Team A&O in the driving seat in Asia
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Vietnam, a growth juggernaut for the last decade, is continuing its trajectory as one of the fastest growing Asian economies, and A&O, having decided early on to invest in this dynamic market, finds itself very much in the right place and at the right time to be part of it.
No fewer than four of the world’s leading financial organisations – Moody’s, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank – have forecasted GDP growth in Vietnam of 6.5% to 8.5% for 2022 in figures cited in a report by the Vietnam News Agency (VNA). Growth for the first nine months of 2022 exceeded 8.8%, the fastest growth since 2011.
It’s certainly something to celebrate, especially as our Vietnam practice marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of our Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offices. In that time, the practice’s own growth has tracked the economy as A&O played its part in the expansion, keeping pace with client needs and opportunities in the market. In doing so, it relied on flexibility and an innovative approach that is as noteworthy as the achievements it has hastened.
“We’re pleased to have been involved in most of Vietnam’s major transactions,” says Adam Moncrieff, partner in Vietnam. “There have been many ‘firsts’ as the country has developed. It’s humbling to have been a part of that.”
Numerous awards in recent years, including leading Vietnamese law firm, prove his point.
A&O’s participation in the Vietnam market began even before the firm opened its own offices, advising on projects, energy, natural resources and infrastructure (PENRI) work. As Adam observes, Vietnam was becoming “increasingly important” in the ASEAN region and the world economy. “It had promising macro-economic prospects and good potential.”
History has borne out the decision to open offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – the political and commercial capitals of Vietnam, respectively – in 2012 as prescient.
Establishing our presence in both cities was also critical to effectively servicing our clients, as not only are they the largest and most active cities in Vietnam, but they are also 1,500 kilometres apart.
We have a flexible, adaptable mindset – this is what the market and our clients demand.
Adam, specialising in projects and banking, brought more than 15 years of A&O experience with him when he relocated from Tokyo to start the office. Duc Tran and Tina LeDinh joined shortly thereafter. Duc added a wealth of experience and a formidable network, having spent more than 12 years as managing partner of a premier Vietnamese law firm. Tina, likewise, had been on the ground advising on M&A deals and corporate law before joining A&O as an associate, prior to becoming partner in 2019.
The partners are supported by an “agile” and capable domestic practice that builds bespoke “fit for purpose” teams to serve its clients while enjoying the competitive advantage that comes with A&O’s international footprint. Said Adam: “We have a flexible, adaptable mindset – this is what the market and our clients demand.”
The office revels in its willingness to take on new projects and new areas of law. A decade ago, traditional projects such as refineries, petrochemical facilities and thermal power plants dominated the landscape. Today, in a country where “environment really matters”, investors are pivoting towards sustainability.
“Energy transition is part of Vietnam’s sustainable future,” said Adam. “It’s made huge strides from agriculture to manufacturing to services and balancing the challenges of climate change.
“In the last few years, solar power has grown from essentially zero to more than 10% of the energy generation mix, helping Vietnam with its ongoing goal of generating a stable, low-cost energy supply. The government has committed to phasing out coal by 2040 and to carbon neutrality by 2050. This has further encouraged investment in renewable energy sources, as well as in lower-carbon alternatives like LNG and gas-to-power.”
The practice has evolved in tandem with the market’s development in other areas too. In capital markets (ICM), even before the need for a more robust ICM practice had arisen, it began to lay the foundation in anticipation of the swift growth in ICM capabilities that has followed.
Today, A&O is at the forefront of Vietnam’s debt and equity capital markets, and the landmark VietJet equity offering – Vietnam’s first truly international listing – was an early capstone achievement.
Tina said: “That was a big step for us, as it gave us the opportunity to show our clients that we were a one-stop shop that could meet all their needs. Not only were we able to demonstrate our expertise in Vietnamese law, but we also showcased the firm’s international, inter-regional capital markets assets, plus our in-region U.S. securities law capabilities.”
Additionally, as Duc highlighted, banking remains a key growth area as increasing numbers of corporates need to access offshore capital.
