Mark Beresford, a director located in the London office, previously worked with Michael Walters, a former director who spread his time between the Sydney and Singapore offices of Edgar, Dunn & Company.
Michael and Mark worked with a variety of international and domestic payment scheme across Asia and Australia, including in Singapore and Japan. Michael’s projects covered a wide range of assignments with payment networks, payment solutions and schemes across Asia. Ranging from the more developed and advanced markets such as Japan, Korea and Australia through to emerging and developing markets such as India, Vietnam and Malaysia, Michael has learnt a lot from dealing with different business cultures and business etiquette.
Today, Michael Walters is an independent consultant, as in December 2017 he sold littlepay, an early stage Australian fintech start-up focused on developing micropayment processing solutions. Littlepay aims to revolutionise the micropayments ecosystem by creating a versatile open-loop payments platform which can be adapted to suit a wide range of industry applications – starting with transit systems. Prior to founding littlepay, Michael was a Portfolio Manager / Executive Director of payment-tech focussed fund, Allectus Capital; COO of eNett, a global B2B payments company servicing the travel sector; and a Director of global payments industry consultancy Edgar, Dunn & Company.
Michael spoke about his learnings from a diverse selection of consulting projects across the Asia Pacific region, advising both local and western payment companies, processors and schemes. With over 25 years of experience developing new payment products and services, Michael felt that working in a wide variety of Asian markets has helped him to adapt his approach to conducting business with different people from different backgrounds. While each Asian country is certainly unique, there are also similarities in business etiquette, client engagement and communication styles that can be found across multiple markets.
When working in Japan, for example, Michael reminded me that dual-language business cards were recommended and are offered with both hands grasped between thumb and forefingers. Your title or role should always be on the card. Upon receiving a Japanese business card, you should read it carefully and keep it near you for future reference during the meeting. Never casually toss it in a pocket or bag – and never write on the business card that you had received, as that would be quite disrespectful.
When it comes to business, Michael recalls that many Asian cultures expect punctuality, formality, and reserved consideration – unlike some other cultures where being 15 minutes late for a meeting is normal, taking a mobile call during the meeting would not be unusual, or passionately arguing your position is expected. Michael also believes that trust is key to establishing a strong business relationship in Asia, and so you need to invest time and effort in developing customer relationships. This contrasts with many western markets where a proposal for new work could come from the first meeting – almost unheard of with Asian customers.
One insight working with Asian clients that Michael spoke about was how they are often more knowledge and process-oriented in seeking business partners and advisors, as opposed to methodology and results-oriented which is more common with western customers. In many Asian cultures, how an objective is achieved is often equally as important as achieving it.
Verbal communication can often very confusing, and sometimes amusing, in Asian cultures. Indirect communication and avoidance of difficult conversations are quite common – it is rare in many markets to be told ‘no’ directly. Instead, ‘That may not be possible’ or ‘That could be difficult’ may be substituted for a ‘no’. Once you have developed a sense as to how a culture, or client, prefers to communicate (with a Westerner), it will be of great assistance in subsequent business communications. While Michael worked in the region for Edgar, Dunn & Company, he found it is important to communicate clearly avoiding uncommon words, complex phrases, informal terminology – whether verbally or in writing. Using translation services must also be carefully considered. There was a well-known example from the Pepsi Cola in Taiwan which translated ‘Come alive with the Pepsi Generation’ it came out as: ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead’.
Michael described one essential skill to learn was when he presented in an Asian business meeting that he had to adopt an appropriate pace and tone. He said it was imperative not to gabble during a presentation, avoid the overuse of jargon and don’t drone on. One of his personal challenges, being born and bred in Australia, was to avoid talking in a broad Australian accent – many Japanese had difficulty in following what he was saying! Strangely, it is English from the TV and Movies that is easier to understand.