Breaking down Chinese walls

By Lennox Ong*

When I am not home in Vancouver appreciating the blue sky and fresh air, I am travelling between Geoswift’s global offices, engaging teams and overseeing business development. The business, as well as the arrival stamps on my passport, has increased.

Today, we have approximately 200 people across our global offices. Geoswift operates in San Francisco, Vancouver, London, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Our headquarters is in Hong Kong,
and we have satellite offices in Seattle and Singapore.

We work with 16 payment service providers globally, and some of our partners include China’s leading online payment merchants. Since China remains a mystery to many, I am going to share
some tips to enhance your understanding and appreciation of the market.

Dynamic in nature, China has one of the world’s largest consumer markets. International businesses find it challenging to keep pace with the changes taking place on the Mainland.
Factors such as globalisation, technology, and rising incomes continue to fuel the economy.

Over the years, China has become highly regulated, for all the right reasons given the high volumes of cross-border transactions. China has taken the lead in disrupting the world of
financial technology, especially in payments.

According to Boston Consultancy Group, by 2021, more than 90% of purchases in China will involve at least one digital touch point, and possibly several other touch points. You are good to go cashless the next time you visit China. Chinese cultural sensitivities have always surprised my UK and US colleagues. Social drinking is part of the corporate culture for mainland Chinese. It’s common practice for the Chinese to discuss business matters over a glass of Maotai, a local liquor. I assure you,
it’s not for the faint hearted.

As a gesture of respect, when you clink glasses with your business partner, client, or superior, always remember to hold your glass lower. Why? Because being humble is one of the best ways of getting along with the locals. Most people mistakenly assume that speaking Mandarin, or bringing along a translator, is sufficient. But tiny gestures of humility and respect go a long way in forming longlasting relationships in China.

Trust is an essential element of doing business in Asia. It impacts almost all decisions, from personal to professional. International businesses should pay heed to the cultural dos and don’ts when dealing with Asians. Not just from a business perspective, but also from a consumer perspective. This understanding has enabled Geoswift to build a strong collaboration with China.

It gives me great satisfaction when I can relate to people from diverse walks of life. I have started to understand the factors, which drive the behaviour and decision-making of people in various countries. This socio-cultural understanding has played a key role in influencing the business decisions I make.

Many people have asked if there is anything I miss during my travels. I was born in Singapore, so I crave Singaporean delicacies like teh tarik and roti prata, which are must haves on the breakfast menu when you visit. Other than being a foodie, I miss family the most. Thanks to Tile, a little GPS tracker, my family can track my movements and make shopping requests quite quickly.

I am sure many of you will agree about the importance of ensuring a sound mind and a ready body when travelling. It is very easy to neglect your wellbeing amidst meetings and more meetings.

I keep reminding myself that my body is a temple – as clichéd as it sounds. By that, I am awake early on a workday, and go for a quick workout in the hotel swimming pool. This allows me to unwind and clear my mind before my hectic day. Some important decisions are made during my backstrokes.

* Lennox Ong is president of Hong Kong-based payment technology firm, Geoswift


Contributed to Asia Asset Management – The Journal of Investments & Pensions, 2017

Oct-23-2017 / Media Coverage

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