Study Week Day 4

By Muriel Baumer, Manuela Odermatt & Damaris Fischer

One highlight chases the next

Time passes in Study week: On the fourth day, we first met online for one of the highlights of this week: representatives of the Netherlands Court of Audit agreed to talk to us in an online session about different aspects and current affairs of their work.

The session was opened by Ewout Irrgang, a member of the Board, which was a great honour. During his introduction, he told us about how the Covid-19 crisis could not have come at a more stressful time for the Court of Audit, with some of the major audits due in March. At the same time, the Court of Audit also took on new tasks in order to support the fight against the Covid-19 crisis: for instance, by means of so-called rapid reports, the Court of Audit analyses the distribution of funds among different actors during the Covid-19 crisis. Obviously, all this was not easy, but still, it has been successful. With a smile, he concluded his introduction by saying that sometimes one simply has to act and ask for forgiveness later.

Next, Gijs Koop’s lecture on the Court of Audit itself and Laurens Niens and Rogier Zelle’s presentation of a study conducted by the Court of Audit on the price of medicines followed. The two presentations gave us a better understanding of how the Court of Audit works: summarised briefly, the Court of Audit undertakes studies to find out whether the taxpayers’ money is being used efficiently and effectively and whether the ministries have achieved their objectives.

In the second part of the session Rudi Turksema first introduced us to the world of data. In an exciting presentation he showed us that on one hand, data is a challenge for the government and SAIs but on the other hand also an opportunity for new approaches to policy evaluation. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to meet Hans Benner and Max Verhoeven. They presented us their current project on vehicle tax and how it is used as a policy instrument.

In summary, we can look back on an informative, educational and practice-oriented session, which had to be digested during the lunch break. At this point, we would like to thank the Court of Audit for taking the time to share some insights into this traditional yet modern institution!

online meeting with the Netherlands Court of Audit

The second highlight of this study week followed in the afternoon: A social event was planned for us, together with the Health Economics and Healthcare Management class.  No sooner had we gathered than the action-packed afternoon begun: there was a murder in the city of Winterthur and the murderer is still on the run! In teams it was our task to put the murderer behind bars as quickly as possible. In the following hours, clues, alibis and traces had to be checked and evidence for the arrest of the suspected perpetrator had to be secured. Time flew by and at the end of the day, luckily, the murderer was convicted! As the search for clues made us hungry, we were all the more than pleased about the delicious aperitif with which the fourth day of the study week came to an end.

witness interview

Virtual SML Study Trip 2020 to China and Vietnam

ZHAW School of Management and Law organizes an annual study trip to China and Vietnam. 25 SML students visit subsidiaries of Swiss companies in Asia and learn first-hand about international business relations. This year the trip could not be carried out due to the corona pandemic. In the alternative program of this elective module, experts from Asia and Switzerland gave online lectures via video link for the students. Four groups of students produced vlogs on Swiss industries that are particularly affected by the corona crisis in economic business relations with Asia:

Students: Noa Bechtiger, Nicola Brunn, Alexander Lerch, Mihovci Donika, Letizia Reimann, Manuel Uebersax

Students: Marc Burkhalter, Miriam Dall’Agnolo, Simon Fausch, Chris Heinz, Sunny Hossin, Lilian Jäger

Students: Adrian Cheybani, Kyra Diago, Vanessa Graf, Philippe Hartung, Marco Neininger Sari Fatma

Students: Marco Baumgartner, Matthias Loser, Nino Luise, Gina Mazzoni, Renato Mettler

Without the valuable contributions of the following high-profile experts, this module would not have come about in this form. They deserve our special thanks.

