Q&A: Baron Zhao Discusses Client Risks and Opportunities in the Asia Pacific Region
Baron Zhao recently joined as a Managing Director in Hong Kong to build upon FTI Technology’s existing capabilities and ensure clients can solve difficult problems across disputes, investigations, information governance and other areas of digital risks. Baron has extensive experience advising clients across a wide range of large-scale and complex matters, including cross-border litigations and disputes, digital investigations, risk assessment and regulatory inquiries across multiple jurisdictions including the U.S., mainland China and Hong Kong. In this Q&A, Baron offers his view on the digital risk challenges and trends clients are facing in the Asia Pacific region.
Welcome to FTI Technology, Baron. Will you share some background about yourself and the focus of your new role?
My experience lies in navigating the complexities of transferring data across borders and fulfilling requirements in multiple jurisdictions simultaneously. Before joining FTI Technology, I led investigatory and incident response teams in the U.S., Hong Kong and mainland China and led hosting services for a prominent digital forensics company in New York, where I managed a group of analysts providing e-discovery, investigations and litigation support services.
Here at FTI Technology, I’ll draw on my background to provide clients with advisory services and solutions across digital forensics, investigations, e-discovery and information governance. These practice areas are important for clients in the Asia Pacific region, because in the current environment, organizations are feeling pressure on multiple fronts. Data volumes and types are becoming more complex, regulators are cracking down with tougher laws and it’s becoming harder to safeguard sensitive data.
Keeping up with such a broad range of continually evolving challenges is extremely difficult. Our team here in the region is already well-positioned to help clients solve these challenges, and I’m working with the team and clients to further build our reach and capabilities as digital risks continue to present new challenges.
What are some of the nuances driving e-discovery and investigations in Asia Pacific?
With e-discovery, the market is unique in mainland China, compared to Hong Kong and the U.S. Each is very different, in fact. In China, for example, the laws do not dictate a formal discovery process. But now, and for the past few years, because many Chinese organizations are also in Europe and U.S., companies are grappling with discovery requirements and a range of regulatory challenges in multiple jurisdictions. So, cross-border litigations and investigations in the U.S. and elsewhere are creating the need for new or refined discovery processes.
IP disputes are also very common here, such as when U.S. companies sue Chinese companies for IP infringement. This can present challenges with how to handle and transfer data for discovery. These are highly sensitive and complex issues, as data transfer to the U.S. currently requires approval from the Chinese central government.
Generally speaking, we have found that many companies in China are not set up to handle data or evidence in a forensically sound way. A significant part of our work here involves educating the local market as to why this is important, especially for multi-national corporations that are doing business in western countries.
In addition to cross-border challenges, are you seeing clients in China struggle with emerging data sources?
I think organizations in China are facing a huge hurdle in this area. When collecting or reviewing emerging data sources, many companies here have relied on digital tools that are no longer supported in the region, or have used local vendors that are now listed on U.S. sanction lists.
It's distressing to companies when they discover they cannot use the tools that they already have and fall short of the options in collecting the data. That is why we are currently in the process of exploring new alternatives for clients, including leveraging new emerging local forensic tools and also introducing FTI Technology’s proprietary emerging data sources tool Universal Messaging Platform into the Asia Pacific region.
Are there other unique challenges?
Yes, chat messages are prevalent in business communications in the region, and they’re very difficult to format for a traditional e-discovery review. The e-discovery tools currently available do not have the capabilities to capture and organize chat threads succinctly. This often requires complex manual work in order to determine key facts. We have some of the world’s foremost experts in emerging data sources within our organization at FTI Technology, who are working on advanced solutions to help clients defensibly and accurately analyze and review information from chat tools and other emerging data sources.
Prior to joining FTI Technology as a senior leader, you also held several leadership positions within a Big Four consulting firm, in both New York and Hong Kong. Leading global teams on complex and high stakes matters can be challenging. What’s your approach?
I was born and raised in mainland China. I attended college in Beijing and then received my master’s degree in the U.S., which is where my career began. This has given me a unique combination of cultural connection and awareness in China, as well as a more U.S.-centric leadership style.
Personally, diversity is very important to me and I understand from my time in the U.S. how to create a team of people with different views, and why that’s important. You collaborate together, you go toward the same direction and deliver as a team.
This collaborative approach is something I pay close attention to now that I am in Hong Kong. My mission is to create an environment where everyone is comfortable to speak up and express views, and then work together to achieve the same goal. Here in Hong Kong, I am proud to say I manage a very experienced group of people. I get to embrace the strength that already exists among our team and help to form new ways to collaborate in the same direction.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.