The Switzerland of Asia Shines

In many respects, Singapore is the Switzerland of Asia.

Begun in 1819 as a British trading colony, the Republic of Singapore was founded in 1965 under the leadership of the current Prime Minister’s father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. While it is only 1/5 the size of Rhode Island and three times the size of Washington D.C., it is perhaps the most strategically important global trading, finance and service nexus in Asia.

Here is why you should consider investing in Singapore.

While Hong Kong and Shanghai will argue, Singapore is the busiest port in Asia situated next to the vital trading channel, the Straits of Malacca.

Unlike South Korea and Taiwan, which are heavily dependent on the cyclical electronics industry, Singapore has a well-diversified economy. 70% of its GDP is attributable to finance and services.

Singapore’s accounting rules and regulations are amongst the most conservative in the world. For example, its rules on inventory accounting and the expensing of stock options are more conservative than those in the United States.

Trade Surplus

Despite only 1.6% of its land being suitable for agricultural activities and having to import almost everything including water, Singapore manages to have a trade surplus.

Singapore has a balanced budget, a stable currency and still manages to allocate 5% of GDP for defense.

It represents a multi-ethnic society with 77% Chinese, 14% Malay and 8% Indian.

Singapore has a parliamentary form of government, an English common law judiciary system and is corruption and drug free. Slowly but surely, a freer political climate is developing with a Speaker’s Corner instituted in 2000 and the ability to express one’s views freely anywhere with the exception of the sensitive topics of race and religion

Singapore’s educational performance is legendary. The fact that it has twice as many Internet users as television sets is telling.

Singapore’s New Resorts

Singapore is also changing with the times. To generate more investment, tax revenue, and add a bit of sparkle, Singapore recently approved the development of two large casino resorts. It is part of a strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on manufacturing and to position itself as a livelier tourism destination. Of course, there will be restrictions. Singaporeans will have to pay a $60 entry fee and the gambling areas will be restricted to just 5% of the resort. According to projections, the resorts will lead to $4 billion in investments, $3.5 billion in annual revenues, 35,000 jobs and $350 million per year in taxes and fees.

Singapore has also made great strides in patching up misunderstandings with its neighbor to the north, Malaysia, from whom it split in 1965. Tax issues, water supply agreements and transportation arrangements are all moving much more smoothly.

Singapore is adept at holding on to its manufacturing base even as several large semiconductor manufacturers such as National Semiconductor announced plans to move plants to China and Malaysia. For thirty years, Singapore has relied on electronics as the backbone of its manufacturing sector but is making the transition to a more service and R&D economy. Electronics is about 40% of manufacturing output but accounts for only 5% of employment. Surprisingly, some firms are moving manufacturing centers from China to Singapore due to its infrastructure, logistics and laws protecting intellectual property. Exxon Mobil, Shell and Sumitomo are expanding petrochemical facilities and Singapore added 27,000 manufacturing jobs last year by moving up the food chain.

After 8.4% GDP growth in 2004 and a weak start early this year, Singapore’s economy posted 12% plus growth in the second quarter and should be a solid performer over the next few years. Continued strong global demand for transportation, communications and logistics services, increasing IT spending, rising consumer spending and property prices and expanded tourism all point to continued growth.

An easy and smart way to invest in Singapore is through the Singapore iShare (EWS) which tracks the Singapore Straits index. It is up 26% over the past year and up 9.4% year to date. Its largest positions are in Singapore Telecom, United Overseas Bank and DBS Bank. Even better, it is tax efficient and has an annual expense ratio of only 0.59%. Trading at 14 times projected earnings, the Singapore market is still attractive. By comparison, the Switzerland market and iShare (EWL) is trading at 18 times earnings.

The epitome of quality and increasingly creative, Singapore is a great core holding for any global portfolio.

Carl Delfeld is head of the global advisory firm Chartwell Partners and editor of the Chartwell Advisor and the Asia Investor Intelligence newsletters. He served on the executive board of the Asian Development Bank and is the author of The New Global Investor (iUniverse:2005). For more information go to http://www.chartwelladvisor.com or call 877-221-1496

How Contact Centers Can Best Serve Customers in the Asia Pacific Region

If you or your clients are planning to expand into China or other growth markets in the Asia Pacific region, there are a number of issues to consider when offering contact center services.

The first of these is that of language. If you would like to cover all of China, agents should be able to communicate in both Mandarin and Cantonese. If you plan to reach out to the region as a whole, you should include Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and both Malaysian and Indonesian Bahasa too.

