A conservative estimate is that the average Asian potential investor meets at least one investment promotion agency (IPA) or regional development agency (RDA) per month from all over the world. This is leading to what I call the ‘investment seminar fatigue’ syndrome.

This year alone, several IPAs and RDAs have visited Singapore. An Australian delegation visited in late March and the Australian Trade Commission hosted a residential cocktail gathering.

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In early April, officials from Invest in France, a Malaysian high-tech park and the Russian Trade Federation visited Singapore to speak to potential investors. In mid-April, Location Switzerland officials visited. Then, during the week of April 19, Invest Vietnam visited.

The previous day, the British High Commissioner had hosted another residential cocktail gathering.

Officials from two Chinese provinces also visited the city-state on April 24 and at the end of May.

On May 18, a German delegation was in Singapore. On June 13, the Canadians were in town; and on June 16-17, the South Koreans visited, with three different organisations marketing their event.

Needless to say, the competition for the Asia FDI pie is becoming increasingly aggressive. In the next issue of fDi we will explore in more depth some ways that IPAs and RDAs can best develop and execute their Asia investment promotion strategies.

But, as a starting point, the following are what I consider the biggest challenges to attracting investment from Asian companies.

 

Manpower shortage

Asian CEOs often say that they are unable to send their much-needed top managers outside Asia; instead, they are needed at home to manage their newly expanded Asian operations.

Liew Mun Leong, CEO of Singapore’s CapitalLand, told the Singapore Straits Times that he sends abroad only the “most promising A-graders” who have worked a while with the company and know its culture intimately so that they can “replicate a mini CapitalLand”.

Not all Asian investors are able to send such frontrunners overseas, however. For some Asian investors, Asia and their Asian expansion plans could keep them occupied for the next several years.

So IPAs and RDAs need to target the right type of Asian investors accurately. Target investors must have the capacity to invest outside Asia and build relationships over the long term before they can venture outside the region.

Cultural issues

Some foreigners to Asia are still unknowingly making social gaffes. For example, some foreign IPA staff still extend one hand to exchange name cards (this is considered rude), do not mingle with Asians in networking sessions (which sends a signal to Asian investors that they are insignificant), do not bring along English-speaking translators, and present a brief PowerPoint presentation and then leave without waiting for a Q&A session with potential investors.

Also, some young male IPA staff exclusively hang around young attractive female Asian executives throughout investment sessions. Others treat travel perks as a personal entitlement or reward with little indication of a genuine desire to service Asian investors.

This kind of behaviour is very bad for branding for their country and their IPA.

IPA civil servants should remember that they exist to serve the investors – the customers who will ultimately benefit the poor and unemployed. A happy customer will keep coming back for more.

It is required of stewards that a person must be faithful and greatness is found in service. IPAs must recruit and train their staff carefully before sending them abroad to represent them and their country, to serve investors sincerely and meet their investment needs.

Investor screening

It is crucial that IPAs screen Asian investors before inviting them to attend expensive hotel-based investment seminars.

We have encountered ‘investors’ attending such seminars who are entry-level executives or are there only to obtain free food and for ‘fun’ networking. One invitee who turned up at an IT investment seminar was a painter/artist!

 

Lawrence Yeo is CEO & principal consultant at investment consultancy AsiaBiz Strategy Pte Ltd

Email: lawrence@asiabizstrategy.com