When East meets
West

Changes to the composition of Mazars’s Shanghai clientele have
led to the establishment of several international desks. Office
founder and managing partner Julie Laulusa tells Carolyn
Canham
about managing foreign investment clients in
China.

An understanding of the intricacies of operating in China and in
the West is vital to Mazars’s Shanghai business, according to
managing partner Julie Laulusa. Although based in China, the firm
focuses on a stable of international clients from Europe, the UK
and US.

Laulusa believes she is well equipped for the cultural clashes
involved in the job. She is ethnically Chinese but was raised and
studied in France and also studied in the US. Laulusa began her
career with Deloitte France, then moved to PricewaterhouseCoopers
before joining French firm RSM Salustro when it offered her the
opportunity to move to China to lead the firm’s Shanghai office.
While she was there, Laulusa was recruited by the head of Mazars in
mainland China, Thierry Labarre, to establish and lead the firm’s
Shanghai office.

The office was opened in 2002 with three people. There are now 130
and it is expected to reach 150 before the end of the year.

Traditional bread-winners

Laulusa says the two main service lines provided by the Mazars’s
Shanghai office are traditional bread-winners – audit, and due
diligence for mergers and acquisitions. The third is bookkeeping
and consulting, which she describes as a vital lead service to
establishing more in-depth work.

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“When international companies invest in China, usually they set up
a representative office,” Laulusa explains. “The representative
office doesn’t want to have very heavy costs so they outsource
quite a lot of services and that is why we handle [work such as
bookkeeping]. But it doesn’t mean that they are very minor clients,
they are quite important because maybe a few months or one year
later they would like to acquire a company or set up a very big
manufacturing centre in China, so we switch to [audit in
preparation for] acquisition, or to audit of those newly set-up
companies.”

The Mazars Shanghai office has no Chinese clients; they are all
international companies investing, or looking to invest, in China.
Laulusa says that when the Shanghai office opened, about 90 percent
of the clients were French – Mazars’s traditional stronghold. That
has now dropped to about 65 percent. Laulusa says the evolution is
not due to a reduction in the number of French clients, but rather
an increase in other international clients.

This shift has led to the establishment of a selection of
international desks, developed to cater for clients from the United
States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Germany. Laulusa
estimates that US clients now comprise about 20 percent of the
office’s clientele. Italian clients make up about 10 percent and
the number of German clients is growing rapidly.

“We felt immediately that it was quite important to have some
international desks. Mostly we have middle-market clients and I
immediately found out that one issue was communication,” Laulusa
says.

“When our international clients speak to our Chinese staff, it is
not that they don’t understand, but the point is there are quite a
lot of differences in culture… how the chartered accountants work
and how the companies are organised. Our Chinese staff, even though
they are used to working with international clients, they have
never lived overseas, or if they have lived overseas, they did not
have the chance to work with overseas companies, so when they raise
a question they don’t understand what is behind the
question.”

Laulusa cites two examples of communication barriers – one involves
a misunderstanding between depreciation in terms of Chinese GAAP
and depreciated costs in group accounts and the other involves
differences in land deeds between China and Europe. “For Chinese
accountants, if they do not know how [land deeds] work overseas, it
would not occur to them to tell [clients] what kind of differences
there are in China,” Laulusa explains.

The link between Mazars in China and Europe is being strengthened
this month as the group is sponsoring the Asian delegation to the
third annual Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, which is
being held in France. Laulusa, who is part of the delegation, says
this is the first time there will be a full delegation from Asia at
the forum.

“[The delegation will be composed of] young and competent
professional women from Asia. So I think this is the first time
that Asian women will have this type of exposure,” Laulusa
explains, adding that the forum will be an opportunity to expose to
the rest of the world the quality of the professional women in
Asia.

“[Asian women] work quite hard and have a quite tough position.
They did not have time or they did not have the opportunities to
have such exposure (previously).”