LONDON — Santander announced a few weeks ago that it is making an undisclosed investment in Tradeshift, a Danish fintech company.
The Spanish bank joins HSBC, American Express, and CreditEase, China’s biggest online lender, in backing the six-year-old company. What do they all see it?
“What we do is a fairly new thing,” founder and CEO Christian Lanng told Business Insider in an interview. “We provide essentially a network to connect companies that do business together.”
Tradeshift’s platform is a little like Salesforce but for managing global trade networks. Lanng explains: “We work with some of the largest companies in the world like DHL and the NHS. We help them connect their global supply chain.
“In the case of DHL, it’s hundreds of thousands of suppliers around the world who are connected. Once they’re connected they can then do business with them and that means all of the invoicing, purchasing, risk assessment of suppliers, collaboration.
Lanng adds: “Any new business process you want to roll out is essentially just an app sitting on top of the platform. Say I would love to do corporate social responsibility management or track carbon in my supply chain, it’s just an app you activate and deploy. It’s a whole new approach to managing your business and business processes.”
The cloud-based platform works with over 800,000 companies across 190 countries and counts 75 Fortune 500 businesses as customers.
What we can do here is make financing much more relevant to you and we can make sure that the lender that is the best fit for you gets in front of you.
As well as simply looking like a shrewd investment for the likes of HSBC and Santander, Tradeshift offers banks the opportunity to pitch for business.
Lanng says: “In the old days, it made sense for the bank to have a branch next to the marketplace because it’s a physical location. In 2016, it makes sense for the branch to have branches where the trade is, which is now virtual. So on our platform.”
He adds: “What Google did was make advertising much more relevant for you. What we can do here is make financing much more relevant to you and we can make sure that the lender that is the best fit for you gets in front of you.”
Google targets ads based on what you are searching for and have searched for in the past, giving it a good idea of the type of things you might like.
Tradeshift similarly gets an overview of how businesses are working and interacting, meaning it can offer up financing when it is most needed and the right type of financing.
Lanng says: “When the supplier receives that big purchase order from lets say DHL, that’s a really good time to go to them and say would you like some really cheap financing for the next 6 months to finance your fulfillment of that purchase order.”
Tradershift does not provide any financing itself, however. Lanng says: “Our approach has been to take a marketplace approach. We say, ‘look, we will let anybody provide services on top of our platform, we will take a small fee for providing data, and we will obviously help place the funding with firms who have the need.'”
Deutsche Bank recently made the bold call that the world has reached “peak globalisation,” predicting a decline in global trade as nations become more inward looking. Bad news for Tradeshift? Lanng is sceptical.
“It’s very naive or very early on to call peak global trade,” he says. “I think global trade patterns will change but it won’t peak,” he said.
“I think you will start to see a lot of nations just starting to tap into global trade now. You’re seeing a whole ascendant South East Asia. You’re seeing a whole new phenomenon which I think is extremely interesting and that is Chinese consumers buying more from Western suppliers. We’re working on a huge project right now around connecting Western suppliers into the Chinese market, a reverse of the flow you saw before.
“If you’re looking at a 3 to 5-year perspective maybe [it’s declining],” he says. “If you’re looking at 30, 40, 50-year perspective, not at all.”
Still, Donald Trump has also vowed to bring jobs back to America from China and Brexit may well herald a decline in international trade, which is already wobbling. Surely this will at least mean some short-term pain for Tradeshift?
Again, Lanng takes a contrarian view. “Our goal is lowering the friction and if there are more barriers internationally then actually we can provide an even more valuable service because we can help navigate those,” he says.
It’s very naive or very early on to call peak global trade.
“One theme we’ve been talking about for the last 3 years is: be very careful because your supply chain and your business is set up for a market that predicts stability,” Lanng says.
“The way you source your goods, the way you run your supply chain, the way you roll out your IT systems are all built on the idea that things are going to remain the same.
“The problem that you have is when there’s change in the market like Brexit, Trump, TTP being torn up, these companies now have a very high cost of change.
“Now there’s a premium on agility in supply chains and lowering your cost of change and being flexible. This is what we’re selling to customers. If you’re buying SAP you’re buying something that is extremely robust but extremely brittle in some other ways. But if you’re buying Tradeshift you’re buying something that’s extremely flexible because it’s set up as a network, it’s easy to reconfigure, you can update some of our processes on the fly.”
Investors are siding with Lanng. Tradeshift was valued at over $500 million in its latest funding round earlier this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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