The ZHAW School of Management and Law organizes an annual study trip to China and Vietnam. This year, the trip could not be carried out due to the Corona pandemic. In the alternative program, experts from Asia and Switzerland held online lectures via video link for the ZHAW students. Two groups of students produced vlogs on the Swiss pharmaceutical industry and the textile and garment industry. The key research questions focus on the business relationships and supply chains between Switzerland, China and Vietnam. The experts explain the profound and long-lasting changes which the pandemic imposed on supply chains in these industries.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.