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The ASEAN edge

With the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community, ASEAN’s golden jubilee and Singapore assuming the ASEAN chair in 2018, ASEAN is where the action is. As more ISCA members consider regional career opportunities, we are expanding our regular Member Profile column to include the personal experiences of ISCA members who are working in other ASEAN countries. In this inaugural feature on overseas members, CA (Singapore) Jake Yeo, 31, Audit and Assurance Manager of Deloitte & Touche LLP, Singapore, shares his insights on working in the Philippines.

The ASEAN Edge

The bright lights and glamorous image of cities such as London, New York and Tokyo often lure young professionals seeking an overseas work experience. However, those with an astute sensitivity to the changing winds in the business world will know that a stint within the ASEAN region will be no less enriching to their careers. After all, ASEAN political leaders are projecting for the region to become the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2050. This rapid economic growth has enticed companies to make inroads into member countries of this regional intergovernmental organisation. This in turn increases the demand for accounting professionals who know the ins and outs of this colourful region comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – each with its own unique economic background and culture.

Jake Yeo certainly understands the value of an ASEAN experience. The Audit and Assurance Manager of Deloitte & Touche LLP, Singapore has had the opportunity to work at the Deloitte London office and frequents glitzy cities such as Tokyo and Beijing. However, the ASEAN region presents special excitement for this manager of a portfolio of international clients whose businesses spread across the Asia-Pacific region. “ASEAN countries may be in close proximity to one another, but each is different in its own way. The rich diversity of cultures and lifestyles in these countries is what makes them interesting. This applies to companies that operate in the Southeast Asian region as well, and how such diversity could affect the way companies run their businesses. Accounting professionals need to understand this before we can better serve our clients in this region.” Mr Yeo observes that many might think that being posted to ASEAN countries is a hardship, but he emphasises that every posting location has its pros and cons. “If one has the mentality to take things in a positive stride, every experience of working overseas can be rewarding in its own way.”

A Cultural Awakening

In his current role, Mr Yeo spends a significant amount of time in Manila, “enough for me to experience the work culture and lifestyle of the local people”. This means that he is able to see past stereotypes to understand the reasons behind certain ways of doing things. “There is this stereotype about the ‘Filipino time’, whereby people turn up for appointments anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours late. It is a constant joke as to whether someone will show up at the standard time or on Filipino time.” However, jokes aside, Mr Yeo explains that the situation has much to do with the extremely unpredictable traffic conditions in Manila. He would know, having himself once missed a flight as a result of being stuck on the roads for more than four hours.

Understanding the intricacies of the Filipino work culture also allows Mr Yeo to communicate better with his clients. “My client contacts (in the Philippines) are a mix of international and local people. I would not say there is a language barrier (as most Filipinos speak English), but they tend to be more comfortable communicating in their local language.” Taking note of the language preference, Mr Yeo always brings a local Tagalog-speaking Deloitte audit team member who can assist him in communicating with the clients. “I would like to think that, through my overseas experience, I am able to communicate more effectively, thoughtfully, and confidently in a business environment. Communicating with clients and colleagues when navigating through linguistic and cultural differences forces me to listen harder and speak clearer. I am also exposed to more ideas and a different business etiquette, which gives me more options when it comes to tackling work issues,” says Mr Yeo. “The overseas work experience has certainly broadened my perspective and provided me with a stronger foundation in my day-to-day work, which at times, requires me to interact with my international colleagues on global-collaborated assignments, and my overseas clientele.”

Mr Yeo believes that overseas mobility is a key quality for the leaders of the future, and that working abroad – beyond being a career milestone on one’s CV – is also a demonstration of one’s ability to step out of his or her comfort zone, and adapt to a foreign and challenging work environment. “With increased support from government bodies and companies, I would imagine there will be more and more structured programmes or scholarships being created to incentivise professional accountants to seize overseas work opportunities,” he says. Deloitte, for one, has a Global Mobility Programme which gives their staff short- to long-term secondment opportunities in ASEAN countries (and other countries around the world). ISCA is also lending support to the growth of the accounting profession across the ASEAN region with the ASEAN CPA. Memoranda of Understanding with the Laos Chamber of Professional Accountants and Auditors, and the Myanmar Institute of Certified Public Accountants, also aim to co-develop the accountancy profession in these countries through capability-building programmes.

“Being an ISCA member means you are part of a network of over 32,000 accounting professionals. This gives us the opportunity to learn and interact with those members who are working or have worked in various countries around the ASEAN region,” shares Mr Yeo.

For those wishing to gain an overseas experience in the ASEAN markets, he lends practical advice – find out more about the ASEAN country you are interested to work in, before deciding on the big move. “The working culture, local lifestyle and transportation network are some aspects to consider if one is suitable to take the leap forward. Of course, not all aspects will be the same as Singapore, thus, it is important to have an open mind to embrace a new way of life.”

This article was originally published by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants in January 2018. You can read the article here.