic and indifferent because they lack that personal connection.

TMF Group

From a Western perspective, relationship-based business dealings are subjective, informal and vague. The fact that Guanxi is complex and open to interpretation means that foreigners may perceive gift-giving or expensive dinners as bribery. This interpretation, though, is ethnocentric. Such traditions are used to gain “face” – an important part of Guanxi, meaning to gain respect- and they have been a part of doing business in Asia for a great many years. Chinese and East Asian cultures emphasise achieving customer retention and loyalty through relationship building, and this has important implications for foreign multinationals wishing to conduct business in those countries.

TMF Group is home to many business executives with a wealth of experience in Asia; here they give their top tips.

Tom Corkhill

Head of Relationship Management and leader of TMF Group’s growth plans in China Tom has a plenty of experience in Asian business and actively plays a role in the Hong Kong community; he is the current Chairman of the Australian International School and Vice Chairman of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and Macau.

  • Acknowledge that doing business in Asia is culturally different
  • Be aware that “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”; sometimes it means the opposite
  • It’s important to spend time with your business counterparts in both a formal and informal business environment to develop the trust and relationship before the deal is closed

Sue Yong

Working in London and Malaysia for more than 30 years, Sue has experience in audit, accounting, corporate secretarial and business advisory services and is a pioneer in the trust industry in Malaysia.

  • Spend more time listening and understanding instead of pushing forward your objective
  • Strive to achieve a mutual benefit and put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes
  • Don’t abandon a Guanxi connection once a deal is sealed or a transaction is done

Jochum Haakma

A lawyer and former career diplomat, Jochum Haakma is an expert in trade and investment promotion. He was assigned to a number of Dutch Embassies in Asia from 1986 until 2006, working specifically in Jakarta, HongKong/ Macau and Shanghai. He is Chairman of the China Group of the Holland Financial Centre and a frequent commentator in the media on Asian affairs. He is also TMF Group’s global director of business development.

  • Make friends before you make deals
  • Send the right people with correct attitudes and respect for local culture
  • Asian cultures promote modesty, self-control and avoidance of confrontation; avoid stating personal thoughts and feelings in communication and instead use metaphors and non-verbal gestures
  • Hire a local expert, someone who has extensive experience doing business in the area, to help; using third parties with a strong local presence, particularly in the early stages of territorial expansion, will help to ensure a smoother transition

When it comes to doing business in Asia, you can be incredibly successful if you focus on relationships; it just takes more time and patience. An understanding of and respect for local culture and business practice is vital for any foreign company looking to expand into China and East Asia.

About TMF Group:

TMF Group is a leading global provider of high value business services to clients operating and investing globally. It focuses on providing highly specialised and business-critical financial, legal and human resource administrative services that enable clients to operate their corporate structures, finance vehicles and investment funds in different geographical locations. TMF Group has operations in more than 80 countries across the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. www.tmf-group.com

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UK versus Australia – data regulation on both sides of the world

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UK versus Australia – data regulation on both sides of the world 1

By Guy Hanson, VP, Customer Engagement, Validity

While consumer data privacy continues to be a hotly debated topic and many regions are still grappling with how to effectively regulate this area, companies are fast realising that there’s much to be gained by adopting stricter data practices, regardless of whether they’re required to by law or not.

In regions that have introduced strong data regulations, like GDPR in the EU, companies have demonstrated improved results from their digital marketing programs, including increased customer engagement, higher consumer trust, and greater return on investment. In fact, for marketers everywhere, GDPR has been an unlikely lesson in the commercial benefits of giving consumers greater control over their personal data. Marketers appear to be relishing the benefits that tighter regulation has provided, and in the DMA’s “Data Privacy: An Industry Perspective” report, almost 60% said they would like to see “more strict” data protection policy in the UK.

GDPR – from villain to hero

When GDPR came into force in May 2018, organisations across Europe were concerned about how they could continue to operate successfully under the tighter regulations. Many were worried that their marketing programs were going to be severely set back at the hands of the new laws.

A common concern for digital marketers in particular was their valuable email contact lists. GDPR enforces a requirement for subscribers to opt into email marketing correspondence. If they do not, the assumption is that they opt-out. Due to this, marketers had to choose whether to use “consent” or “legitimate interest” as their legal basis for processing personal data. Legitimate interest tended to be used when a customer relationship already existed, but it was where consent was relied upon that we saw many marketers having to chop away at sizeable email lists built up over many years. This is because consent had to be refreshed if the previous permission model had not met GDPR standards, for example a pre-checked box, and this resulted in many marketers effectively starting their lists from scratch.

However, despite their initial concerns, just one year after GDPR was introduced, businesses saw email marketing initiatives receive a host of benefits. The DMA’s Data Privacy report found that GDPR offered broader business benefits with almost half (49%) of marketers stating that consumer trust in the handling of their data had improved as well as nearly a quarter (22%) saying customer relationships had been bolstered.

