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Solution revolution

Published on Friday, 21 Mar 2014
Sia Partners executives (from left) Vincent Kasbi, Helina Lo and Matthieu Courtecuisse are getting ready for significant growth in Hong Kong.
Photo: Laurence Leung

Consultancy Sia Partners seeks over 20 new professionals to meet Asia activity surge

The concept of management consultancy may have begun in North America more than a hundred years ago, but today it is Asia where the demand for the services of consultancy firms is increasingly on the rise.

When economies around the world nosedived during the latest financial crisis, like many other professional services, the consulting industry was hit hard. According to monitoring watchdog Kennedy Information, it shrank by about 9 per cent globally, resulting in thousands of job losses.

Now, however, in a reversal of fortunes, it is partly as a result of the financial crisis that banks and insurance companies are again engaging the services of consultancy firms, according to Matthieu Courtecuisse, founder and CEO of management consultancy Sia Partners. With the increasing challenge of meeting ongoing regulatory requirements, he says, banks and insurance firms are turning to consultancy firms to help them to develop and implement control processes and risk platforms.

“A lot of the work we do involves helping out global banks and insurance firms with their change-management and business-transformation processes,” Courtecuisse says. “We help our clients to meet compliance and regulatory requirements such as Dodd Franck, Basel III and anti-money-laundering regulations.”

He adds that clients are not only looking for advice, but also for help implementing workable, cost-effective solutions based on specific knowledge and experience. “When clients use our services they are looking to improve efficiencies and not taking on additional costs,” Courtecuisse says.

Another key growth driver, he notes, is a rise in the number of international financial institutions expanding their activities in the Asia region. At the same time, Asian financial institutions are looking to expand their operational footprint within and outside the region. “In Europe a lot of consultancy work is related to cost-cutting, but in Asia the focus is more on cost-effective growth,” Courtecuisse says. Furthermore, he adds that as private banks expand their businesses activities in Asia, they also offer another growth channel for consultancy firms such as Sia Partners.

However, according to Courtecuisse, the consultancy sector is expanding from a relatively low platform. “Compared with the US and Europe, where the finance-consultancy industry is quite mature, in Asia, the industry is in the development stage, so the potential for growth is very attractive,” he says.

According to the latest Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department figures, there are more than 5,500 consultancy companies of various sizes operating across the spectrum of industry sectors in Hong Kong. Together, they employ about 26,000 professionals.

Founded in 1999, Sia Partners currently has a number of offices in the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. In Hong Kong, the firm is in the process of growing its headcount from 30 consultants to more than 50. In total, the firm has more than 200 consultants operating in the finance sector. “Our hiring plans will make us quite a sizable operation with capabilities similar to the Big Four accounting firms,” Courtecuisse says.

With Sia Partners acquiring the international consultancy activities of the Investance Group last September, Courtecuisse says the firm has strengthened its global network of professional consultants. “We are in an even better position to ensure clients have access to international best practices to help them with their planning and change-management initiatives,” he says.

One notable way Sia helps clients is in evaluating the cost and impact of relocating mid- and back-office operations to lower-cost jurisdictions. This process is not always straightforward, however, due to differences between regional regulatory and compliance requirements. One such example is the fractionised requirements surrounding the storage of personal data in Asia, says Vincent Kasbi, Sia Partners’ head of Asia.

“Different regulations apply in different Asian countries, so a comprehensive understanding of the regulatory requirements is vital to ensure our clients avoid costly mistakes,” Kasbi explains.

In a talent-squeezed market where many organisations are looking to recruit similar people, Kasbi says Sia Partners seeks dynamic individuals who enjoy the challenge of transforming ideas into action. A consultant needs to raise the right questions and understand what is being done in the rest of world, while being able to adapt best practices to deliver cost-effective solutions. “We can teach the technical skills, provided we have people with the passion,” he says.

Ideally, candidates should be fluent in Cantonese, English and Putonghua. They should be able to provide an original perspective as well as listen, analyse and put forward suggestions. “The work is demanding, but offers opportunities to develop multiple skills ranging from people management to business development,” Kasbi says, adding that assignments can range from a few weeks to ongoing projects that last several years.

Helina Lo, senior manager at Sia Partners, says that consultancy work requires empathy. “It is so important for the consultant to understand why and what the client is trying to achieve and then develop the best solution,” she says.


ADVICE FOR THE ADVISERS

Sia Partners’ senior managers detail what makes a good financial consultant.
Staying sharp “Pace, implementation and complexity of regulatory change presents unique challenges for banking and finance and a growth platform for consultancies.” Matthieu Courtecuisse
EQ and IQ “A good consultant needs to be able to listen, communicate clearly and effectively, and think independently, while understanding what the client is trying to achieve.” Vincent Kasbi
Wide horizons “Due to the nature of the consultancy business, professionals are exposed to more situations and challenges than they are likely to encounter working for a single financial institution.” Vincent Kasbi
Being adaptable “Consultants need to be able to work as part of a team, but also have the capacity to offer an individual perspective.” Helina Lo


 

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