By Megan Ng Kah Poh, SMU School of Accountancy
Sandwiched between five countries in the heart of South East Asia, Laos is a little charming country which has left a deep impression on me. Through my SMU-X Overseas Accounting Study Mission trip last December, I have found that there is a certain shy mystique to this place that has drawn me in.
Soaking in the Sights and Sounds of Laos
The people are kind and welcoming, the landscape astoundingly captivating, and the pace of life is deliciously (or, perhaps to some, disconcertingly) slow. With its clear air, crisp sunshine and a slight chill after sunset, Laos was a wonderful way to escape the heat of Singapore for a few days. To acquaint ourselves with the country, we began by touring the scenic Luang Prabang.
In Luang Prabang, we got up close and personal with some buffalos, pigs and rabbits at the Lao Buffalo Dairy Farm which was very delightful. As part of our cultural exchange, we also woke up before daybreak to witness an alms procession the second day. We also visited the Hilltribe market, Phou Si Mountain, Royal Palace, Wat Xieng Thong Temple and the Kuangsi Waterfalls. One simply should not leave Luang Prabang without bearing witness to the majestic Kuangsi Waterfalls.
Majestic view of Kuangsi Waterfalls
Experiencing Commerce and Education in Laos
After soaking in the beautiful sights of Laos, we flew to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to begin our company visits.
On our first day in Vientiane, we attended a talk by Laos Securities Exchange (LSX). Through the talk, we were given a glimpse into the rudimentary stage of capital markets development. With only four listed companies and a 3-hour daily trading window (8:30 – 11:30), LSX is a complete contrast to the busy Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX).
Visit to the Laos Securities Exchange
Next, we checked in with our Laos counterparts at the National University of Laos, who welcomed us with open arms for the cross-cultural exchange. Through a mini in-class activity, we realised that the accounting syllabi of both countries differed greatly. While we were all enrolled in accountancy degree programmes, we definitely did not learn the same things. The exchange at the National University of Laos reinforced the contrast in our national education systems. It hit home how we frequently presume education and knowledge to be universal, but, in actuality, they are largely shaped by context and applicability as well. I have since developed a more nuanced take to education.
Meeting students from National University of Laos
Our next company visit was to EDL-Generation Public Company—the Laos national hydropower generator. After the visit, I gained a greater appreciation for how a country’s geography determines its chief energy source and how its economy is run. As a land-locked country located along the Mekong River, Laos strategically harnesses hydropower to fuel its country and its growth.
After lunch, we visited Banque Pour Le Commerce Exterieur Lao (BCEL), one of the largest state-owned banks in Lao PDR. From BCEL’s talk, we learnt that they have similar product offerings as typical banks. However, the dividend rates are much more attractive in Laos.
Aside from learning about the bank, it was interesting to note how Laos retains the legacy of its French protectorate past in its naming conventions. Apart from the French naming of BCEL, one cannot help but notice how Laos streets begin with ‘rue’, which is French for ‘street’.
Company visits exposed us to the key drivers of Laos’ commerce
As accounting students, we definitely had to pay homage to one of the Big 4 accounting firms in Laos. The accounting firm chosen was KPMG. Helmed by a Malaysian, the KPMG Office in Laos was a confluence of accounting professionals in Asia. We even met fellow Singaporean accounting students from other universities doing their internships there. We were given a snapshot of the accounting industry in Laos and its unique accounting regulations. The presentation highlighted the importance of job adaptability in a global economy. As future (international) accounting professionals, we have to prepare ourselves to adapt to new working environments in order to succeed.
Wearing the Hat of a Consultant
After completing all our company visits, we proceeded to K.P. Limited, the company which our study mission projects were based upon. We conducted more ground research for our projects and took the time to refine our project proposals before presenting to K.P.’s management team the next day.
Working on the K.P. project gave me first-hand experience at problem-solving in the business world. As K.P. is a family business, it made me understand the intractable issues faced by family businesses operating in developing countries. We had to factor in the unique characteristics of its business structure and its role in the national economy.
Presenting to our clients K.P. Limited
In all, this SMU-X Overseas ASM project gave me a chance to take on the role of a business consultant. The process of business advisory was insightful and certainly made this study mission an eye-opening trip. It was a fruitful journey and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Read also the blog article, “The X Factor in SMU-X“. To find out more about SMU-X, visit x.smu.edu.sg.
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