On top of this, the DMA’s Marketer Email Tracker report noted an uplift against all major KPIs: increased deliverability (67% of respondents), open rates (74%), click-through rates (75%) and conversion rates (67%). Negative metrics that marketers want to avoid also reduced. Opt-outs and spam complaints were down by 41% and 55% respectively. This is hugely important as improved deliverability and lower complaints means companies have an in-built advantage when it comes to getting in front of their consumers.

The global legacy of GDPR

In many ways, GDPR has provided the blueprint for global data privacy regulations and many other countries and regions have either introduced (or are on their way to implementing) their own version of the tighter regulations. For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is now in effect in the US. Despite some delays, Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados Pessoais (LGPD) is now live.

Even in regions where new regulations haven’t been introduced, the influence of GDPR is still being felt — with many companies in these locations choosing to be proactive in protecting customers’ personal data regardless. A great example of this is Australia.

Australia – an exemplar of data privacy awareness

Guy Hanson

Guy Hanson

Compared to other parts of the world like the EU, Australia has long had a more relaxed approach to data privacy. Its current privacy laws date back to the 1988 Privacy Act and have remained largely unchanged since then (outside of some specific legislation such as the Spam Act 2003). While the Australian Government is set to conduct a review of the Privacy Act — including a potential right for consumers to have personal information erased as is the case under GDPR — this won’t happen for several years

But despite having more relaxed regulations, many Australian companies choose to adopt strict data governance protocols. In fact, when it comes to ethical data practices, Australia is very much ahead of the curve without being legislated to do so.

The increase in the adoption of ethical data practices from companies in regions like Australia, where laws are less stringent, is indicative of growing global awareness around the commercial benefits of strong data governance.

By respecting privacy and using data thoughtfully, Australia has gained from one of the highest deliverability rates outside of Europe and Canada according to Validity’s 2020 Email Deliverability Benchmark report. Companies engender consumer trust and loyalty — the modern-day currency of business – and this has never been more critical than in recent times with the disruption caused by the global pandemic.

Building trust in an uncertain world

With a large chunk of the world now working, socialising, and conducting everyday life online, consumers need extra assurance that the products and services they access take their privacy and personal data seriously. A recent report by Cheetah Digital found that in light of privacy breaches, many consumers are changing their online behaviour including installing ad blocking tech, disabling location tracking, and deleting cookies regularly. At a time when there have never been more online options for consumers, losing their trust quickly results in lost revenue.

Despite what some may think, adhering to good data governance does not mean sacrificing valuable insights and innovation. As demonstrated by GDPR, implementing more thorough data practices results in greater engagement and more accurate customer insights which in turn helps businesses to innovate faster. This is why more and more companies are proactively adopting stricter data policies, regardless of their region’s regulations.

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Furlough Fraud: genuine mistake or cheating the system?

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Furlough Fraud: genuine mistake or cheating the system? 2

As the furlough scheme comes to an end, many employers will be at risk of falling foul of its stringent and complex rules and potentially facing penalties for ‘furlough fraud’, but with the 20 October amnesty introduced by HMRC, companies that have made genuine mistakes have a chance to rectify them without being penalised. Walker Morris’ Gwendoline Davies, Head of Commercial Dispute Resolution, and Andrew Northage, Partner in the Regulatory & Compliance team, share the facts businesses need to know ahead of the deadline.

The furlough scheme – designed to support businesses who are unable to pay the salaries of their full workforce during the coronavirus pandemic – is set to come to an end this month and thousands of businesses have come under investigation by HMRC for falsely or mistakenly claiming whilst employees have been working as normal, part-time, or ‘volunteering’ their time.  

According to research by legal rights app Lawya[i] in June, one in three furloughed workers were pressured by their employers to continue working for them and this ranged from being asked to check emails, to attending their physical workplace and, being pressured to ‘volunteer’ their time. In July, the Policy Exchange think tank warned that furlough fraud – whether genuine mistakes or wilful deception – could cost the exchequer between £1.3bn and £7.9bn[ii]. According to HMRC last month, the rate of fraud and error with regards to the furlough scheme currently sits between five and ten per cent and could total £3.5b[iii]; the tax body is currently investigating thousands of claims made via its hotline by whistle-blowers.

Furlough fraud in corporates – where organisations have claimed furlough monies, whilst still having employees working in some shape or form – is a big focus for HMRC right now, though it will unlikely have the capacity to fully investigate every suspected instance. There is a possibility that some organisations have been doing this as a firmwide activity, but it’s also possible that there have been rogue departments within companies that have been wrongly claiming grants under the radar, which – if uncovered by a whistle-blower – can lead to the company coming under investigation for fraud, particularly if it is suspected by HMRC as a “high risk” case.

Although a number of companies will have been deliberately fraudulent in claiming under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the complexities of the rules and guidelines mean that many employers will have simply made mistakes throughout this period, including simple admin errors like miscalculating hourly pay or mistakes in relation to holiday periods. Nevertheless, businesses that have wrongly claimed – even if accidentally – must notify HMRC within a 90-day window of receiving the grant and ahead of the 20 October amnesty or else risk a penalty charge. If these businesses report to HMRC under the amnesty, they will have to repay their funds, however, businesses that have made genuine mistakes will not be penalised in the long run. In the hope that employers will confess to overpayments sooner rather than risk a full investigation further down the line, HMRC says it has made the process of repaying the wrongly claimed money ‘as easy as possible’[iv]. Those who have committed fraud wilfully on the other hand, face prosecution and penalties and have little defence.

