The issues facing businesses and economies because of the COVID-19 pandemic follow similar patterns across Southeast Asia and Australasia. However, the severity of these issues differs significantly depending on industrial sector, country and the depth of vaccine protection programmes. This is the picture painted by the Association’s Regional Advisory Panel members from Southeast Asia and Australasia who recently met to discuss the challenges being faced by accounting and finance professionals.
So, what is currently top of mind for the profession in the region?
- Vaccination rollout is key
Southeast Asia and Australasia has a lower rate of vaccination deployment when compared to the other regions in the world. The near-term impact is hugely affecting the reopening of the leisure and travel sectors and economies that depend on tourism. However, it is more than a dependency on vaccinations that is causing concern.
Whilst many nationals have returned from overseas during the pandemic, attracting overseas talent, with its fresh thinking and expertise in new and emerging practices, is no longer an option in many markets. Some fear that isolated businesses and economies risk being disadvantaged on the global stage as some markets emerge from the pandemic faster than others.
A voice of concern was also aired by foreign expats who find their host nations being unfriendly. Access to the vaccine has been dependent on embassy support, as national citizens are prioritised. Concurrently, those expats who want to return to their home nation risk their work visas being revoked if they decide to leave, ruling out coming back to their role at some point in the future.
- Innovative, digital business models acceleration
It isn’t, however, all doom and gloom. One positive outcome of the crisis has been technological acceleration. Digital transformation has proven its value and has become the new normal. Business models that have adapted quickly have been able to sustain themselves, build resilience and sustainable profits. These businesses also find themselves able to seize new opportunities as markets come out of lockdowns.
- Government policies and support critical for jobs
Government policies and economic support measures have proven critical in getting people and businesses through the crisis thus far. However, many small- to medium- sized businesses remain on the brink, with only limited support available to them, and unemployment is rising fast in countries that have been reliant on tourism. Panel members felt governments will need to play a critical role in the coming months by providing subsidies and aid if the pace of recovery is to be accelerated in the hardest hit economies.
- Growing optimism
Despite the region remaining in the grips of the pandemic, when the panel was asked about the future, there was some shared optimism for the months ahead. The rollout of vaccination programmes across the region were accelerating, which supports the development of herd immunity, offering up opportunities for the return of tourism, cross border travel and trade. Out of adversity there have been key learnings in developing resilience for governments, business and finance teams.