  • Ulrich O. Birch, Owner / Senior Advisor, China and Asia Focus
  • Simon Bosshart, Director China, Switzerland Tourism
  • Florian Graf, MSc Master Alumni 2018, ZHAW School of Management and Law
  • Daniel Jäger, Category Manager, Huber+Suhner
  • Dr. Matthias Müller, Correspondent Neue Züricher Zeitung, Beijing Office
  • Martin Rohrbach, Partner, Head of Life Sciences, KPMG Switzerland
  • Dr. Joachim Rudolf, Chief Financial Officer, Cathay Biotech, Shanghai
  • Symon Tilberis, Executive Director Key Client Group, BNP Paribas, Hong Kong

Dr. Markus Braun

Senior Lecturer International Management

ZHAW School of Management and Law

Day 5 – Future Business Leaders Study Trip Singapore 2019

We already started to get nervous during breakfast and discussed intensively about the upcoming group presentation. During the whole week we worked on a business case with field research, which we had to present today. As expected, we all found each other in the hotel facilities finalizing our presentations.

At 14:00 all groups met in a conference room in the hotel and were ready to present their results and conspicuous features. In the following sections we summarize our findings:

Group 1 has worked on the research question: Which payment methods are mainly used in Singapore and how do they work? As a result, Singaporeans use credit and debit cards most, followed by cash and wireless payment such as wallets and QR-codes are becoming more popular.

The second group dealt with the topic of the App economy in the food delivery sector. They presented Grab’s concept, which combines delivery services with driving services, scooter rental and other services in one app. Opportunities for the Swiss market were also highlighted.

Group 3 explored the government’s ability to tackle declining health and rising health costs through digital data collection. In conversations with locals, they tried to find out how Singaporeans integrate fitness into their stressful daily lives. Surprisingly, they learned that the Singaporeans are having a different attitude than Switzerland. They are very open about sharing personal data.

Singapore is listed on the Ease of doing business report on the second place and hold for years the first place. But is doing business in Singapore really so easy as we think? This question had to be answered by the fourth group. For that purpose we had the pleasure to meet several startup founders. Although the administrative process to register an entity is very easy, the challenges lies in the money raising, client acquisition and network establishing. The spirit of those founders was overwhelming and impressive to all of us.

Group 5 investigated about individual transportation in Singapore. We found out that the majority of people use the app Grab, with which you can order a taxi to a certain place within a few minutes. We wondered whether the app was also very popular with students. Because of that, we interviewed 30 students at the National University of Singapore. According to our research, students do not use “Grab ” that often and prefer public transport for cost reasons.

All groups received feedback from Prof. Dr. Petra Barthelmess and Mr. Andri Färber. This was a great moment to thank Ms. Anika Wolter for all organization during this trip and Ms. Michelle Stegmann (Swiss Economic Forum) for joining us and taking all photos and videos.

Afterwards we were able to demonstrate our acquired knowledge about Singapore in Online game with a Kahoot and reflecting the week during a feedback session. 

We set off for our last dinner together, delicious seafood, before we went to the airport. 

Compared to our lively breakfast, we ate the food in the plane very calmly, almost sleepy. Were were quite tired and snuggled up in the blanket right after the start and slowly dawned thinking about all fascinating impressions of this week.

Thank you for this wonderful and exciting time in Singapore.

Day 4 – Future Business Leaders Study Trip Singapore 2019

The fourth day of our study trip was very intense. After a delicious breakfast from the wide range of options of the buffet – as usual – we had time for individual fieldwork and research.

Our subject is “Ease of doing business for SMEs and micro-businesses in Singapore”. The difficulty of this topic lies in the development of a methodology to collect data in the field, given that statistics on the topic are rarely available in the internet. We decided to focus on personal stories and anecdotes. The day before, we had called and sent out E-Mails to various startup-businesses, hoping we could interview them during our time in Singapore.

Since none of the startups responded to our request, we decided to (re-)act and headed to the JTC Launchpad at one-north, which they themselves describe as a “site that offers a conducive environment and nurturing ecosystem for startups.”

We were surprised by the openness of the team. We had the chance to spontaneously interview Vincent, a Co-Founder of the socially engaged startup “WateROAM”. This startup is engaged in the production of water filters for areas in the world where a proper and healthy water supply is not guaranteed (mainly developing countries with wars or other crises).

