Trade has always been a very manual and documentation-heavy business. It requires a lot of in-person services and there are too many stakeholders in this ecosystem. However, with technology being used more widely in almost every sector, trade has not been left behind. Firms like EximPe and Freightwalla now enable digitisation of trade workflows.
As Arjun Zacharia, Founder, EximPe, describes it, the company brings a single platform for various manual services of cross border-business such as payments, money flow, compliance and documentation. “Be it export reconciliation reports or bills of exchange, all that process can be put into one single platform so that the customer and exporter can actually focus on the business instead of getting distracted by other work. Otherwise, a lot of man hours and money are spent on running around to finish all the different processes around cross-border trade,” he says.
Talking about some of the common digital practices adopted by exporters these days, he mentions the communication frequently happening through Gmail or WhatsApp nowadays as opposed to in-person meetings earlier. At the same time, when it comes to compliance and documentation, most exporters hire a local resource such as a chartered accountant to take care of invoices and money matters in order to save time. However, he says, many facilities are provided through internet banking these days to ease the work of CAs.
“There is a platform launched by the RBI (Reserve ) known as FX Retail which helps exporters get access to the forex market in real-time and show them transparent margin and pricing, among other services. Unfortunately, most of the banks don’t use it,” he says.
This suggests that more stakeholders should start embracing technology solutions.
For novice exporters, there is a great opportunity to build a tech-savvy business. “I think the best part of being a novice exporter is that you have a chance to build up a business that is very tech oriented and, hence, less operational heavy, and you can be efficient from day one,” the founder of EximPe says.
Some of his must-have technical practices for exporters include online registration of their companies and getting the importer exporter codes (IECs) right away. “IEC can now be gotten online right away. Earlier, it was very difficult. They would have to take some person’s help to actually go and start that process. Things can be done online today to start a company,” he says.
Zacharia also suggests building an online sales team and advises leveraging online marketplaces such as Amazon Global Selling. These are exporter-focused and help to promote small exporters outside India. “The biggest challenge for exporters is market access. That is now being solved by these large platforms. So they could actually go and sign up themselves on Amazon Global Selling or Walmart Global Selling or eBay … which allows them market access from day one without having to make big investments.”
Exporters should also look at using platforms that help them keep their documentation digital and handy through a phone or a website.
“As a new exporter, you are bound to make a lot of mistakes. There is a lot of compliance that you might not necessarily know from day one. Invest in a platform that will help you do all of that very seamlessly and easily, and focus on getting your supply, inventory and pricing right, making you competitive in the outside market,” he says.
Speaking on similar lines, Sanjay Bhatia, co-founder, Freightwalla, says the first thing novice exporters should do is get themselves a good software that can manage the end-to-end logistics chain.
He explains that traditionally, companies have a team of two to three people doing everything through phone calls and emails. The company is doing all of this manually without any process structure and sophistication. That leads to a lot of problems such as unprepared documents, mistakes in other documents, stuck cargo…. This can become a very painful situation for the shipper, importer and exporter. Therefore, a holistic software controlling end-to-end logistics is a must-have.
“Secondly, exporters must have pricing software that can compare all of the prices that you’re getting from different freight forwarders,” he says.
Another software he recommends is a demand forecasting tool. Having such a software in place from an early period will help a lot in terms of managing repeat orders from clients as the software would have absorbed the data. “Most importers and exporters work on repeat business. Generally, if you’re an exporter, you will find some buyer in, say, the UK or in Germany who will order from you two or three times. The moment you build a trustworthy relationship, it will become regular business. Therefore, having some sort of software in place for demand forecasting as well inventory management is very critical,” he says, adding that it will help exporters become more proactive and maximise their chances of winning subsequent orders.
While technology can remove a lot of traditional burdens, it comes with its set of perils. Zacharia — while talking about increased communication among players in the industry through WhatsApp or Gmail — says it is best to not go with any vendors that you might meet on a platform like WhatsApp or Telegram.
“It’s better that you actually work with accredited organisations or websites or vendors that you see online. Make sure you check the ratings are approved by certain financial organisations or that they are RBI-compliant or compliant with the law of the country. If you follow some of those certifications and securities, then I think you are in safe hands,” he adds.
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