Wild Geese: ‘Asia is teeming with opportunity’
Caroline Bowler, Singapore, founder of Bowlah PR
Caroline Bowler’s advice for those in Asia includes: “Make connections, reach out via LinkedIn, start the ball-rolling. Momentum carries a person.”
Caroline Bowler is a long way from her home town of Longford and her early career in an administrative position as she worked her way through a business degree at Griffith College.
“I kickstarted my career in financial services with my first role in Campbell O’Connor stockbrokers after graduating in 2003,” she says, “but I moved in 2006 to US investment bank, then known as Merrill Lynch. It was a fantastic place to gain industry experience with smart, motivated colleagues.”
In 2008, an opportunity came up for Bowler to move with Merill Lynch to Singapore. She’s been there ever since.
“I left for adventure because, to me, travel has always been the most exciting thing I can do with my life.”
Bowler weathered the storm of the global financial crisis in Asia and worked her way up the ladder with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, moving into its prime brokerage team, where her role was to open up the resources of the investment bank to hedge fund clients.
“Career-wise, to climb further would have involved a move to Hong Kong. It’s an amazing city, but I was putting down roots in Singapore. I decided to take some time and think about what I really wanted from my career,” Bowler says.
“I’d always enjoyed the communication aspect of my role so I went back to school here in Singapore and was awarded a degree in communications in 2014, focusing on PR.”
For Bowler, the most valuable learning experience wasn’t the academic side but rather spending time among the next generation of Asians.
“Fifty per cent of the class was from Singapore, the rest from around the region. There I was, an observer of vigorous discussion around politics, society and values. It was a fascinating learning experience that reinforced my view of Asia-Pacific as a dynamic engine of growth.”
In 2015, Bowler saw the real opportunity in financial technology or fintech.
“From my own experience, I knew how challenging it could be to communicate the role and benefits of technology to the customer, process-owner or industry as a whole. It was also becoming strikingly obvious that fintech was only going to expand as a sector and I knew my skills and experience set me apart.”
Bowlah PR, Asia’s first Fintech-specialist PR agency was founded that year.
There are significant differences between doing business in Europe and Asia she explains.
“Business cards and how they are handled – gently and with respect – is just one example. Etiquette is crucial but it does become second nature after a while, not stilted,” she advises. “Don’t be intimidated by it.
“The hours are long and you socialise with colleagues after work. The size and scale of your network can be a key factor in your success but, in my experience, professionals here are happy to meet for a coffee and get to know the new kid in town.”
Bowler has noticed that salespeople coming from Europe or the US can use the hard sell but Asians prefer a more softly, softly approach. “They want to get to know you, know your face and your story, so take a breath and take your time in building relationships. It pays off in the end.”
Overall her advice is that anyone with inclination to move to Singapore should jump at the chance.
“Asia is teeming with opportunity. There’s an Irish community in any major city in the region. You won’t be lonely for company. However, plenty of expats survive and thrive without ever joining the various expat clubs and groups. The food is great, the social life is plentiful, healthcare is unparalleled, schools are top notch as is local infrastructure.”
She admits things like housing and cars are expensive but it is possible to adapt accordingly.
“Make connections, reach out via LinkedIn, start the ball-rolling. Momentum carries a person. The Irish Chamber of Commerce in Singapore holds frequent networking events with guest speakers and an opportunity to showcase the best and brightest. It’s also connected to other chambers such as the American, British and European Chamber which further opens up opportunities to meet people.”
The Asia Pacific Ireland Business Forum takes place in the city state every year, timed to coincide with the annual Asian Gaelic Games. It brings together business people from the region along with representatives from Ireland and government agencies.
Bowler is an active member of the Singapore Gaelic Lions (local GAA team) and the connections she’s made through the club have proven invaluable and apparently far exceeded her abilities on the pitch.
The medium-term plan is to grow Bowlah PR within Asia-Pacific expanding to offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
“I want the company to act as a bridge, helping technology companies from the west break in to the region. The same is also true in reverse and I would like to see us opening in Dublin, London and the US in the longer term.”