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Finding the way in a period of disruption
Amid the pandemic, tales of humanity, enterprise and livelihood from The Asset readers
22 Jan 2021 | Daniel Yu

As vaccines are rolled out in 2021, the Asia-Pacific region is predicted to be among the first to emerge from the unprecedented disruptions of the past 12 months. But even before that, companies in the region swung into action, to stay alive, find new ways, and to emerge intact if not in a better position.

This vignette of valour is depicted in the responses from a number of The Asset readers who shared their experiences when asked: how has 2020 affected you? And how do you think this pandemic is going to change our future?

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, Bank BRI had to show extra capabilities to survive, innovate, and adapt to maintain company performance,” writes M. Adly Yusrizal, chief representative at PT Bank Rakyat Indonesia, Hong Kong representative office. “Additional efforts are needed because most businesses are affected by the pandemic.”

“History always repeats itself,” believes Patrick Y.L. Ng, group treasurer at RGE, a resource-based manufacturing conglomerate with operations in Indonesia, China, Brazil, Spain and Canada. “Crisis brings both challenges and opportunities. 2020 affected us in a net-net positive way.”

Another reader based in the Philippines describes his situation. “There was a total shutdown of our business in personal care clinics,” discloses George Siy, president and chief executive officer of Convergence Realty and Development Corp and Marie France group of companies. “For our realty operations, sales still came in but at a much-reduced level. We have subsidized and kept all our employees as part of our help to society. It was lucky that we hadn't jumped yet into our plan to leverage for a big expansion, which we were going to do mid-year 2020.”

Digital transformation

In the case of Vietnam, among the countries that performed above par in battling Covid-19, Hai Nguyen, senior director and head of fixed income at Manulife Investment Fund Management, felt relieved. “Luckily, thanks to our government’s strong containment measures, we can still breath in open air without too much restrictions. However, around us, we see that the pandemic is a catalyst to step up our digital transformation efforts, which is good for us in a longer term.”

In fact, e-commerce sales in consumer products actually increased, adds Siy. “While many learned to digitalize their businesses, some started new ones. These are the few, smarter ones.” 

Ng shares a similar view. “This pandemic has changed and is going to change our lives and way of doing things in a permanent and probably more efficient manner such as video conferences/Zoom to replace travelling, and hygiene practices. The technological race can be good or bad, depending how we ride out these new realities.”

Together with the adoption of technology, doing their part to help the community was the other prevalent response. “As agents of development, BRI also continues to carry out social functions by actively participating in helping the government handle and overcome this pandemic directly and indirectly,” Yusrizal elaborates. “In this challenging situation, all BRI units remain enthusiastic about restructuring to save MSME (micro, small and medium-size enterprises) customers. Because saving MSMEs is saving BRI itself. And since the portion of MSMEs to Indonesia GDP is more than 65%, keeping MSMEs is also the same as saving the Indonesian economy.”

How the future will look depends on the response of companies and individuals to this health emergency. “Just like an economic crisis of the past, the strongest ones stay and will emerge to be even stronger along with [recovery in] asset prices and profitability rebounding sharply after market turbulence,” RGE’s Ng predicts. “I anticipate 2021 will be a good year for most of us, not just in the resources space but in most industries and businesses.”

Viable ecosystem

Convergence’s Siy worries that the majority who in this period went on the internet almost entirely for entertainment like Netflix and social media, will fall ever further behind those who succeeded in starting enterprises. “As with the digital economy those who create a viable ecosystem can scale much faster than before.” 

In a year when other countries experienced negative growth, Manulife’s Hai sees Vietnam as standing out as one of the bright spots. “Now that many large corporations see the importance of diversifications and the risk of overconcentration in China, we believe Vietnam will continue to attract higher FDI (foreign direct investment) flows in the coming years. Thus, we are positive about Vietnam outlook for the coming years.”

Yusrizal points out that Bank BRI is trying to get out of the pandemic's pressure by taking necessary and strategic steps so that performance is not hampered by various limitations and does not fall into more losses. “With vaccination, hopefully it will make us safer so that economic activity can resume in 2021.”

“I hope a larger portion of our countrymen can plan their lives with more purpose because while many are in dire difficulties, a large portion can also take this time for accelerated and more relevant learning, even better than the schools, with specific skills and specialties that are very employable, through the internet,” says Convergence’s Siy.

Unfortunately, he laments that very few do and will depend on the government, parents, circumstance, etc., and blame everyone else again in the future. “We can employ hundreds and thousands more if we can even just have meticulous record keepers or processors, quality writers, artists, labourers, etc., not because business is good now, but because the markets are there. The situation will naturally improve over time and we are willing to build ahead.”

Please share your views by sending your thoughts to chiefcurator@theasset.com.

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