After this interview, we had the opportunity to visit the office of the German Accelerator for Startups in South East Asia. The German Accelerator is a program of the Federal Government from the Republic of Germany to support startups in South East Asia. They bring together experienced business leaders with startups in their very early phase. We were lucky to meet three founders who kicked off their business just two weeks ago and got a sense of the issues one might face when considering establishing a business in Singapore or the nearby region.

We would like to say thank you to the assistant marketing manager of the German accelerator for enabling us to talk to the German startups present on-site and filming our interview with them. This really helped us to finalize our group project.

The second part of the day was an intense cultural activity with a 6h guided tour through the ethnic quarters of Singapore. We started the tour at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, an impressive building housing the tooth relic of Buddha, located in the Singaporean Chinatown district. Like in most Chinese temples, there are three entrances: the central entrance is meant for the gods and is blocked by a golden pole; the left entrance represents masculinity and is reserved for the Emperor or blue-blooded individuals; the right entrance represents femininity and is open to everybody. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple contains 420 kg of pure gold in total, which amounts to 18 million S$.

After exiting the temple, we walked along Sago Street, named after the local cake “Sago”. In the earlier times of Singapore, it used to be called the “Street of the death”, due to the large number of retired Chineses immigrants that didn’t have any family to go back to and would pass away in the hospices lining the street.

Even though graffitis were forbidden in Singapore in 1966, the government has since then relaxed its laws and some mural paintings are now allowed:

Entertainment in the time before television: Chinese theatre
Child tasting durian at a typical Chinese market
In comparison to the mural painting: Chinese market merchandise with dried sea horse, dried sea cucumber, dried squid, dried lizard and more

We then headed via metro to the Kampong Glam, the quarter of the Malay-Muslim residents. We strolled through Haji Lane, a now hip street that used to be lined by all sorts of shops selling items necessary for the Malays’ pilgrimage to Mecca. The street is now full of shops and bars, and we were given some time to either go shopping or enjoy a coffee in the so-called selfie café, a coffeeshop in which one can have their face “printed” onto their coffee with food coloring.

We continued our tour of the city by visiting the Arabic Street, home of Masjid Sultan, the largest mosque in Singapore. Legend has it that when the builders called for donations to enable the constructions of the mosque, the poorest citizens of Singapore gave them old soy-sauce containing bottles for lack of money. Truly honoured by the generosity of these people owning so little (an old bottle could otherwise be traded for a few pennies), the constructor incorporated all the bottles into the building, more precisely into the black band below the big golden dome.

The Masjid Sultan mosque

Our guided tour of Singapore ended in Little India, the Tamil neighbourhood, where we enjoyed a delicious Indian meal consisting of small shareable plates. The end of another busy day with so many learnings about businesses, cultures and religions.

Day 3 – Future Business Leaders Study Trip Singapore 2019

This morning we were able to meet Ms. Bui Ly, a Vietnamese entrepreneur, who opened a coffee store with high quality coffee from Vietnam (Robusta beans) and Vietnamese food and culture, here in Singapore. After her academic studies she taught herself the art of coffee roasting. Through the help of investors, she was able to open her start-up-business. Bui has big dreams and her goal is to expand on an international basis. She is planning to open a branch in China with chinese investors and then one coffee store in each major city of Asia. You can feel the passion for her business in the ambiance and in the preparation of the dishes and the coffee specialities.

In the afternoon we visited CXA Group, Asia’s AI-driven population health platform. This company is strongly engaged in health promotion of employees through data tracking. CXA Group provides their clients (companies) with a tool for the collection of personal data of their employees. This allows CXA to give individual recommendations to each and every employee to increase their health.

Maryline Marquet, Head of Partnerships & Marketing CXA.

The so called benefit porgrams allow employees in Singapore to receive money back. CXA transforms the benefit selection process into a online shopping tool. Out of over 1000 products you can then buy health supplements, gym equipment, products for children or even vacation. Interesting!

We had the chance to see the whole working space and Ms. Rosaline Chow Koo, CEO of CXA explained us the startup’s business model.

