Dezan Shira & Associates 2018: Moving Forward to the Future

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Dezan Shira & Associates Partners Annual Meeting 2018

Dezan Shira & Associates Partners, L-R: Adam Livermore, Chris Devonshire-Ellis, Sabrina Zhang, Alberto Vettoretti.

The Dezan Shira & Associates Partners have just held their initial 2018 annual meetings, the first in a series of three during which the business performance is analyzed, future needs are assessed, and budgeting is begun for 2019.

Overall revenues

The firm has said it had an increase of revenues across the board during 2018, with China improving by 9 percent, against Chinese GDP growth of 6.5 percent, India revenues increased by 10 percent, while Vietnam showed a significant leap of a 35 percent revenue increase, based on what the firm describe as an “overall FDI improvement into the country, increasingly being seen as an alternative to China”. These increases are significant as the practice has a sizeable footprint in these markets. In markets new to the firm, revenues shot up by 100 percent in Thailand, 150 percent in the Philippines and 400 percent in Indonesia.

“These are early stage development figures”, says Chairman Chris Devonshire-Ellis, “however they point to ASEAN being an increasingly large generator of growth and recipient of international FDI”.

Prospects of US-China Trade War, US reshoring trends

The practice’s China Managing Partner, Alberto Vettoretti, just returned from the annual meetings of the Leading Edge Alliance, held in San Diego. Attended by several hundred partners of US firms, discussions were held concerning the prospects of the US-China trade spat becoming worse. The overall view was that while US President Trump may be bellicose in his approach, China’s President Xi would agree to concessions being made as long as this was conducted in a manner that did not permit him to be seen as weak. The trade dispute was likely to be over by Q1 or latest Q2 next year, it was felt. Consequently, the firm feels no strategic action is required to minimize any China downturn, and in any event the practice has a strong alternative China option in possessing numerous service offices in ASEAN.

The issue concerning US manufacturers returning from Asia to the US was raised, with no US firms reporting any American businesses returning to the US. The concept was written off as “alarmist” and “untrue”.

Opportunities after Brexit

It was felt that the UK would leave the EU in March 2019, and noted that British businesses had already begun preparing for this. UK investment into non-EU markets had increased significantly in 2018, with China showing a huge 169 percent increase in FDI from the UK.
ASEAN and India also showed large increases of foreign investment from the UK, as did Russia. It was felt this trend would continue regardless as British businesses needed to hedge against uncertainty and invest elsewhere. The creation of a Dezan Shira & Associates presence in London to cater for this was discussed, with a final decision to be made in March 2019.

Equity holdings and new partner opportunities

The restructuring of the practice shareholding to allow new partners to join and receive equity in the practice had nearly been completed, and should be in place by Chinese New Year 2019 (February) to welcome in new partners to the firm at that time. Such partners would be eligible to both receive dividends, and benefit in terms of their equity holdings should the firm be sold at a later stage.

Practice IT

The firm had fully launched its CRM system in September after a two year outlay and development, with results said to be “impressive”. Noting that professional services firms were traditionally human-resource heavy, with especially lawyer fees being conducted on an hourly basis, the Partners noted that this would increasingly become a thing of the past. Contracts which would have previously taken 10 to 15 hours to draft – with associated man-hour fees – could now be processed by bots and changes auto-corrected in ten minutes. Audit and tax firms were also going through revolutions in IT, with Dezan Shira & Associates already involved in discussions over AI predictive technologies for tax, audit, and business financial planning. The firm noted that IT would continue to play an increasingly important role in the development of the service professions, and that provisions to keep both educated and up-to-date with new technologies would remain a cornerstone of the practice’s development.

Marketing

The firm’s Asia Briefing portal and its associated briefing titles for China, India, ASEAN, Vietnam, Russia, and the Belt and Road have all improved their performances. This has been due to improved editorial content, in part driven by CRM Dynamics, as well as improved SEO management. It was noted that competing sites often pay for Google promotions, something the briefings do not do. All of the briefings recorded their highest respective monthly views in October 2018, continuing a trend that has been developing since the beginning of the year. Most of the titles had become established or dominant references within their own geographical reach. The development of the marketing department overall – to include a specific digital marketing team – had also made an impact on the firm’s overall efforts.

Lead generation

This has now been much easier to track and analyze given the impact of the new CRM system, with lead generation increasing by 22 percent in 2018 YTD. Some work still needed to be done to improve quality and geographical depth, however, this would be aligned with marketing.

Chinese outbound investment

This new division, which offers assistance to not just Chinese but Asian outbound investors, has just completed its first 6 months as a stand-alone division. It was noted that considerable behavioral differences existed with Chinese clients, and that the operational and business model for the division would be unique. WeChat was being seen as an extensive marketing and development tool amongst businesses in China, while getting Chinese businesses to leave enough money on the table in comparison to the time spent needed further analysis. However, the division had billed its first clients, had developed a healthy pipeline, and would be continued with, acknowledging that further testing and experience in this service line over 2019 was required to fully assess its profitability potential.

Summary

A full P&L would be released in February 2019, and current figures are too early to monitor issues such as profit margins. However, the Partners felt these were likely to be at the same rate as 2017. An increasing need to continue expansion and development in IT driven services, as well as into ASEAN, would continue to be the firm’s path forward in 2019. China, the main market for the practice, was considered to be steady.

The next partners’ meeting was scheduled for late January 2019 in Beijing, and a partners retreat to Sri Lanka in March 2019. Side meetings would also occur in Shanghai, Singapore and Delhi to be arranged.