The amnesty has been introduced so businesses that recognise they have done something wrong throughout the duration of the furlough scheme can come forward to declare their errors so as to avoid criminal investigation and being treated as fraudulent, even if they have made a mistake.

In addition, if a company is found guilty of furlough fraud this could give rise to a penalty of up to 100% if the error was deliberate and concealed. The business will also face reputational damage, therefore, it is important that companies carry out a self-audit and notify HMRC as soon as possible and before the 20 October amnesty. HMRC does recognise that the furlough scheme is a new and unfamiliar system where human error is bound to result in some cases of mistakenly claimed funds and that these instances do not mean companies have sought to defraud the government. As with any disclosure to HMRC, a full and early disclosure[v] of mistakenly claiming money from the furlough grant will influence the amount of penalty the regulatory body seeks in the investigation.

Companies now have only a few days to admit their mistake to HMRC and, although HR departments and company directors should carry out a full audit themselves to identify mistakes, seeking professional legal advice is recommended as soon as companies spot any irregularities. If a company suspects a significant mistake has been made following a self-audit, engaging with a legal team has the advantage of obtaining expert guidance in this complex area from legal experts who will not only be able to identify problems much faster, but they will suggest the best ways to navigate the issue whilst at the same time as ensuring communications are protected by legal privilege.

Company directors have a wide range of responsibilities under statute, regulation and the common law. With mistakes made regarding claiming furlough monies, directors should ensure that they understand the risks and implications by talking to a specialist quickly – it is crucial to involve lawyers and other professionals early to ensure that companies understand their duties and risk of liability. Otherwise, directors could even be at risk of being subject to criminal action and disqualification proceedings. Though companies that have made genuine mistakes will be faced with understanding when reporting to HMRC in light of the complexities of the scheme, legal representation is advised to ensure employers are aware of their rights and assist HMRC in their investigation, but without inadvertently making costly admissions and harming their own defence.

If your organisation is under investigation by a regulatory authority in connection with an alleged fraud, Walker Morris can advise you at every stage of the process. For information on how Walker Morris can advise your business, get in touch with the team – Gwendoline Davies, Andrew Northage and Gawain Moore:

[i] https://lawya.com/post/1-in-3-furloughed-workers-under-pressure-to-keep-working

[ii] https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/furlough-payments-fraud-errors/

[iii] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-54066815

[iv]https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/08/hmrc-offers-furlough-fraud-amnesty-to-employers-ahead-of-crackdown/

[v] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmrc-your-guide-to-making-a-disclosure/your-guide-to-making-a-disclosure

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E-money platform Contis partners with UK fintech startup Ordo on instant payments 

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E-money platform Contis partners with UK fintech startup Ordo on instant payments  3

Leading European payments provider, Contis, is excited to announce a new partnership with UK fintech startup Ordo.  

Contis is powering the fintech revolution, helping businesses unleash their true potential with award-winning real-time payment solutions. Contis puts next generation accounts, cards and apps in the hands of their customers. 

Ordo is also helping businesses and organisations unleash their potential with technology that makes getting paid easy. With smart, secure and automatic bank transfers, it’s one of the safest and fastest ways of managing finances between people. It also takes the hassle out of requesting and tracking business payments with immediate money transfer and automatic invoice reconciliation. 

This partnership will soon make loading accounts quicker and simpler for Contis’ end-customers. With the potential to benefit over 800,000 accounts, it’ll also simplify loan repayments, fund transfers between contacts and even splitting bills between friends.  

Contis is a Principal member of Visa, providing B2B issuing and processing through its wholly owned, cloud-based technology. Everyone’s needs are unique. That’s why Contis’ end-to-end platform and alternative payments technology enables every company to build their own bespoke solution. Partnering with Ordo brings additional choice and functionality for businesses and their customers. 

Peter Cox, CEO and Founder at Contis, said: “We’re delighted to partner with Ordo to bring instant remittances and automatic reconciliation to businesses and account holders alike. At a time when finances are tight for many, the benefits of quick and secure digital money transfer are especially welcome.  

This is the latest in a long run of Contis innovations and updates, recently including Buffer ‘secondary authorisation’ technology and international payments with Currencycloud. We pride ourselves on offering a frictionless experience to our clients and their customers. Integrating Ordo’s exciting tech has the potential to enhance payments capabilities for over 800,000 accounts and counting!” 

Craig Tillotson, CEO at Ordo, said: “Our partnership with Contis means that even more businesses and their end customers can quickly start to benefit from Ordo’s revolutionary Open Banking enabled Request for Payment service, lowering costs, improving efficiency, and delivering simpler and safer payments for end customers.  The shared desire of our two teams to use technology and service innovation to deliver real benefits to our clients and the complementary nature of our businesses made it an easy decision to partner with Contis and add Ordo into their end-to-end platform.”  

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