B2B across borders seems, at least on the face of it, a simple concept: a buyer, a seller, a contract and some shipping logistics thrown in. But if the process of getting goods shipped to far-flung locales — in one piece, of course, and paid for to boot — is a straight line, the reality is often far different.
Trade Ally International, a website that launched last month offering an online platform geared toward imports and exports, seeks to take some of the twists and turns — or as Dr. Ibrahim Naeem, the firm’s chief executive officer, put it to PYMNTS, “the hassles” — out of international trade.
Naeem said that among the greatest issues facing cross-border payments is the lack of truly reliable communication, which then gives rise to “the fear of the unknown.” Consider, he theorized, a firm in the United States that is doing business with a firm in Africa. “You really do not know who that other party is unless you’ve met them,” said Naeem. He added that every step along the trade path needs communications — alongside data and money that changes hands — from picking up the phone to an email and, even then, response times may be slow or unreliable.
Trade Ally, the executive said, “provides a platform that can minimize” the time and flow of such communications, via its private messaging platform that he likens, in terms of functionality, to a secure, Facebook-like experience. Most B2B platforms, he said, do not provide a messaging feature, and Trade Ally’s system has database options that can help B2B document flow between parties, such as shipping and commercial invoices. Documents can only be accessed by the authorized parties and, if needed, Trade Ally. There’s also a growing network of lawyers and accountants that are registered with the site who are able to offer advice or conduct dispute resolution.
One other feature that sets the messaging apart, according to Naeem: Buyers and sellers must be members of the service, and all members are verified by Trade Ally prior to admittance to the service — a process that can take a few days at most but one Naeem said can remove some of the mystery that clouds B2B as a business. The company is able to provide a measure of security for suppliers, he said, in a world where would-be buyers can “suddenly disappear after initial contact.” For a subscription fee of roughly $15 monthly, Trade Ally implies that the playing field can be leveled a bit.
Trade Ally’s verification process cuts across the gamut of documentation and background checks, said Naeem, and starts with the easiest forms of establishing that people are who they say they are and do business where they say they do, including Google Maps and moving swiftly to more complex or private data, such as tax numbers and income statements. Naeem said the checks and verification process tends to skew a bit more involved for buyers.
For the trade payments themselves, Trade Ally is, well, allied with Escrow.com, which allows payments to be sent by a third party to a licensed, bonded and government-regulated entity, in a relationship that can help make payments processing a bit cheaper for both buyers and sellers.
The messaging system also serves as a platform through which tracking can be verified and monitored as items move towards their final destination. Upon receipt, the buyer has a few days to inspect and determine ultimate satisfaction with the product, whereupon funds are released to the supplier.