Second, it is important that customers can call in by means of a domestic regional telephone number. Making an international phone call remains a psychological and economical barrier not only in emerging markets, but in established ones like the United States too.

Next, consider the communications channels available to you.

Like us in the West, the Chinese are voracious consumers of social media. But Twitter and Facebook are irrelevant in China, whereas Sina /Tencent Weibo, Renren, Qzone and WeChat are not.

Of these, WeChat is fast becoming defacto the standard way to communicate in China, and already boasts a user base of 600m and growing. Furthermore, Its number of international users is also growing exponentially, so a WeChat Channel should be integrated into any contact center activity.

Whilst the concept of the virtual office is nothing new, for western companies looking to expand into China the benefits of a virtual office versus the costs and risks associated with establishing a real one are particularly attractive, and they instantly help bridge the cultural and linguistic challenges associated with overseas expansion.

Those involved in the contact center industry probably already have clients that are using their services as part of their globalization efforts. Rarely do such companies wish to focus on just one market. By offering multi-lingual voice and data solutions, or by teaming up with a company that does, you will be able to add value and help clients grow and prosper internationally.

Doing so will help customers grow domestically too. After all, there are over one million Chinese speakers in the UK and more than two million in the USA.

Mindful of the fact that the vast majority of the Chinese population worldwide cannot read or speak English, those companies that interact with them in their own native language stand a much better chance of benefiting from the enormous opportunities afforded by the Chinese market than those that do not.

Finally, when working with your clients with regards to promoting any new engagement channel, it is best to engage in the services of a native speaker for translating purposes, since automated translation tools can sometimes do more harm than good.

According to the IMF, China is now the World’s largest economy, with the US relegated to second place. Therefore North American, Australasian and European contact centers that look eastwards will be able to add value for their customers both now and in years to come.

In his bestselling book ‘The World is Flat’, Thomas Friedman describes it as a level playing field in terms of commerce, where all competitors have an equal opportunity.

That metaphor is particular apt for those involved in the contact center space.

Channel Management Solutions to Challenges

In the IT industry, software publishing enterprises are the ideal market in need of channel services to boost sales revenues. Channel management solutions are necessary to facilitate the relationship between the software vendor and the channel partners. Channel managers are tasked with developing the partnership and streamlining the sales process by channels.

In channel management these tasks are essential:

• Handling relationships – There are generally three parties involved in channel sales: the vendor, reseller or partner and the customer. The margins, credit limits, product price list, terms, etc, must be set. Proper pricing is crucial. It must not be set too high or too low and neither should the margins that affect the final price consumers pay for. Aside from pricing issue, the products have to match the resellers. High value products for example need to be assigned to VARs or Value Added Resellers who have previous experience in selling these kinds of products.

Conflict management comes into play especially between partners. One of the most prevalent challengers in channel sales is too much competition. Sometimes even the vendor would pull the rug out from under a partner when it sees an opportunity to reap the profits for themselves. Stealing leads are frowned upon but not unheard of in the industry.

• Product management and order approval – When leads push through, then the vendor must have the capacity to deliver the product to the end users. Included in this task is the delivery of license key since the product is software applications. In international markets, like Asia or Europe, the prices on the software may differ to reflect the market. It is imperative that resellers be recruited from countries where the product is being sold because they would be more efficient in selling the product since they know the language and has presumably built their reputation locally.

• Payments processing – There must be standard operating procedure for generating invoices and handling payments. One of the biggest hurdles in channel sales is on time payments from customers. It is important to reconcile the accounts or else it is a loss for both the vendor and the partner.

• Report Generation – These are unavoidable tedious paper work for channel managers that consume valuable time. They are required however, so companies can gain valuable insight to how they are progressing as far as channel sales goes.

A Partner Relationship Management or PRM tool can provide solutions and help in with these tasks of channel management. PRM offer features that would make the job of channel management a lot easier:

• Set partner levels or tiers – Vendors with hundreds of different channel partners would be at a loss on how they can differentiate the low-performing resellers from the high-performing resellers. With a fully automated system, resellers’ performance are transparent and based on the information, resellers can be awarded silver, gold or platinum status.

• Training, support and marketing materials – With a comprehensive PRM channel management solution, partners will have a valuable resource for product information, and marketing materials to use in generating sales.

• Automated reports – Manual tallying of sales is eliminated because the report is automatically generated. Channel managers and resellers will be allowed to focus on a more important task which is selling.

• Channel management conflicts are averted because with features like lead registration, partners will avoid competition with each other for the same business.