IAB Interview: Expanding Your Firm’s Business Across Borders

Business Opportunities
January 27, 2022 - ABAB, Asad Abbas & Co. (Chartered Accountants), InCorp Global Pte Ltd, ZhongXingHua CPA

PrimeGlobal recently brought together member firms from Europe and Asia Pacific to identify best practices to develop international opportunities.  A panel of international member firms, including ABAB, Asad Abbas & Co, InCorp Global, and ZhongXingHua, identified the following steps to unlock the full networking potential of your membership of PrimeGlobal. These steps were featured in a recent article in International Accounting Bulletin (IAB)

Despite economic uncertainty created by the pandemic, the potential for businesses to expand their global markets is increasing.  Numerous free trade agreements have been announced between nations, within regions, and between regions.  The pandemic has rapidly extended eCommerce providing more opportunities for businesses to trade across borders.  There are more start-ups than ever before looking for help to scale and trade across borders.

A global survey by the ACCA highlighted that 81% of Small Medium Practices report that their clients have been increasingly involved in international activities over the last three years.  However, businesses are looking for help with the biggest barrier highlighted as navigating foreign regulations.  It is clearly a big opportunity for accounting firms to provide advice and to anticipate their clients’ international potential.  Joining a global network, or association, provides firms with a great opportunity to collaborate with other firms to support their client’s needs.  However, the ACCA survey highlights that despite joining such groups, many firms remain under networked.

PrimeGlobal's panel of international member firms identified the following steps to unlock the full networking potential of the association.

Know who you are and where you are going

The pandemic has led to the need to reset – to stand back and consider what a firm is aiming to achieve. Is it clear which services and industries the firm will specialise in? Is the firm able to deliver these? 

Eric Chin, Partner at the Singaporean based firm InCorp Pte Ltd, says, “Firms should have a goal to proactively promote the benefit of internationalisation to their clients. It’s a win win. The client will grow and at the same time seek more advice from the firm to comply with local and foreign requirements”.

Creating a strategy, and firm culture, which has global ambition is critical to success.

Target your engagement/connections to achieve your goals

Pre-pandemic, many relationships were formed at in person conferences. Over the pandemic the extent of collaboration has surprisingly increased. Virtual channels allow meetings to take place which in the past were more challenging to arrange. To make the channels work it is important to have a clear sense of purpose and direction. Firms need to focus on who they need to engage with ensuring they seek and offer referrals which are right for them.

Jobeth Muñoz, Business Development Specialist in Dubai based firm Asad Abbas & Co comments, “It is important to be aware of the expertise and skills of different firms. This requires research and being targeted in conversations. Listening and learning is critical to make the right connections.”

Jeroen Geers, Director at the Netherlands firm ABAB notes, “People introduce people. Its important to make connections between firms that go beyond the managing partners. Professionals within similar service lines or industries should also connect. By talking through real challenges, they can often identify new opportunities to collaborate to support clients. Encouraging professionals to join community groups which share good practices is a great way to start this engagement.”

Geers explains that “sometimes firms only work with firms they have known for many years. However, new members are joining PrimeGlobal continuously. It is important to look up and make the effort to make new connections. If not, you will be losing opportunities.”

Firms should communicate with those who can open doors. PrimeGlobal regional staff know and understand members, they can facilitate more relevant connections. Sharing information about referrals with them is important to increase opportunities.

Ensure you have the capability to deliver

Firms need to ensure they have the right skills and capabilities to support their desired international business. Kevin Tang from the China firm ZhongXingHua says, “If you want to increase opportunities for Chinese business, it is important to invest in Chinese speakers. Setting up a China desk will help to ensure that you are well placed for inward referrals from large private and state-owned entities.” 

Identifying who is involved in international work is important to ensure ongoing investment in their learning and development. Firms should create a learning programme in relevant areas; for example, international tax compliance, FX, working internationally etc. 

Geers emphasises that, “Firms should ensure that their affairs are in order. For example, their website is up to date and in English to demonstrate their international credentials.”

Communicate and respond

If a firm seeks international support from another firm, it is critical to be clear and precise regarding what is needed. Muñoz comments that, “It is important for the firm to be clear about what their clients are looking for. Spend time clarifying requirements and ensure there is a common understanding. Regular check-ins are important.”

