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Interview: Michael Tan, CEO at Aquarii BD

Growing investor partnerships in Cambodia

Michael Tan CLR Profile

CLR: Given your extensive experience and understanding of the region, how does Aquarii BD tailor its strategies to serve as an effective bridge for foreign investors in Cambodia?

Our strategic approach is largely focused on efforts to help address or mitigate two critical barriers that foreign investors must overcome when they consider doing business or investing in Cambodia – negative perception or outdated perspective of the Kingdom, and the deficit of trust. ​

​These entrenched challenges are also what businesses in the Kingdom regularly encounter when they try to attract FDIs from overseas, and this is even though the country has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world for the past two decades plus, and despite various verifiable favorable socio-economic political factors that support its longer-term growth prospects.​

One key thrust of this strategy is to help raise​ awareness of the Cambodian market, to illuminate facts-based developments such as the potential and opportunities that foreign investors and businesses have overlooked or dismissed.​

To be effective in doing so, and as a Singapore-owned business in Cambodia, we ensure that our services and activities are conducted based on trust, credibility and transparency, and we work with a carefully curated network of strategic partners, industry experts and resource persons. This raises the confidence of foreign investors and businesses to explore or enter the Cambodian market.

​Aquarii is therefore about connecting businesses, creating opportunities and growing partnerships.

CLR: With Cambodia undergoing a significant transformation over the last two decades, anchored in political stability, how does Aquarii educate potential investors about this remarkable journey and the subsequent opportunities it presents?

​We do so by sharing facts-based insights and perspectives through in-person consultations, providing news, information and updates on local market developments via our free-to-access online platform, collaborating with trusted strategic partners to organize networking events, conduct seminars (local and overseas) and workshops, among other activities.​

​We also leverage our diverse network of contacts and strategic partners in the government, business and development circles to identify the relevant conduits, projects and partners for foreign investors and businesses, to offer strategic insights and help them navigate the local operating environment or to fulfill a business outcome.​

CLR: After your tenure as the Singapore Ambassador to Cambodia, how do you leverage your unique insights and networks to guide Aquarii’s approach in facilitating foreign investments in the Kingdom?

​I think our ability to translate our understanding of the contextual motivations and dynamics that underpin the inherent constraints, challenges, priorities and opportunities of the local operating environment and SMEs, in a manner that is relatable to foreign investors and businesses and identifiable with their concerns and reservations, is one of the key principles that have guided the Aquarii approach.​

By aggregating the relevant expertise, insight, resource and connection of various partners in our diverse network of contacts in government, business and development circles, we can handle enquiries and requests across multiple sectoral interests and projects. In fact, we have carefully curated and established working relationships with selected service providers and industry experts in Cambodia to build a network of trusted strategic partners that provide quality services and insights.

Michael Tan CLR Profile 2

Perhaps most importantly, we have​ conscientiously established the Aquarii brand to be synonymous with the Singapore ethos of trust, transparency and accountability. And because we insist that our services and activities operate according to the highest standards of integrity, credibility and competency, foreign investors and businesses that work through or with us and our partners have greater confidence and assurance when considering doing business or investing in Cambodia.​

​Collectively, these principles help to differentiate Aquarii in the way we help to facilitate foreign investments to the Kingdom.

CLR: What would you consider to be the most crucial factors that foreign investors should be aware of when contemplating an entry into the Cambodian market?

​Establishing an objective understanding of the Cambodian market, the socio-economic political context and the nuances, and identifying the right trusted partners to work with/through, are crucial factors that foreign investors should be aware of when considering an entry into the local market.

Unfortunately, many tend to over rely on reports and publications of international media and​ sources, and consequently formulate inaccurate assessment or an inadequate contextual understanding of the local market conditions and developments.

Many are also inclined towards local collaboration partners based on personal associations or other​ subjective considerations without undertaking the necessary due diligence and cross-references; they ignore the commonsense wisdom that a mediocre business plan with the right collaboration partner can be more successful or less painful than if the best business plan were coupled with a wrong choice of partner. 

CLR: As Aquarii aims to diminish the trust deficit for foreign businesses, how do you foresee the company’s role evolving in the next 5 years, given the rapidly changing landscape of Cambodia?

We endeavour to help enable and empower local businesses in their respective desired outcomes by​ becoming one of the go-to trusted conduits for foreign businesses and investors that are​ interested in doing business or investing in Cambodia, and by being a credible aggregator in the business and development ecosystem. ​To that end, we will continue to innovate our services and take on facilitator roles that help bridge the needs and demands of local businesses​ and project owners with foreign counterparts and​ investors.

CLR: Your decision to return to Cambodia and establish Aquarii suggest a high level of confidence in the future of the Cambodian economy and market. Why is that?

​Every developing country, emerging economy or frontier market will have their own potential and opportunities, which are what attract foreign businesses and investors. However, in my opinion, the key consideration which long-term business and investment decisions must be based on, is political stability. In my considered assessment of Cambodia, and from my understanding of its political-economic construct and social compact, I am convinced that the country has not only been politically stable for the past two decades plus, but it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. ​

Michael Tan CLR Profile 3

When you consider the Kingdom’s strategic location in the heart of SEA, a youthful demography amidst a growing population (more than 70% of the population is under 35 YO), its early and rapid adoption of digitalization (digital and QR code payments were prevalent well ahead of many more advanced economies), that younger, better educated and more progressive-minded policy makers are now in government, among other favourable socio-economic indicators, the growth prospects of this economy point towards an upward trajectory. 

So, rather than be amongst businesses and investors that continue to overlook or dismiss Cambodia for the wrong reasons or outdated perspectives, Aquarii prefer to be a strategic partner in the Kingdom’s growth story.

Michael was interviewed by CIR Founder & Editor, Harrison White

November 2023