An Interview with Aloysius Kwoh, Partner at Avalon Shipbrokers    (June 2020)

Aloysius Kwoh is a partner at Avalon Shipbrokers, a Singapore based company specialising in the sale and purchase of cargo carrying vessels of all types and sizes.

Aloysius made a career switch from banking to shipbroking at the age of 30, and considers himself lucky to be a part of what is a fascinating and dynamic industry.

Those dual skill sets of banking and broking, combined with perseverance, patience and strong relationships with clients have enabled him to stay ahead in what is a fast-moving, increasingly competitive sector.

How long have you been working in shipbroking?

I started off in banking, working for the United Overseas Bank in Singapore. It was around thirteen years ago now when I decided to make the move into shipbroking. Having spent several years with the world’s largest independent shipbroker, we started Avalon in late 2015. By putting customer service at the heart of everything we do, over the last nearly five years we have gone from strength to strength. Our size and independence means we can move very quickly to meet any challenges promptly whenever they arise. Being able to do this has been particularly important given the global disruption brought on by the coronavirus pandemic over the last few months.

Tell us a bit more about your firm, Avalon Shipbrokers

We formed the company in 2015, a group of us with over 50 years broking experience between us, working for some of the best known and largest brokers in the market. Our focus is primarily on the shipping community in SE Asia, a sector each of us has been working in for many years.

For some time we had been observing more and more mergers and acquisitions, where participants in the sector were trying to expand their market share. We recognised that being bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, and that this drive for a bigger market share brought less choice for the ship-owning fraternity.

What we offer is something different, wanting to re-establish some of the traditional values that used to define the industry. We emphasise discretion and privacy, and are of a size that makes us very agile, able to always respond promptly and effectively to the needs of our client, whatever they may be.

Does Avalon specialise in a particular sector within S&P?

We have the experience to handle any kind of sale and purchase transaction, whether it be newbuilds, second hand or demolition, across all asset classes of cargo carrying vessels, no matter where they are in the world. Being based in Singapore, and even with that global reach, we do tend however to specialise in the SE Asia market, where we have extensive networks and where each of us has been operating for many years.

The relationship with our clients is strengthened by having an unrivalled knowledge of this market combined with personnel from a range of countries in the area. Not only do they understand the language, they also understand subtle nuances and cultural differences, and therefore the requirements of each client. This is so important if we are to respond fully to their needs. This is one of many things that sets us apart from our competitors, and we are proud of the fact that we speak fluent Bahasa, Malay, Mandarin, Thai and Vietnamese.

What was life like before Compass?

Before we introduced Compass we used fragmented systems that were very time consuming to use, as well as on occasion being very frustrating. Given the many thousands of messages we need to handle on a regular basis, we wasted a lot of time just searching for emails. The interface we were using was stale and outdated – being able to communicate quickly and efficiently is essential to our operation, missed opportunities can be very expensive and must be avoided.

What made you look for an alternative and switch to Compass?

When we first started Avalon the priority was to establish ourselves as a respected broker in the SE Asia shipping community. We then started to look more closely at our systems and the way we worked. Having made do for the first two years or more, a lack of support, slow customer service and constant downtime meant we had to find a better way of running our business. Doing what you do in the most efficient way is critical in a competitive market. So we started looking at the alternatives, and quickly realised that Compass was exactly what we were looking for.

When did you start using Compass?

It was almost three years after we started Avalon when we deployed Compass, that would have been around the end of 2018.

“very stable, its easy to use and superb customer support”

Has it been a good investment and, if so, why?

It definitely has been a good investment. As well as making it much easier for us to work, the software is very stable, its easy to use and superb customer support – always available, prompt and efficient.

The fact that we can all work on the move, or anywhere we happen to be has always been invaluable. Given the requirement to work away from the office over the last few months, it has been shown to be robust, flexible and has really proved its value. We were able to run the business immediately from a variety of different locations, all without any interruptions whatsoever.

What are some of the features or services you found to be of most value?

As I have already mentioned, being mobile is a huge advantage. The nature of our business means not only that we spend a significant amount of time outside of the office, operating in what is a global, 24/7 market means we need to remain in regular contact with everyone and stay on top of deals, around the clock. The mobile app makes this very easy to do. With CompassAir messaging being web based this also brings with it easy access, wherever you happen to be. Not only that, it’s got some great features, such as “NotifyMe” where we get to know immediately when important messages arrive or when they are sent by other members of the team; “Discussions” lets us talk about messages amongst ourselves without having send one another more emails, back and forwards. All these things make our job so much easier, and our team so much more effective.

Whilst the software is very stable, we do occasionally need support and it’s critical we get an immediate response, an immediate solution. Your support is always there on the rare occasions when we need it, and they get things sorted without delay. The user interface is very intuitive, which means anyone new to the software can get up an running in very little time, and fully utilise all the features with minimal training.

Something else we particularly like is your commitment to continuous improvement – new development and new features being introduced on a regular basis. The latest we find to be really valuable is ShipLink, a great but simple use of AI that saves us a significant amount of time.

“the value to a broker operating in this sector makes yours a must-have product”

If you were to recommend us what would be the reason?

With the share of the S&P market that you have, the value to a broker operating in this sector makes yours a must-have product. Once you’ve used it then it would be disappointing to have to use something else. Being so reliable and easy to use would convince anyone to move from what they have.

What are your projections for the market post Covid-19 pandemic?

The experience of the last few months must have made every organisation take a closer look at the way it does business. There will be careful consideration of structures, fixed costs and such like, with a view to making operations more flexible, more efficient and more responsive to whatever comes their way, quickly and totally out of the blue as was the case with coronavirus.

Ours has always been a business where a lot of time is spent away from the desk, so we had to be mobile anyhow. Our experience demonstrates that if needs be we can all work away from the office with a seamless transition, at very short notice.

Post Covid-19 will see more organizations re-working their Business Continuity plan so that if any similar challenges arise, actually even those not so similar, we can respond to them no matter how great they may be, and keep operating, come what may. So I imagine the priority for most organisations will be to make sure they can continue offering their service under any circumstances. Being able to communicate is essential to any business, none more so than our own, so with CompassAir being a web-based solution, along with a great mobile app we already have some significant peace of mind.

Thank you Aloysius for spending your valuable time talking to us today. One final thing, if we could have a quote from you for our readers, what would it be?

“Opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared”

Avalon Shipbrokers

Avalon Shipbrokers are a Singapore based boutique Sale & Purchase firm servicing a very exclusive clientele. With over 50 years of experience to call upon, they are suitably equipped to handle any kind of sale and purchase transaction, whether a newbuild, a second hand vessel or demolition. Valuations are also provided on a regular basis through a sister company, Avalon Valuations Pte Limited.