SMEs in the Netherlands forfeit €1.2 bln in lost revenues each year due to the restricted availability of short-term financing. INNOPAY is leading an industry-wide project to support SMEs in accessing affordable financing through the co-creation of a scheme, or set of agreements, to encourage all players in the supply chain to share reliable and trusted invoice data. The UNBIAS project will deliver significant benefits and opportunities for all parties in the ecosystem, and we invite you to join us in this ground-breaking co-creation venture.
The challenge for the financing industry is well-defined
Ronald Hoeksma, Director at INNOPAY and Program Manager of UNBIAS, explains: "SMEs with modest revenues and unpredictable cash flows are susceptible to constant financing challenges. A large part of the financing world bases its risk analysis on profiling and, since SMEs appear to be a high-risk category, most companies either cannot get financing or have to accept unfavourable terms. As a result, many SMEs shy away from chasing larger commercial opportunities. Our research also shows that late payments account for 750 SME bankruptcies each year with 4000 jobs affected.
"And it is not only SMEs which face challenges," continues Ronald. "For example, increased sharing of invoice data will allow financing companies to de-risk their businesses and look for additional growth, as well as reducing their exposure to fraudulent activities such as double pledging. Everyone has something to gain by collaborating in the UNBIAS project."
How will UNBIAS solve the problem?
The industry is not short of data, but this data is shared almost exclusively in bilateral relationships between sellers and buyers. Sellers can share invoice data with their financiers but they cannot guarantee the data integrity.
Ronald says: "At the heart of UNBIAS is a scheme, or set of agreements, including blockchain technology. This will promote more comprehensive sharing of invoice data throughout the supply chain. This will include sharing data with previously unknown companies. For example, financing organisations will be able to access invoice data directly from buyers. Has the invoice been recognised by the buyer? If so, this provides the perfect collateral to guarantee a loan to the seller. Rather than looking only at the seller's profile, financing companies will be able to look at the real data behind the deal. The risk is immediately lowered, and the seller can be offered credit on more attractive terms."
Trust is the key
The principle of UNBIAS is to raise the level of trust between all parties when sharing data. Ronald continues: "We have proven experience in delivering similar solutions, such as the iSHARE scheme in the logistics sector. UNBIAS will leverage this experience to ensure that the project identifies the optimum balance between openness and privacy. The success of UNBIAS will be based on the agreements made between organisations: the permissions to share relevant data with interested parties, and the controls to allow players to add or remove permissions at their own discretion. We are working with the University of Trento to ensure UNBIAS uses the latest identification, authentication and authorisation software. Only by convincing all players that their data is secure and shared appropriately will we convince everyone to join UNBIAS."
Who will benefit from UNBIAS?
Ronald explains that UNBIAS will not only help SME sellers: "Buyers also have much to gain. They are constantly being chased by financing companies for information about invoices – this is costly and labour intensive. This problem will be mitigated when they join UNBIAS. There is also the possibility of an incentive scheme; if buyers join UNBIAS and provide information about an invoice, they will potentially earn an instant discount. And remember, most buyers are also sellers; if companies want to benefit from UNBIAS as a seller, they will also have to commit to the agreements as a buyer.
"Financing organisations will also benefit. And we are also seeing lots of interest from industry bodies, Credit Insurance Companies, and the Dutch Tax Authorities and Dutch Ministries. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has a target to help SMEs get better financing and they are very supportive of what we are doing with UNBIAS."
How can organisations join the UNBIAS project?
We are currently talking with parties across the industry who are interested in co-creating the UNBIAS scheme over the next 12 months. Our ambition is to evaluate a pilot in the Netherlands in 2019, and deliver a commercial service in 2020 which can then be extended to more European countries. But none of this will be possible without the commitment and participation of a wide group of relevant organisations. Only by co-designing a scheme which works for the benefit of everyone, will we be able to change the industry for the better.
As Ronald concludes: "We have a fantastic opportunity to develop a scheme which enables effective sharing of risk assessment data across the industry. We can deliver better services for suppliers and customers, and positively impact hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs. By successfully delivering this project, our UNBIAS community will be boosting the engine behind the European economy, of which SMEs are such a vital part."
Written in collaboration with Ronald Hoeksma