Western lobbyists bring a gentler touch to shape Asia financial reforms

BY MICHELLE PRICE| 9 September 2014

(Reuters) – Asia is proving new and fertile ground for Western lobbyists and public affairs consultancies who are helping shape post-crisis financial reforms in a region where regulators traditionally operate behind closed doors.

As the reform agenda has become increasingly global, regulators in Asia are having to juggle local issues such as poor corporate governance and rampant insider trading, while implementing extensive G20 reforms – from overhauling the derivatives markets to clamping down on shadow banking.

Lobbyists and bankers said it was not uncommon for regulators in smaller markets to freeze out foreign firms using Washington D.C.-style pressure tactics that can be critical, demanding and legalistic. “Western lobbying techniques don’t go down well here,” said Aaron Franz, a director at Southeast Asia public affairs firm Vriens & Partners. “They tend to come off as threatening.”

Lobby groups that honed their tactics in the rough-and-tumble of Western financial realpolitik have had to deploy a more delicate touch in Asia. Written exchanges tend to be gentler and more appreciative in tone, and play to the national interest of often suspicious regulators.

Groups like ICI Global and the Asia Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) typically engage Asian regulators through formal private meetings with officials at their government offices – inviting a Vietnamese or Indonesian government official for a casual glass of wine is not advised, say lobbyists.

Franz discourages clients from airing problems in the international media, a common and effective pressure tactic in the West that often alienates Asian regulators. “This sets up the dialogue as ‘Us versus Them’,” he said.

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