Looking ahead, Tina sees the continued rise of Vietnamese corporates and start-ups and their need for capital to fund growth and expansion. In the M&A space, “investors are becoming increasingly sector-agnostic, instead focusing on the overall opportunities Vietnam has to offer.”
Alongside our expertise in Vietnamese law we had the firm’s international, inter-regional capital markets experience.
Sectors such as real estate, consumer and retail, logistics, healthcare and education will continue to attract investors, while technology, fintech and blockchain will make rapid strides with “data privacy becoming ever more important”, she adds.
With such varied demands, partners and associates have to be flexible, willing and able to “stray” outside their primary practice areas as situations demand — and they are.
“Our lawyers have developed and become invaluable, not just in Vietnam but also as members of A&O’s regional teams,” said Duc. “They’re a repository of expertise and excellence. They’re growing in confidence and starting to lead as Vietnam begins to write its next chapter of growth.”
Above all, the practice prides itself on its people. It is well-equipped to welcome new talent and invests in career development with training contracts and opportunities to do rotations through other A&O offices, all the while encouraging the mindset that has proven so successful.
The future looks bright for Vietnam, and equally for A&O Vietnam. As Duc says: “It’s an exciting place and a great time to be here. Watch this space.”
Our lawyers have developed and become invaluable, not just in Vietnam but also as members of A&O’s regional teams.
Ambitions ‘as strong as ever’ in Singapore
Thirty years old and still growing – welcome to our Singapore office. Opening in 1992 with one partner and a couple of associates, it now boasts more than 180 people.
Joint managing partners Tim Beech and Gautam Narasimhan say the ambition to develop the practice is as strong as ever.
“Like many other international law firms in Singapore in the early Nineties, we started as a small satellite office for Southeast Asia, with Indonesia being the main target,” says Gautam, a Banking partner who has worked in Singapore for 17 years.
Some firms left; others remained but experienced modest growth. A&O fully immersed itself in the Singapore market and “went deep” into Southeast Asia. “This approach laid a strong foundation for our success,” he said.
Tim, who has five years’ experience in the country after relocating from our ICM practice in London, agrees: “Singapore has a fantastic ability to adapt and evolve. We’ve always been plugged into the opportunities here. Consequently, our growth has mirrored that of the country.”
Singapore has a fantastic ability to adapt and evolve. We’ve always been plugged into the opportunities here. Consequently, our growth has mirrored that of the country.
Singapore itself is still a relatively young country, its sovereignty dating from 1965. A major financial hub for Asia-Pacific, it has developed its manufacturing and services sectors into main pillars of its high-growth economy; the diverse range of institutions and multinationals based there are our key clients.
Law is one of Singapore’s thriving service sectors. Unusually for an Asia-Pacific country, many types of law firms operate there, and Singapore law is also growing in importance. A&O was one of the first international firms awarded a qualified licence that allows us to advise on most transactions under Singapore law, and we continue to invest heavily in this capability.
Singapore’s business-friendly regulatory environment is conducive to novel capital market transactions. “We’re working on many first-in-market green bonds and loans at the moment, and new instruments such as Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) are used increasingly here,” says Gautam.
Infrastructure and project finance are important areas for our clients, due to Singapore’s strong ecosystem of banks, private financiers, engineers and other professional services. However, as Tim points out, it’s imperative to “balance the infrastructure development needed in the region with the impact on the environment. Green tech, another emerging industry in Singapore, is helping with that challenge.”
Outside of transactions, Singapore is also a key arbitration centre for Asia.
Our Singapore team is one of the most diverse in the A&O network, its lawyers and business professionals adept at working across borders. “Collaboration is at the heart of how we do things,” says Tim.
Collaboration is at the heart of how we do things… We’re one big, integrated regional team.
Tim Beech, Gautam Narasimhan
Gautam agrees: “The success of the Singapore practice is built on the success of our offices in Asia-Pacific, and vice versa. We’re one big, integrated regional team.
“Singapore has the talent, the drive and the reputation to grow further. We haven’t stood still at any point in our 30-year history and we don’t plan on starting now!”