Rosaline Chow Koo, CEO CXA

Day 2 – Future Business Leaders Study Trip Singapore 2019

Our day started with a company visit at Standard Chartered Bank. The bank focuses on the Asian and African market. The Presentation was opened by Dr. Michael Gorriz, Chief Information Officer, who explained more about the concept of Open Banking. Followed by Nitin Bhandari, Managing Director & Global Head – APIs, Blockchain & Platform Partnerships and Dr. Sebastian Wedeniwski, CIO Technology Strategy & aXess at Standard Chartered Bank. We gained insights into their strategic global business and their view towards the future of the banking industry in the digital transformation, ie. open banking trends, their technology strategy and aXess platform to apply API’s.

After a short lunch break, we returned to the hotel, where we had the honor to meet Birgitta von Dresky, Partner and Attorney-at-Law at the law firm Luther LLP. She is responsible for clients emerging to Asia and informed us about the legal situation to start a company in Singapore. In comparison to Switzerland the process is much faster and requires 1 SGD only as share capital. We had some time to ask her questions regarding our business cases and we found her visit very helpful and eye-opening.

After learning about the legal aspects, we started to work on our business cases in our groups. At first, we analyzed the topic and prepared a questionnaire for the upcoming field search. We finished the second day with an individual dinner in the local restaurants of Singapore.

Day 1 – Future Business Leaders Study Trip Singapore 2019

This morning at 6am the participants of “Outlook on Future Industries- A Study Trip to Singapore” landed at the Changi airport in Singapore. After the transfer to the Hotel Four Points by Sheraton, the students were given time to work individually on their group presentations about Singapore. This helped to understand more about Singapore’s economy, political system, culture and history. The Kick Off location “Shake Farm” was a great location for a successful Kick Off Start. In addition, all students were able to enjoy a healthy and tasty lunch.

At 4pm the highlight of the day started: A guided tour through the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel with exclusive access to a luxurious suite and the famous infinity pool on the rooftop.

Surely, everyone will remember this unique experience for the rest of their life. To finish the joyful and interesting day, the group had the chance to have a fine dining experience with typical Singaporean food. After a long but perfect day, everyone was happy to finally get some sleep.

Final Call: A week coming to an end

It’s Friday and our study trip is coming to an end. To wrap up the past days, we offer you an overview of our last engagement here in Amsterdam.

With the visit to Amsterdam University on our agenda for the day, we prepare our class for the upcoming presentation. Arriving at The Student Hotel Amsterdam after a good nights sleep and a fresh cup of coffee we started off our introduction with facts about our host.

ZHAW invading the University of Amsterdam

The University of Amsterdam, as one of the largest Universities of the Netherlands, started off 1632 solely offering education in medicine. Nowadays they supply students with knowledge in seven different faculties. One of them being the faculty of Economics and Business. Where Prof. Dr F.D.J. Frans van Schaik welcomes us as Professor of Management Accounting. Waking us up with his critical point of view towards the prevailing accounting system in the Netherlands. Pointing out, that the National Court of Audit and the Tax Administration both are content with following the law without going beyond to globalize themselves. Exemplary for the Netherlands rather outdated accounting system, Prof. van Schaik stated the fact, that they still use cash accounting on the governmental level even though many municipalities already made the switch to the more modern and standardized accrual accounting system.

Prof. Dr Frans van Schaik welcomes the invadors

Following this introduction, our host compared the Swiss and Dutch financial and socio-economic indicators. Concluding that, besides the use of accrual accounting systems, there are not many differences between the countries in terms of size, government bond ratings, GDP, the government’s expenditures and many other factors.

Edging towards the end of his presentation he introduced a topic that stimulated a lively discussion: The Dutch Disease. If one economic sector grows rapidly, like the natural gas concession once did in the Netherlands, and therefore increases the economic wealth, other sectors suffer under the loss of competition.

Does Switzerland suffer from the Dutch Disease?

