Russell Bedford’s Asia-Pacific Conference goes online with record attendance

July 2020

Russell Bedford’s chair, and managing partner of Melbourne member, Bruce Saward, opened Russell Bedford’s Asia-Pacific Conference 2020, which was held, for the first time, online with record breaking attendance for the regional meeting, of over 80 participants around the world.

In his inspirational address, Bruce Saward commended Russell Bedford members’ grit and determination to strive through challenges, while successfully embracing remote working. He credited three contributing factors, related to Russell Bedford membership, that have supported members’ ability to successfully navigate through what has been a challenging year so far: quality global connections, exceptional leadership and individual contributions from within each firm.

How to thrive in the era of automation was the first session of day one, delivered by Matt Stokes, partner and colleague of Bruce, from Saward Dawson. Matt discussed the value of automating certain repetitive processes, to free up human capital for more important or higher value work. He also recommended some of the software tools that Saward Dawson actively use in support of achieving their business goals.

Up next was the first of two panel discussions; the first one centring on ‘Protecting and future-proofing your practice’, led by WONG Kok Siong, partner at Steven Tan Russell Bedford PAC. Panellists Vish Vaidyanathan (Chennai, India), James Whitelaw (Brisbane, Australia) and Van Anh Thai (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) joined Kok Siong for an interesting discussion on their predictions for the future of their firms.

James Whitelaw said: “The past number of months have brought about a great period of adaption; a wakeup call, if you like.” He continued: “AI will have an enormous impact on all firms. Software champions are reducing the human workload; some might fear that this may have an adverse impact, but we see it as an opportunity. For example, technology in communication can only improve the way we operate, improving interaction with offshore clients and with our teams; coupled with advancements in CRM systems, these are huge factors in how we service our clients effectively now and in the future.”

Viswanathan Vaidyanathan cited AI and data analytics as the precursors for the fundamental change in recruitment, he said: “Now accountancy firms have immediate access to extraordinary talent in any part of the country or geographical region they operate in. This will ultimately lead to complete digital mobility and knowledge sourcing across the globe like other professions. The results of which are improvement in productivity, happiness as a result of remote working, and greater employee satisfaction because employees can work from the place they wish to live in. Of course, trust and managing expectations are key factors in sustaining the initial apparent success of remote working – it may be too soon to tell – though it would seem to be a win, win situation for firms, their employees and their clients if handled well.”

Van Anh Thai shared how the current COVID-19 crisis has led her firm to taking a deeper look at how they operate, she said: “After the initial threat, as a result of businesses having to close due to COVID-19, we’ve begun to see several unexpected benefits. We’re talking with clients more often than we did pre-Covid. We’re delving deeper into their business strategies and learning more about the type of business support they require. Clients have more time to look at internal processes and we’ve been helping them through that process. We’ve also picked up clients from the Big Four; concentrating on the expertise that we have, while supporting new clients who may not have been receiving the close attention they had hoped for – we’re able to offer that.”

Day one concluded with practice updates from each Asia-Pacific firm, led by Russell Bedford CEO, Stephen Hamlet.

Day two of the web conference opened with a welcome address from Stephen, reminding participants of the many new initiatives being developed by Central Office for members’ benefit, including a redesigned Centre of Excellence platform for those with specific interests. He also talked about the recently launched ‘Russell Bedford Professional Development’ which aims to assist members with their training capabilities; a key area of interest for smart businesses seeking to invest in their employees.

Liu Hern Kuan, Head of Tax at Tan Peng Chin LLC, a Singapore based full-service law firm which undertakes substantial regional and cross-border work, joined to discuss recent trends in the pursuit of corporate tax avoidance.

The second of two panel discussions focused on marketing in the current climate, led by Mike Sweeney director at Adelaide firm, Lee Green & Co. Panellists LOH Kok Leong (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Romona Zhao (Beijing, China) and James Ngai (Hong Kong, China) joined Mike to share their experiences of adapting marketing practices to suit the current market. 

LOH Kok Leong opened: “We’re not selling a product; we’re selling a service experience. The person selling must have very good knowledge of the service experience, including substantial technical and non-technical knowledge of the whole process.”

He added: “As a Russell Bedford branded firm, we’ve managed to gain significant success from using the globally recognised brand; particularly during the earlier years of our membership, as Malaysia was still considered to be a developing country. Psychologically, the credibility of our firm increased via our association with a western network and has had a positive impact on how clients and prospects view us. As a result, Russell Bedford Malaysia is very well known in the markets we operate in. For example, in our industry most will have heard of Russell Bedford Malaysia in Japan.”

James Ngai added: “As businesses are prohibited from advertising services in Hong Kong, demonstrating our expertise when working with clients is very important. Word of mouth is still very prevalent for business success in Hong Kong. You have to be reliable, communicate well and effectively become a business partner to your clients; solving their problems so that you can be confident of their return.”

He added: “To market successfully, businesses need to focus their efforts on the right segment, at the right time, to the right people and using the right channels.”

Romona Zhao concluded: “Our association with the Russell Bedford network is very important to our firm. Competition is strong in our market. Clients ask about the quality of our network – it’s very important to them and it sets us apart from the competition. The business development opportunities we receive via Russell Bedford brings us significant value and how our clients see us.”

The conference concluded with the final practice updates from the Asia-Pacific firms in attendance, led by Stephen Hamlet.

As Russell Bedford’s CEO, speaking at the end of the web conference, Stephen said: “It’s been another fantastic couple of days of connection and learning. If you had asked me a couple of months ago if we could achieve this level of togetherness in a virtual context, I may have been sceptical. But the new norm has made us all rethink about how we do things and I’m very glad to see that our network’s core values still remain very much intact.”

He added: “We heard a lot about talent management during the conference, about encouraging and empowering employees – these are the efforts that will have lasting effects on businesses and how they are perceived. The businesses that acted with compassion and care for their employees and their clients, during the times of crisis, are the ones that will succeed and thrive, by securing the best talent to grow their businesses for the future.”

Watch a summary of the web conference here:


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