Reports suggest that global economies are picking up with advanced markets such as the US and Europe leading the way. But in our enthusiasm to take on the economic positives, do we risk missing the more subtle negatives that may affect business strategies over the coming year?
For a more holistic approach to strategic thinking, surely we need to add working patterns, political concerns and, increasingly, culture into the mix from the outset. Take the Middle East. While the economy is showing signs of improvement at last, there has been a sea change in work patterns.
Once the preserve of expats, white collar positions in the United Arab Emirates are increasingly going to locals where companies now have a bigger talent pool to dip in to.
This is not to say that the need for expats is diminishing in the UAE, rather they are now popping up in different sectors such as tourism and retail. There is also the rise of the entrepreneur expat in the UAE. These are changes which need to be reflected in financial planning services and products on offer.
The Far East and Asia provide a different backdrop. Here economic growth, particularly in the largest economy China, is slowing and is expected to do so for the next few years. It’s still an incredibly important region from an economic perspective, and one where expat demand remains high.
But political concerns in the region tend to constantly bubble under the surface and need to be factored in to business plans. We have seen this more recently in Thailand where ongoing political problems is an increasing cause of concern for expats and their advisers.
And for those who like to study the cultural influence of the Chinese New Year, which has just begun, we possibly have more of the same to look forward to. It’s now the Year of the Wooden Horse, which predicts a year full of conflicts with the energy and efforts to improve depicted by the horse counteracted by the firm stance symbolised by wood, making negotiation and compromise hard.
On a more serious cultural note, anyone working in the international financial planning sector will appreciate how understanding cultural differences is an important part of any business trip. There are few who haven’t got a tale to tell of unintentional gaffes that at the very least were embarrassing, and at worst threatened to scupper a budding business relationship.
Yet while overseas business etiquette should and can easily be studied, what’s not so easy to get to grips with is the psychology of business in international markets. By this I mean issues such as assuming our own personal way of getting a job done is the best approach which can be viewed as arrogance in another culture. Or presuming that an initial meeting is anything more than a relationship building exercise. As the power base from developed to emerging markets shifts, these are important nuances to understand.
So with economic optimism strengthening, now is a good time to factor in market and political concerns, as well as adjust our cultural radar to strengthen business strategies in target markets. And avoid wooden horses at all costs.