The ACT Annual Conference 2012 kicked off this afternoon at the ACC Liverpool. While those arriving in the middle of the day were welcomed into the city by glorious spring sunshine, by the time the first main session began the sky was looking appropriately gloomy for the attending corporate treasurers, bankers and fin tech vendors. If you believe some of the more extreme headlines, that is.

Anthony Hilton, financial editor at the Evening Standard, set out to tackle any financial doom and gloom in his short introduction to the main session. He made the point that a combination of the media and the markets can make finance professionals focus on things that don't necessarily matter, and vice versa pay less attention to issues that really do deserve to be in the spotlight. Hilton cited two examples for this:

1. Debt. The UK has experienced much higher levels debt than that which currently exists. This is particularly the case after wars, apparently, with Hilton recalling his father's irritation of "still paying off the Napoleonic wars" many decades later.

2. Growth figures. Hilton loses little sleep over whether the monthly growth figures for the UK sway 0.1% in either direction. An anecdote about how frequently they are incorrect at the time (before accounting for little matters such as income tax and corporation tax) did point out the futility of getting too over excited by these figures when growth is pretty much static.

And what of government economic policy? Well, not much good news here either, especially if you are UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Hilton stated that no government policy seems to be working at the moment, but did suggest with a glint in his eye that it may get a boost when Osborne is sacked in around 15 months time, clearing the way for someone new to come in and give the economy a nice pre-election boost.

With so much attention on points such as these, Hilton argued that we are in danger of missing the bigger picture, in particular the shift in economic power from the West to the East (and to some extent the South). To correct this and to give the delegates the lowdown on the new global reality, Haiyan Wang from the China India Institute and INSEAD delivered the opening keynote presentation.

Smart Globalisation

With China's GDP set to equal that of the US by 2020 at a conservative estimate, but with its per capita income just a quarter of their American counterparts, the growth potential for China remains huge. The same is true, albeit a fraction smaller, for India. Wang outlined five compelling stories as to why this growth potential continues to exist, and why financial practitioners need to have a strategy in place for this growth to avoid being left behind:

1. Mega market and mega growth: While these two phrases have a slightly retro feel, they definitely look to the bright future that both China and India have ahead of them. Wang pointed to predictions that these two countries could account for a third of all global economic growth by 2030. By ignoring these two markets, you could be seriously stunting the growth of your business.

2. Platforms for cost reduction: Everyone knows about the outsourcing stereotypes about China and India, whether you're in London and on the phone to a call centre in Mumbai or watching another comedian telling another joke about Apple's iPad assembly lines in Chengdu. But the fact is that it does make business sense to locate mass production or service businesses to China and India. One of Wang's slides showed that the average blue-collar income in China is $2.50 per hour, while in India this drops to $1.50. In the UK the comparable rate is $29.40. And while other countries around the world could be just as 'cheap', they lack the mega market and mega growth already mentioned.

3. Global innovation hubs: the amount of patents granted in China and India are skyrocketing.

4. Rise of new global competitors. Wang quoted the CEO of construction equipment manufacturer Komatsu saying that in ten years time the Chinese company Sany could be their main rivals, rather than the traditional competition of Caterpillar. While these emerging companies could be rivals, they could also be opportunities - can you become a supplier to them, for example.

5. China for low cost capital. The trend for outbound investment from China is on a steep upward curve. In addition, many global companies are looking at the potential for a Shanghai IPO, tapping into the RMB savings in China and beyond.

Wang concluded by looking at the areas that companies must take on board when operating in China and/or India. For example, it is important to take into account the rich and poor characteristics of these countries. If you enter these markets by purely targeting the high end, it is likely that the domestic competition could quickly surpass you by going for quantity of market over quality of product. Companies from outside the two countries will also find that they need a long-term engagement in their strategy. There is a greater need to work on developing the market rather than just developing market share, while the ecosystem that you operate in will also need to be developed.

Whatever threats China and India pose to Western economies, Wang was clear that the opportunities available to companies willing to engage in those markets are huge. She signed off by saying that the future belongs to globally integrated corporations with roots in many different countries.

Any delegate hearing Wang's presentation today is now fully aware of the bigger picture economically, and I dare say no amount of doom and gloom from the local media or markets could make them forget it.