Banks deal in confidence as much as they deal in financial services. With the latest wave of financial deregulation coming at the end of the year, foreign banks will – in theory – be able to match their domestic counterparts across the full range of services. While the overseas players can’t hope to match local lenders in terms of branch networks and mass coverage, they can use all their Western savvy to win over the bulge bracket customers. In a world where the interplay of different cultures is a byproduct of the growing links between economies, China’s bankers need to be able to talk the talk. As founder of Odyssey Consultants, Manoj Dani coaches individuals and teams in the financial industry to present, sell and inspire the kind confidence that closes deals. More often than not, he tells CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW, effective presentation skills come down to genuine passion.
Q: How would you describe the training industry?
A: It is very loose, very fragmented. Generally, training companies tend to be this way because they are run by entrepreneurs or franchisors of a brand in the UK or North America. They bring a training program and try to flog it in the market.
Q: How do you view the China market?
A: China is a very exciting market. There is a lot of scope for work in this industry. There are certainly a number of companies that have gone into China to max out on the so-called "mass corporate market" and they offer everything from basic English communication to a wide range of products involving proposal writing and PR. Frankly, everybody and their dog wants to get into China. You wonder whether the quality control will be there. The industry has hundreds of companies but probably only a handful of very high quality ones that create an impact on the bottom line of the company or the individual.
Q: How is coaching in China different?
A: One thing that is unique about China is the hunger, the deep desire among mainland executives to learn something. They are very keen on absorbing as much as they can of what they deem to be professional skills. They are extremely proactive, asking "How do I improve?", "What do I do to broaden my skills?", "How much practice can I have?" And then it is, "How do I succeed?", "How do I engender trust?". Staff in Hong Kong, Singapore or even North America take these things for granted. They don’t ask enough questions because they assume that they are doing the job right most of the time.
Q: How would you rate Chinese executives in terms of communication skills?
A: The individuals that I have seen, mainly because they are typically western MBAs or overseas educated who come back to China to work in Beijing or Shanghai, tend to be quite outspoken. They are assertive, if not aggressive. And they are very enthusiastic about explaining all the benefits of their business. They are always focused on improving themselves. The flipside of that is what the banks say about their teams, for example their mainland Chinese executives. They attempt to be dealmakers but don’t necessarily put all their efforts into finding a balance between what the client is looking for and what the bank or fund house is trying to achieve. They still seem to be relatively individualistic in their approach. This is unique because you would think they are not like this, but in the banking sector they tend to be.
Q: Who benefits from this kind of individualistic approach?
A: Ideally, it’s a three-way win. It’s to the client’s benefit; to the banks benefit, securing the business of the client and serving the client; and to the benefit of the executive or team in question that works on a day-to-day basis to build client relations. Some banks quite happily achieve that, some still have trouble getting there. They may want to provide services to the client but they can’t because they are not understood. That is where coaching comes in.
Q: How does the high-profile New York banker compare to the high-profile Shanghai banker in communication skills?
A: About the same. Whether I am coaching a New York-based global investment banker or a Chinese banker working for a multinational, both of them can be high profile and both can have the same habits. Almost the same habits. It doesn’t matter if they are speaking Mandarin or Cantonese or English or French, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s how they present – that’s what makes them unique. And, as a customer, what you are looking to find out is: "Who is the person I can trust?"
Q: How do you make them better communicators?
A: The focus is two words: be yourself. And then engender trust. The question is the same in China as everywhere else in the world in securing business – whether it is the banking sector or service industry or raising capital or asset management or winning a project – how do you engender trust? How do you come across with credibility and authenticity without trying to put on an act? Clients, being human beings, can sense that. They can sense whether someone who is presenting is really himself or not. The job is coaching someone to put aside being formal and being vague and have them be clear and straightforward and relaxed – just be themselves and show who they really are.
Q: China is a very formal culture. Does that make it more difficult to do your job?
A: Culturally, China may be deemed more formal than elsewhere but, frankly, the one thing they do get in China is the idea of guangxi. Every bank, every fund house – whether it is a private bank or a major global name – what they are trying to do is build these long-term relationships with the client. And the only way to build a relationship is to break down the barriers.
Q: If you have two executives speaking through translators, how do you determine the level of trust?
A: With interpreters, it is difficult. Part of it is the silence and what is said between the silences. Often it’s the smile, the look in the eye, the unspoken things in the silence that matter. It’s the bits where you speak and you wait for the translator to say something and see the look on his face when the translator is translating. It’s all about reading the client.
Q: How important is ability in Mandarin?
A: Ten years from now, one of the most coveted university courses will be Mandarin. I think it would be respectful to learn the language of a market you’re entering. I don’t know if it would be fair to say let’s forget about learning English, because Chinese bankers are definitely keen on developing their skills in terms of speaking English. The ones I’ve dealt with almost all do speak English.
Q: How many foreign bankers speak Mandarin?
A: Not nearly as many as I would like to see speaking it. They still tend to do all their presentations in English and rely on a Chinese senior manager to translate or do the Chinese bits.
Q: Is communication between Chinese and Western executives or companies particularly difficult?
A: We focus more on what is different than what is common. And what is common? We communicate and listen and remember things. And when somebody presents an idea about their firm, it is not "Oh, this is our firm and these are a hundred things we can tell you about why we are good" it’s "What is it we can do to serve you? How can we benefit you, the client?" and what can you gain from the relationship, the partnership. The banks that tend to win the deals in China are the ones that demonstrate, with their hands on their hearts, that they truly believe they can build a partnership with their Chinese counterpart, with their Chinese client.
Q: What simple advice would you give?
A: Explain very clearly who you are and what you do. And do it with passion. At the end of the day that is what is going to build the guangxi. Better communication leads to better business.
Q: What is the key to ensuring training is reflected in day-to-day business practice?
A: Follow up. Follow up. As companies grow, as their staff numbers grow, the problem is not giving them training but how do you follow up and build on that success? You can train an individual but if they don’t practice, if you are not there to practice with them, they will forget. Like everyone else they will go back to old habits.