The lavish surroundings of the Town & Gown ballroom at the Los Angeles campus of the University of Southern California provided an imposing setting for the first-ever Supply Chain Finance Forum Americas. The 100-plus SCF practitioners and vendors present included corporates, banks and, especially, the fintechs who call California home.

After an introduction from Michiel Steeman, executive director of the SCF Community and moderator of the event, the first session was a remarkable tour-de-force from Doug Scoch,  of Siemens, who has grown the company’s SCF offering to its suppliers in North America.

The long-term success of Siemens’s SCF programme is well-known – it won the Gold Award in the 2018 Supply Chain Finance Awards – but Scoch’s willingness to take his audience behind the scenes had corporate treasurers and procurement directors alike engaging him with detailed questions, which he was happy to answer in what became more like an SCF masterclass than a conventional conference presentation. 

For Siemens, said Scoch, its supplier finance programme was a competitive advantage, helping ensure that suppliers prioritised the firm above other buyers.

This theme, of SCF as a competitive advantage, recurred throughout the day, especially during when the conference tuned to the growing appetite for supply chain finance among mid-sized companies who might previously have found it hard to get involved.

Two presentations demonstrated that this was no longer the case: Kris Kagan of Scientist.com explained that supplier finance was an essential tool in helping to fund research into life-threatening conditions such as cancer, while Gary Liardon of solar roofing company PetersenDean explained how SCF had been vital to the company’s ability to weather the storm when unexpectedly heavy rains slowed business to a trickle. 

The conference returned to the more traditional market for SCF with an afternoon keynote from Ilkim Saracel of electronics manufacturer Flex. For Flex, its supplier finance programme was an integral part of the company’s wider working capital strategy and, for treasurers in the room who had yet to embark on a similar project, her walk-through of the company’s decision-making and implementation process was an essential guide.

No SCF Forum would be complete without the ‘live buyers’ guide’ that is the SCF Showcase, and in Los Angeles it was Taulia, Kyriba, Tradeshift, PrimeRevenue and Codix who took to the stage to present their solutions and face some challenging questions from Michiel Steeman – including the fascinating ‘Apart from your own company, which of your fellow panellists’ firms do you most admire?”

The day’s final panel saw bankers and fintechs come together to discuss who will be shaping the future of SCF. Inevitably, the answer was a compromise; fintechs are great at innovation but every programme needs funding and that’s where the deep resources of the banks come in. 

As Michiel Steeman ended the day, there was no doubt among delegates and speakers alike that SCF Forum Americas was an overdue success story – “There isn’t anything else like it in North America”, said one. 

Planning for SCF Forum Americas 2020 has already started and dates will be announced by the end of 2019. Meanwhile, the next SCF Forum is SCF Forum Europe, which takes place in Amsterdam on 28th November.