Something to do with information - New year outlook 2024


Trade Finance over dinner

Over a cozy Christmas dinner, I once again had to explain what I do and where I work. I didn’t want to dismiss it with a simple answer like ‘something to do with information’. And then I realized that this is increasingly difficult to explain. Even though I've been in ‘this business’ for some time now. There is much more involved in ‘something with information’ than there was 30 years ago.


That's why over the Christmas break I once again took the time to delve into various studies on the development of Trade Finance. In this 2024 outlook, I don't want to dwell too long on the many ways to define Trade Finance. To keep it simple: I look at Trade Finance as the financing of both domestic and international trade flows, an intermediary function between buyers and sellers to mitigate the risks involved in transactions and enhance working capital efficiency in businesses.

Although many of the studies and papers I have read have different starting points and show  different figures, a clear and common picture emerges. They all show that Trade Finance is growing, driven in part by the continued growth of international trade. APAC countries continue to play an important role in the growth of Trade Finance, in part due to the continued adoption of new technologies and simplification of financial processes. Blockchain technology integration continues to be cited as a key driver for developing new opportunities in the financial supply chain. But so far, this still seems like a long-term promise. With or without blockchain technology, we cannot ignore the fact that the world is indeed increasingly connected. And that brings demands on our services and data. Therefore, the traditionally  decentralized structure of our industry can be expected to continue to consolidate in the coming years to keep pace with the market's need for efficiently connected business information.

With or without blockchain technology, we cannot ignore the fact that the world is indeed increasingly connected.

Of course, the legislation surrounding Trade Finance also determines growth opportunities. Legislation has always been crucial to the development of our industry. And it will only become more so in the future. Not only in the field of data, which I would qualify as a balancing act for our sector between Data Protection and Open Data. But also legislation in related areas, such as AI and Open Finance, will have a significant impact on the development of information solutions. The introduction of such new trade finance solutions, for example by new entrants from the fintech sector who will have the opportunity to expand their operations through the new Open Finance regulations, will further drive the global adoption of Trade Finance. It is good to see that FEBIS' regulatory roadmap is well aligned with these new realities and trends.


Join the party, the future began yesterday

The increasing demand for trade finance also means that the Trade Finance sector has evolved to include so much more than financial risks of non- and late payments, with suppliers mainly concerned with creditworthiness and about services being paid on time. The domain has clearly expanded to include other supplier risks such as fraud and compliance that must also provide financial security. Particularly with the expansion of international trade, supplier reliability has also become more prominent in Trade Finance. Not the supplier’s risk as financier, but the buyer's risk that the supplier cannot meet delivery obligations. In short, Trade Finance is about providing trust in the economy. In a healthy open economy, information makes the essential contribution to this trust. We also see this clearly at FEBIS, where attention to ‘new’ areas is more pervasive, such as ESG, Fraud, compliance services.

In short, Trade Finance is about providing trust in the economy. In a healthy open economy, information makes the essential contribution to this trust.

These developments affect the requirements for business information, and the attention we need to pay to relevant legislation in these areas in addition to the focus on data protection and data availability. In short, with the increased scope in the Trade Finance value chain, the purpose of collecting and processing business information is no longer limited to credit information. This opens the door to new aspects and legislation that help shape the structure of our business. As long as it is in the common interest of FEBIS members, FEBIS will keep these developments on our agenda.

This also presents a challenge. Where does industry common interest end and where does corporate strategy begin? In other words, what can FEBIS do for you? And let's not forget, what can you do for FEBIS? After all, we are a membership organization with 151 members and more than 30 thousand employees worldwide in 63 countries. Our guide in answering this question are the FEBIS principles, mission and focus-points that were established last year with the support of all of you. An example is the basic principle of transparency in commerce, global membership with the regulatory focus on Europe and EU. Another important principle for FEBIS is ‘legitimate interest’ as the lawful basis for processing data and the position that we are Business Information providers and our data-subjects are companies.