Chin notes that, “Responding in a timely way to requests is necessary to ensure expectations are met and to demonstrate that firms are joined up.”

Geers comments that, “before introducing another firm to one of their clients, it is best to spend time with the firm explaining what the client needs and checking they fully understand and have the capability and capacity to deliver.” 

PrimeGlobal has a code of conduct to support such collaboration. Firms need to commit to respond to all requests within a set time frame. The code of conduct is enforced to maintain the high standard firms’ clients expect. 

It is important for the firm with the client relationship to provide feedback to other firms collaborating with them, letting them know if the client is satisfied. This is motivating and helps to ensure that standards are maintained.

Demonstrate a collaborative approach

To successfully deliver international opportunities, firms should align to achieve common outcomes. Tang says, “Firms need the support of other firms to help audit global consolidations. Firms should focus on the end client – even if they are not directly managing the relationship. A collaborative approach is also more likely to be achieved if firms demonstrate cultural patience. For example, taking time to understand differences in Chinese ways of working. This requires flexibility and approaching tasks with an open mind.”

Chin agrees adding, “it is important to build trust between firms. This requires openness.” Geers comments, “to collaborate you have to be focused on what matters to others. The best way to approach international opportunities is to first ask what can I do for other members clients? Not what can other members do for me?”

Build on success

The more a firm successfully delivers international opportunities, the more opportunities will come. Clients become comfortable working with firms in other jurisdictions and will continue to go to them to meet their needs. Trust is built between firms creating a foundation for more opportunities. 

Firms can move beyond reacting to opportunities to creating them; for example, Tang says, “If a firm can see the potential of focusing on the Chinese market they can partner with his firm to approach the client together. Demonstrating how closely firms from different countries are working together to understand the client, demonstrate cultural awareness and meet its broader needs.”

Simple steps where firms invite other firms from different countries to present to their clients to raise awareness of how to do business in other geographies can be a first step to understand clients’ ambitions. This can lead to firms collaborating to support clients. 

As Rob Brown, host of the Accounting Influencers Podcast and facilitator of the panel, says, “The first question collaborative firms should ask themselves when building referral partnerships is 'Can we do more business together?' If the answer is 'yes' then the second should always be 'HOW EXACTLY can we do more business together? That will lead to more innovation, referred work and international business opportunities.”

Firms should be ready to tell their story – which goes back to ensuring they have a real sense of purpose and clear goals. There are more international opportunities than ever – if firms follow the steps highlighted, they will be ready to help their clients achieve their full international potential. 

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ABAB is a full-service accounting, tax advisory and consultancy firm. The firm was established in 1924 and, today, has over 700 staff members in 15 offices throughout the southern region of the Netherlands. ABAB’s operations are unique due to our wide range of services and our client-service formulas. We are committed to providing the service most suitable to all our clients, whether they are small or large, national or international-based companies. Our clients are primarily unlisted companies, institutes, organisations in the non-profit sector and high net worth individuals.

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Asad Abbas & Co. (Chartered Accountants) is a certified audit and accounting firm based in the United Arab Emirates and an independent member of PrimeGlobal International. We provide timely and highest quality professional services to our esteemed clients such as statutory, external and internal audit, accounting/bookkeeping with outsourcing, financial management consultancy, project valuation, feasibility studies, VAT services, company formations (offshore and onshore), financial experts in UAE courts liquidation, Economic Substance Regulation and any other allied services.

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Headquartered in Singapore, InCorp Global is a leading corporate services provider, with an established regional presence across seven Asian countries, including Indonesia, India, Hong Kong, Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia. The group services more than 12,000 corporate clients across various industries, including asset / fund managers, as well as family offices. They are official partners with key government authorities in the region, such as Singapore’s Economic Development Board, a government agency that is tasked with bringing in foreign direct investments into Singapore.

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Zhongxinghua CPA LLP is among the top ten Chinese accounting firms, with service lines covering audit, accounting, asset appraisal, tax and advisory. Zhongxinghua's 2700 staff and 130 partners operate in Beijing headquarters and across 32 branch offices nationwide. The firm has a long history of high standard professional services to large state owned enterprises and privately owned business throughout the country.

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