Raymond Chan of Piloto Asia tells us how they help overseas businesses set foot in Singapore.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Raymond Chan: Thank you for asking. We’re doing fine. It’s an interesting adjustment since the breakout with our whole family and some of our employees working from home, the home has got a lot more crowded!
However, as a whole, we’ve all coped well, learned new perspectives of interacting remotely with colleagues, and rediscovered Singapore over the weekends!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Piloto Asia.
Raymond Chan: I’ve always taken a non-traditional path with life as it often brings (positive) surprises and keeps life refreshing. In 2005 when China is nowhere near its current economic size and influence, I went to Shanghai for student exchange and to learn Mandarin.
Having started my career in banking, I was grateful to have an international career, taking stints in Hong Kong, London and eventually Singapore. In our ever globalized and integrated world, it’s become more important to understand cultural differences and be able to work seamlessly across countries, organizations and personalities.
In 2015, I stumbled upon this opportunity to start Piloto Asia, a fully licensed Registered Filing Agent in Singapore. Our goal has always been to help overseas businesses set foot in Singapore, and we’re glad the city state’s reputation as an international business and banking hub has created a tailwind to our business.
How does Piloto Asia innovate?
Raymond Chan: Nowadays, innovation is much more than a buzzword as we’re at the crossroads of a major breakthrough in areas such as data analytics, fintech, and artificial intelligence. New possibilities are coming along in years, not decades, as Asia is leading the way with highly digitalized economies, led by China, Indonesia, Singapore. This trend is accelerated further with a forced adoption of technology since the Covid-19 outbreak.
As a company, we make innovation part of our DNA in order to stay ahead of the competition and add the most value to our customers.
First and forecast, we innovate with changing customer needs. Through the years, we find an increased need from our clients for cross-jurisdiction support across South East Asia. They’re also looking for multiple offshore banking options, ideally with the option to set up remotely. Our business development team has reached out to over 50 traditional, fintech, and Neo banking partners across the region to cater to this, and we’re glad to now be offering more than a dozen remote bank account opening options to Piloto Asia customers. We’ve also struck major strategic partnerships in the region, allowing us to serve customers’ corporate secretarial needs not only in Singapore but also in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Secondly, we adopt product-led innovation. With more data and businesses moving towards cloud-based operations and the maturing ecosystem of cloud-accounting software available, we are one of the first accounting firms in Singapore which actively support SMBs in digitalizing their finance functions. Client’s management team and finance manager can now have a bird’s eye view of their business and finances 24-7 with cloud and app-based software, such as Xero, Quickbooks, Freshbooks. We also meticulously select local banks which integrate well with our selected accounting software, providing a robust support ecosystem.
Internally, we innovate by breaking silos across departments. My partner and I came from the biggest corporate secretarial and banking firms, which are large but slow to innovate. Communication across departments is sparse, and this often comes at the expense of sub-par customer services. In Piloto Asia, we ensure information is available to employees across teams as long as they achieve the objective of serving customers better.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Raymond Chan: Business was certainly hit hard at the start of the outbreak, and in Q2 where Singapore deployed a “circuit breaker”, where most businesses were ground to a halt and forced to adjust to a “work from home” period. Despite the initial dip in business, we’re glad to have acted fast, and the business has rebounded well since Q3.
Firstly, we moved our physical networking activities online, mostly to Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype calls. Traditional conferences and business travels were replaced by Zoom meetings, which has proven to be successful as clients and business associate get more comfortable to this new way of doing business.
The Singapore team has moved away from the office and is currently adopting a hybrid home-office working environment. Communication suffered some hiccup in the beginning, but after a couple of months, everyone was used to camera-based meetings. We even had our virtual happy hours and team lunches together.
Business-wise, we accelerated our push in adopting cloud accounting. The results have been tremendous thanks to wide-scale government support and also due to changes in customer mentalities.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Raymond Chan: We’re glad to have kept headcount relatively stable despite the economic crisis. It’s also a testament to the innovative culture and mindset among our colleagues, who strive to work smart and find new solutions to problems every day.
In Piloto Asia, we adopt the following 3 core staffing principles: 1) High accountability, 2) High autonomy, and 3) High adaptation. The first two are self-explanatory, but we made it a point to communicate to every new employee to constantly seek ways to improve our skills, to stay up to date with regulations, and to keep an eye on the latest technology. Job scopes shall change according to market requirements, and nowadays, good corporates have to adopt a lifelong learning culture to best support their clients.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Raymond Chan: In these extraordinary times, where physical meetings become a luxury, the default mode of client engagement meeting has moved to Zoom or Google Hangouts. We’ve also adopted more live chat support via our website to provide prompt assistance to customers.
I guess these online channels of communication are here to stick even after the post-Covid-19 days as businesses recognize their convenience and efficiency. The hybrid model of online-offline communication could have a profound impact on how businesses are run.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Raymond Chan: The Singapore government has been very supportive of locally registered companies, and we’re glad to have benefited from their support. For instance, the Job Support Scheme has supported us in the most difficult times during Q2-2020, so is the government-led Covid19-relief bridging bank loans that provide low-interest rate funding.
However, I couldn’t reiterate the importance for business owners to re-evaluate how business processes, products and people shall interact in future. The local government is very supportive of a digital economy, and it’s prime time SMBs adopt innovation via technology or be left behind.
Your final thoughts?
Raymond Chan: Playing a key role in facilitating startups and innovative companies entering the exciting market of ASEAN, we’re privileged to be able to learn from fellow entrepreneurs on better ways to do business, build products, and change the world.
I truly think innovation is not limited to technology companies but applies well to the most traditional of trades, like accounting or professional services. This crisis is a perfect reminder for us to stay innovative, and we believe the most forward-thinking teams would emerge best.