Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way shall we? For companies doing business in Singapore and thinking of moving the business into the United Kingdom (UK), an undeniable concern is the state of the UK economy and opportunities post-Brexit. Compounded with the pandemic, the situation seems exacerbated. However, the UK has been strategic in forging trade and crucial socio-economic ties with other countries and regions, despite the criticism about how well it has been progressing on this front. Also, despite the weakened perception of Britain in modern times, the historic ties with the Americas and African countries, through UK-ASEAN, and the Commonwealth cannot be undermined. Singapore companies have the opportunity of leveraging on the latter two networks. In fact, in some instances setting up a business in Singapore and leveraging on the ASEAN market might seem less lucrative that the opportunities abound by setting up a business in UK.
There is a perception that setting up a business in UK and moving the business to the UK is expensive from an operational and talent perspective, compared to setting up a business in Singapore. Operationally this may be so given the cost of overheads in cities like London and Aberdeen. Depending on the type of talent, salary brackets can also be high. Both costs are heightened when the pound is stronger on the foreign exchange. However, operational cost would not vastly differ from companies expanding to other countries, where there are other significant costs involved for example moving goods where there is a lack of infrastructure such as roads and highways. In terms of talent, it would work out cheaper in the long run hiring the right talent to get things done the first time, than multiple iterations, for example with software teams based elsewhere where the talent profile is different than that required by the company.
Simultaneous with the talent discussion above, it cannot be denied that some areas in the UK continue to lead in providing a diverse talent pool, for instance Scotland for Artificial Intelligence, Northern Ireland for Cybersecurity, London for IoT. With grants available for hiring deep-expertise and collaborations with incubators, often university-led ones, to encourage moving the business to the UK, the cost of talent is often off-set to a level that is financially viable for companies moving the business to the UK.
It is not surprising that Singapore under the Commonwealth would be familiar with many of the cultural elements, and expectedly assimilation is smooth. There is naturally some time required for understanding work culture, for instance a significant practice in the UK would be to have more face-to-face meetings, and to establish a relationship before companies start working together. However, if you have experience setting up a business in Singapore, then setting up a business in UK, and moving the business to the UK is quite a seamless cultural experience.
UK provides a vast network to the EU, and also Middle East (for instance strong ties with Oman), the United States of America, Africa (Cape Town producing some of the best talent that come to the UK), as well as Australia and the New Zealand. Therefore, UK has a diverse network for funding, business development, research and development, manpower and capability development. Investment opportunities are plenty, with London topping the list continuously in investment rankings, despite global events.
Legally the structure is transparent and straightforward in the UK, compared to other jurisdictions. Since Singapore’s laws are based on common law stemming from the UK, there is greater unification of the laws. Processes such as setting up a business in the UK are straightforward, with no requirements such as Joint Venture Partnerships, that other countries in Asia require. Especially if there is concern about errant practices such as bribe, price cutting, the market being limited by a conglomerate of related companies or family-owned businesses, that can be put to rest when moving to the UK. The process is very similar to setting up a business in Singapore, and is as fast and effective.
For transport, information technology, housing, education UK is infrastructurally robust and interconnected. There is also a strong local community, for instance regional cooperatives galvanising farm produce which support companies that have a strong local focus. There is also significant infrastructural investment and development, which means that companies need only concern themselves with more inward-looking activities such as growing the business. Hence, after setting up a business in Singapore, moving the business to the UK, and setting up a business in UK is infrastructurally an easy process.
In terms of specific areas, for instance deep-tech capabilities, the arts, UK still has a leading presence, which can be tapped on to grow businesses and market presence. As a country with a sizeable population, doors to EU, and networks with other countries, it is also easy to develop new capabilities in the UK. Given the deep pool of investment opportunities in UK, it is also viable to develop capabilities for the long term.
The start-up and entrepreneur community in the UK is positive. Despite some large players in traditional industries who may be more reticent about new players coming into the market, the general business community is open, helpful, and transparent. It is then easier to grow the company and eventual market presence. After setting up a business in Singapore, moving the business to the UK, and setting up a business in UK is an enriching experience.
This post has been written by Karthikayini Senthilkumaran, Co-Founder and UK Lead for EkkBaz Pte Ltd, for UKSGBridge Limited, and represents her views only. The copyright for this post subsists with UKSGBridge Limited, and parts or the whole of this post may be reproduced with permission from UKSGBridge Limited.