In just eight years since its formation, Tradeshift has enjoyed rapid expansion despite economic dark clouds for much of the period that have only recently begun to lift. The cloud-based business network connecting buyers and suppliers, which originated in Denmark, now promotes itself as the world’s largest business commerce platform, connecting a total of 1.5 million companies across 190 countries.
While the company has yet to debut on the stock market, co-founder and chief executive Christian Lanng (see picture) indicated in mid-2016 – when Tradeshift raised $75 million from investors including HSBC – that an initial public offering (IPO) was likely within a couple of years. However, reports earlier this year suggested that the company was in the process of raising a further $200 million from investors. Among many initiatives, it is now scaling up its supply chain finance (SCF) efforts.
Unlike some fintech disruptors the company is, according to Maxim Rokhline, its senior vice-president, financial services “completely bank-centric in our approach to provisioning SCF to large corporates and their supply chain. Tradeshift enables banks to scale and maximise utilisation of their trade finance programs.” In addition to HSBC, its partners include Spain’s Santander, the Chinese financial institution Credit Ease, and many others.
“Our aim is not to disintermediate the banks but to enable them by taking out the pain points they commonly experience across the entire lifecycle of traditional early payments programs,” Rokhline explains.
“We’re the emergent operating system for business-to-business (B2B) commerce with an ecosystem that hosts a growing number of third-party apps, of which there are now 100 on Tradeshift. Cumulatively applications on the platform provide services across every dimension of the buyer-supplier relationship.”
Since the June 2016 fundraising, the company has regularly made headlines in business sections with several deals. Last March, it announced a partnership with HSBC to create a platform enabling buyers to automate and digitise supply chain processes from their suppliers and organise SCF in one place. The service includes electronic ordering and invoices, document matching and early payment capabilities accessible from any device. A similar deal was agreed last July with Banco Santander.
“We can also help banks automate how they run their early payments programs, including complex aspects such as know-your-customer (KYC) processing, credit notes applications, buyer reconciliation and collection,” says Rokhline.
“This helps the banks to scale their operations and maximise the utilisation of their credit lines. So we’re not a typical program manager, but a true enabler for the bank. By having their programme on our platform we can make it easier and better.”
“We can be very contextual in our proposition by connecting to a wide variety of external and internal data sources in order to provide a customised SCF solution. Having solved for authentication, we know exactly who is behind the screen and when speaking to decision makers we’re able to provide them with a contextualised message.”
New partnerships have also been forged in other sectors. In December, Tradeshift agreed to pool resources with Infosys BPO, the business processing outsourcing arm of the technology services and consulting group. The company said the latter’s expertise in financing, accounting and procurement “will further enable clients to digitise their source-to-pay and other supply chain purchases.” Last month, the company announced a deal with Cannon Business Process Services, which will see the latter use Tradeshift’s platform to help its clients digitise their supply chain processes, such as source-to-pay (S2P).
A dynamic trio
The company is also confident that the trio of artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) will drive a revolution in B2B commerce and global supply chains over the next five years. In October 2017 the company joined Hyperledger, the Linux Foundation-backed blockchain consortium for enterprises, as a premier member. It pledged to contribute to various Hyperledger frameworks by providing a gateway to blockchain in accessing information across its platform on business relationships, identities, business processes and other areas in accelerating innovation across B2B commerce.
“Blockchain is one of the main technologies that is transforming and challenging the classical supply chain system of late,” states Gert Sylvest, co-founder of Tradeshift and general manager of Tradeshift Frontiers. “As a technology foundation for decentralised business ecosystems, blockchain – or distributed ledgers – provide a new way to handle transactions with virtually anyone, anywhere, with assurance.”
The company followed up this move at the start of 2018 by launching its own digital innovation arm and incubator. The aim of Tradeshift Frontiers is to “explore and execute on the transformation of business networks, supply chains, and global trade through the application of emerging technologies such as AI, distributed ledgers and the IoT,” it stated in a release. “Frontiers will also engage in developing deep partnerships that drive our commercial goals.”
Sylvest outlines the new unit’s remit. “We are always looking to enable new incentive models to collaborate across the supply chain. Frontiers uses emerging technologies to make trade more inclusive, empowering, transparent and sustainable. Our goal is simple and singular: to significantly impact B2B commerce and global supply chains in the next five years.”
He has also promised that, rather than limiting access to research to its own workforce and select customers, the Frontiers lab will be structured to encourage knowledge sharing “that is global and distributed in nature – and open to partners across many industries”.
“We aim to bring the transformative potential of these technologies into the hands of every company in the network, no matter their size or role in the supply chain,” he adds. “That also means unlocking greater value for small businesses and their trading partners to bring them on equal footing with the companies that dominate the digital supply chains today.”