During the discussion, arguments were made for and against the Dutch Disease being recognized in the Swiss Financial Sector. While some sectors might suffer under the strong Swiss Frank, one should keep in mind that external factors, such as the value of surrounding currencies or political stability, could influence the value of the Swiss Frank. Because of this, the group did not come to a final conclusion – unlike our study trip, which came to an end.

On that note, we thank Prof. van Schaik for his dedicated time, our instructors for the organization of a great study trip and our class for a fun time and vivid discussions. Have a safe trip home and see you soon in Winterthur.

Successfully invaded, cheers!

Welkom in Den Haag, het meest koninklijke en politieke centrum van Nederland!

Den Haag is a city near the Western Sea Side, the seat of Netherlandish Government, Binnenhof (the Parliament) and the International Court of Justice, home to half a million citizens and the King himself.

This morning we had to get up quite early. Nevertheless our group was looking forward to today’s program: Den Haag is calling! As there have been some spontaneous changes in the agenda, we had to improvise a little during the briefing. Before getting into the train everyone had time to catch a hot awakening coffee. While traveling to Den Haag we could enjoy the beautiful landscape.

Welcome to the Netherlandish Court of Audit (Welkom bij de Algemene Rekenkamer)! We were instructed about the autonomous government organ (Hoog College van Staat), whose task is to audit how the Netherland’s ministries spend the revenues. These are provided by the Netherlandish tax payers. Our hosts,  Maaike Damen, Jost van Hofwegen (Research and Audit Director), Martin Dees, Gijs Koop (Senior Researcher), Rudi Turksema, Maarten de Jong started with a couple of key facts about the Court of Audit. They underlined that it is important that public spending is more than just finances, it also impacts the environment. The Netherlands recognized that impact very early and implemented the Court of Audits in their constitution in 1814 as a counterweight to the government. The Netherlandish law secures that; Cooperation is mandatory for all governmental bodies as the likes of ministries. They have to provide the Court of Audits with all the financial information they ask for. Other bodies are audited as well, Quasi Non-Governmental Organisations (QUANGOS) for example. Digitalization, which were also discussed on Monday and Tuesday (of our Study Trip), also takes place in the Algemene Rekenkamer. Accounting and audit are more and more shifted into a digital form. However, there’s a lack of qualified personnel in the field of IT and programming such systems in the Netherlands. Therefore the few people available in this branch were invited to an accountability-hack (a kind of competition who can program the best accounting-system). The Court of Audit’s internal personnel was trained in IT as well. Structuration and automation were the goals of these actions. On the other hand, the more data is collected, the more difficult it is, to handle. Therefore, complexity, data ethics and security are the downside/challanges of this digitalization-trend. Untypical for an innovative country like the Netherlands is, that on central government level, still the simplified version of cash accounting is in use (in which expenses and revenues are taken into account when they are paid, not when they occur). While the OECD encourages accrual accounting, the European Union (EU) makes no progresses in invoking the much rumored EPSAS (European Public Sector Accounting Standards), which would have that and other detailed accounting regulations in write. The EU was a target of justified critics this morning, as its suboptimal revenue-collection and redistribution was addressed as well. Finally, the New Public Management approach of output-oriented budgeting was discussed in a critical manner as well.

We enjoyed having our delicious lunch in the historical center of Den Haag.

Welkom bij het ministerie van Financiën (Welcome to the Ministry of Finance)!

First we got background information from Bart about the tax and customs administrations and the organization of the tax collection. He pointed out also several deficiencies. The most important ones were legacy, management-information and strategic personal planning. He then presented Moore’s strategic triangle and encouraged the students to map the challenges of the Tax and Customs Administration by refering to that framework to cut through the complexity of the organization.

Bert Kloster, International Affairs, talked to us about the international strategy and cooperation against tax avoidance. He pointed out that internationalization and globalization cleared the path for multinational companies to avoid taxes.

