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Baker Tilly Hong Kong's director on where the opportunities are amidst pandemic

Ryan Swann joins the panel of judges at HKB Made in Hong Kong and Designed in Hong Kong Awards 2020.

Ryan Swann, director in the audit and assurance at Baker Tilly Hong Kong, handles a wide range of clients from small-medium sized enterprises in Hong Kong to sizable multinational groups.

He specialises in handling large group audits and has a wealth of experience in handling international assignments. His clients typically prepare consolidated financial statements under HKFRSs or IFRSs, with component auditors required to report to him as principal auditor under HKSA600.

From this experience, he has developed a strong network within Baker Tilly International, in addition to, other external contacts, and this enables him to execute these challenging assignments under pressure, on time and to the highest quality.

Ryan joins the panel of judges at HKB Made in Hong Kong and Designed in Hong Kong Awards 2020. In an interview with Hong Kong Business, Ryan shares where the opportunities are for entrepreneurs in Hong Kong and which industries are staying resilient at these trying times.

Which particular markets or sectors are your main focus? Can you share with us your work experience or any backstory that has contributed to your professional career?
I joined Baker Tilly in the UK after graduating from university. I worked with the UK firm for five years and during that time I qualified as a Chartered Accountant with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

In 2012, I seconded to our Hong Kong office as an audit senior for what was initially meant to be six months. However, the vibrancy of the city and the wealth of opportunities on offer, have led to me staying with Baker Tilly Hong Kong for eight years; becoming audit director in October 2018.

Given my connections to the UK, I have naturally taken up an international role within the firm. I predominantly handle the audits of multinational groups preparing consolidated financial statements in accordance with Hong Kong or International Financial Reporting Standards. These audits require communication across borders with group management, local auditors and local management teams. My multinational group clients cover a diverse range of industries, including, pharmaceuticals, automotive, logistics and general trading.

The international exposure obtained in Hong Kong has also allowed me to take on some rewarding roles within the Baker Tilly International network. I am a member of our global audit methodology committee that is tasked with developing and enhancing our network’s audit methodology and how audits are conducted.

In June, I was appointed as Chairperson of the Asia Pacific Audit and Assurance Committee for Baker Tilly International. This committee strives to create strong collaboration between the Baker Tilly member firms in the region with regards to business development, learning and development and practice management.

Despite my international exposure, I still work with a number of Hong Kong businesses in a range of industries, including, food and beverage, asset management, manufacturing and not-for-profit. Many of these are Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and I enjoy working with the owner-managers to help develop their business so they can achieve their objectives.

Which industries are staying resilient in these trying times?
Some industries have been able to perform relatively well throughout the pandemic because of the nature of their goods and services. Pharmaceuticals, healthcare and biotech have performed well due to increasing demand for existing products and the research into new therapeutics. Technology companies who had positioned themselves well before the pandemic struck have also been able to take advantage of the surging demand for online communication tools, cloud services and remote working capabilities.

Agility has been key in a number of other businesses being resilient through these difficult times. We have seen certain businesses change the focus of their business models or adapt their service lines in order to safeguard business continuity. An example of this has been freight forwarders and logistics companies working closely with personal protective equipment manufacturers in China to ensure supplies can be delivered quickly and efficiently around the world despite the significant disruption in air travel.

Despite retail being one of the hardest hit sectors, there have also been some notable changes in consumer behaviour which has resulted in some businesses performing well. We’ve seen an increase in consumers moving online in Hong Kong which in turn has developed the digital economy here. There has been increased demand for online retailers, in addition to, food and beverage businesses providing online ordering and home delivery services. Similarly, digital payment solutions have been accelerated in the city, as consumers prefer to reduce the handling of cash, whilst a number of merchants have been offering incentives for using electronic payment methods.

The developments seen in the digital economy are likely to continue after the pandemic has passed because the infrastructure is now in place and consumers become more accustomed to it.

Where are the opportunities for entrepreneurs in Hong Kong in the middle and post-pandemic era?
Hong Kong has always been a resilient city and has the ability to reinvent itself. This characteristic stems from the entrepreneurial spirit that runs through the city.

Being agile is going to be important for any business to thrive during or after the pandemic. Many businesses and entrepreneurs have needed to be agile during this year in order to survive and going forward it is likely to bring a competitive advantage. Businesses which are able to adapt quickly to changing conditions are likely to be able to pursue new opportunities more rapidly but also operate on a leaner cost structure to protect cash flows and profitability.

Areas such as pharmaceuticals, healthcare, bio-tech and remote working technologies are going to continue to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs in the post pandemic era. COVID-19 is not going to disappear overnight and therefore continued research into treatments and preventive equipment will remain. Remote working is also likely to be a growing trend given businesses have been forced to implement the necessary infrastructure to facilitate it and the potential cost savings it can bring in terms of office space.

Hong Kong will also play an important role in the Greater Bay Area and this is likely to be significant in the economic recovery of the city in the post-pandemic era. With a number of initiatives being developed between the Greater Bay Area cities, and their residents, this is likely to produce a number of valuable opportunities for Hong Kong’s entrepreneurs.

What are your thoughts on the entries for this year’s Made in Hong Kong Awards and Designed in Hong Kong Awards?
I was really impressed to see the innovative entries made by all the candidates in this year’s awards. The entries covered a diverse range of products and they were all a great testament to the entrepreneurial sector of Hong Kong.

A number of the entries were directly related to responses to the pandemic and it is excellent to see Hong Kong businesses being able to adapt quickly and bring quality products to market which would help protect citizens here in Hong Kong and worldwide.

Importantly a number of the entries were designed with sustainability at the heart of the concept. With the introduction of ESG standards, there is increasing demand and expectation on businesses to operate sustainably and attract socially conscious investment. It is pleasing to see the sustainable entries from this year’s entrepreneurs and a great advert for Hong Kong.

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