In the meantime new sources of information like social media and Internet in general changed the people’s expectations about the government’s institutions. More precisely, transparency has become more and more important to ensure the high compliance of civil taxpayers in the Netherlands and the G20 countries. The OECD BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) replaced the system of earlier, mostly bilateral, tax treaties. These bilateral treaties had been used as a playground. Some multinational companies even shaped their business structures in a way that no or very little tax had to be paid. According to Bert, not only the developed countries suffered from tax avoidance. Also, developing countries like Ghana and Malawi did not receive the amount of taxes they should have. These countries did not have the resources (HR or financial) to deal with the taxing duties of multinational companies. BEPS made it possible not only for the G20 to take in the guidance of OECD into their national legislation, it also provided practical help and technical assistance for developing countries, which originally felt the negative consequences of BEPS.

Well-dressed in front of the Dutch Ministry of Finance

Utrecht: An example of innovation, growth and openness

The 08:16 intercity train from Amsterdam Centraal took us almost straight to the door of the Utrecht municipality building where an interesting half day with the CFO of Utrecht was awaiting us. The municipality decided to move to this very central location to be more prominent and accessible for the public. The building from 2014 is light and open – even though it is constructed from more steel than the Eiffel tower as we would learn later during our tour.

Frank Halsema, CFO of Utrecht, welcomed us with coffee, cake and an introductory presentation on the city of Utrecht. Utrecht is the 4th largest city in the Netherlands with approximately 350’000 inhabitants and an expected growth of 20% in the next 15 years. “The city of growth”, “the city of work” and “the city of bicycles” has a long history starting 50 years a.c. and is proud of its heritage with the tallest dome tower in the Netherlands (112m) but also its modern status with the biggest bike parking in Europe (12’500 bikes) and its healthy urban living vision (video on youtube).

Frank Halsema, CFO of Utrecht, giving his introductory presentation

The morning continued with Jasper Woelfjes, tax expert for the municipality who gave us some insight into the specialities of their system compared with the Swiss system. Only 3.5% of taxation is done on municipality level whereas 95% is taxed by the national government. This and the system of the municipality fund with 60 criteria defining who receives how much budget gives the municipalities much less autonomy than Swiss municipalities. If the national government does not spend enough money, then the municipalities also receive less spending money – the frustration on this point was noticeable and the Swiss system preferable in the eyes of the Utrecht financial experts. Furthermore, municipalities cannot define new taxation methods for their citizens, these are also defined on national level. However, in the municipality of Utrecht a group of businesses approached the taxation office and requested an increase in taxes of 11.1% to create a business fund which is then reinvested in community projects in the regions the businesses are active in. And the bottom line of the budget: always 0. Revenue has to equal expenses.

A second Frank then gave us a tour of the building. The building is situated on the “other” side of the railway station – previously no-mans-land, now becoming the new city centre. The first six floors of the building are open plan and can by used by the public for studying, working and marrying. The other 15 floors are occupied by the municipality. The views across Utrecht from the 21st floor, where we spent most of our time, were spectacular – even in the rain.

City model of Utrecht being explained by the second Frank

Auke Timmerman, business controller for the work & income unit, took us on a simulated retreat of the council of the mayor and aldermen of Utrecht. Part of their yearly planning cycle is the spring note where they discuss and negotiate the use of the yearly allocated revenue for the next year. In five groups representing the mayor and four aldermen we made proposals to adapt the budget to meet the final goal of having zero difference between revenue and expenses. The aim: “everybody has to leave the building as a winner”. The reduction of the budget for sports fields expansions and the Vuelta which passes Utrecht in 2020 were measures to achieve this aim.

The council of mayor and aldermen trying to solve the budget challenges

Last but not least the CFO gave us an insight into their digitalisation journey. After nearly killing the internet for the entire city of Utrecht with their blockchain project in 2017 the aim this year is to fully digitally check the flow of the 1.49 billion Euro municipality budget by the end of this year “met een druk op de knop”.

After saying goodbye to our great hosts most of us took a walk through the old city of Utrecht, which is beautiful even in the rain. This evening our group will meet at Cafe de Kroon in Amsterdam for an informal get-together.

Beautiful old city of Utrecht in the rain