As president of FEBIS, one of my main tasks is to monitor and keep this commonality real and accurate. With members large and small, local and international, this is not always easy. But we now have a good structure that contributes to this with a professional secretariat, a well-established Regulatory Committee and a new Ambassador Committee, a board with a treasurer, two elected auditors and biennial elections of the board. As well as many networking and information-sharing opportunities with and between members through events, webinars, newsletters, podcasts, committees and more. The past few years were partly about preparing FEBIS for the future. Today we can say that the future has begun. In 2024 and 2025, we will work on becoming more visible and relevant to members than ever before, hoping to serve the 151 members and engage more of the 30 thousand employees in various areas of common interest.


The man and the company

To return to my reading over the Christmas vacations. Another common view that jumps out is that the lack of access to trade finance for SMEs is one of the key challenges hindering the growth of the global trade finance market. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have great difficulty accessing finance on affordable terms. There are financial problems for SMEs in both developed and developing economies, but the problems are greater in low-income countries. Not much news, I published an article in the Financieel Dagblad (financial newspaper) on June 11, 2012 on the same topic*).


As we know, paradoxically, it is precisely this group of companies where we suffer from a lack of structured data. The most commonly used source of short-term financing in the SME sector is conventional trade credit. In other words, the SME sector's biggest bank is its suppliers, which means largely our customer-base. If the SME sector is the engine of our economy, then information is the oil in the machine to keep credit lines open. It's all about trust. Our industry provides the oil and confidence through adequate information about SMEs. Mistakenly confusing the entrepreneur as a private person in private-domain with his business in a market-situation results in information inequality. This causes market inefficiencies and a vicious cycle that makes it even more difficult to do business with these types of companies. This is not about the risk-exposure per individual SME company, this may be relatively small. But the SME sector in total is large and relevant to a healthy economy and SME companies are widely present in sales ledgers and risk-portfolios of all our B2B clients.

The man and his company. And in many ways, they are not the same.


The SME sector certainly benefits from transparency and efficient provision of information. It is sole traders and unregistered companies that largely make up the SME sector. And it is precisely these businesses that are - in my observation also unsolicited – ‘protected’ by implementations of GDPR legislation. In my opinion this is due to a mistaken identity: there is the man and his company. And in many ways, they are not the same.

It is a very deliberate choice by a natural person, man, woman or it, to start a  business and enter the business domain. And because a business acts, trades, transacts and creates economic value, different information rules apply. These are based on economic principles of business transparency and fair competition rather than the principles of privacy in personal space. And if individuals have great difficulty managing their business transparently, there is always the option of forming a limited liability company if they  really want to avoid mixing their personal and business lives.

There is always the option of forming a limited liability company if they really want to avoid mixing their personal and business lives.

Mistaken identities

However, regulators, authorities and some legal professionals are trying to trick us into taking a legal approach to the definition of legal entity versus sole proprietorship and data that can be traced directly or indirectly to a natural person. It is therefore very important for us as an industry to present the economic reality against this. That every business is a part of the value chain, purchasing goods and services, entering into transactions to make a profit and also having to pay value added tax (VAT) on them. After all, consumers do not have a VAT number, businesses do. The role and position of the sole proprietor business is completely different from the role as a natural person, human being, father, son, mother or daughter.


Our industry collects and processes relevant data in the context of the B2B Trade Finance value chain, not as consumers. Not  personal credit but business credit, we don't want to know the home address we are interested in the business address, we don't want to know anything about the family but we want to know how many employees work in the company, we don't want to know hobbies but we want to know the industry, we may not even be interested in the age of the person but we are interested in the age of the company.


To complete the picture of mistaken identity, companies - large and small - can be created and dissolved multiple times. This is not a supernatural process or some fictional multiverse. On the contrary, it is simply what a person can decide to do with his business!

Natural persons, on the other hand, are born and die again. Usually only once. And usually not by their own decision.

Time for desert

I am slowly beginning to see this paradox of transparency and privacy as a black hole. Here the legal gravity is so strong that the differences between consumers and  businesses disappear and where corporate data fades away. This leaves us with a huge information gap. And once sole proprietorships and unregistered businesses find themselves in this black hole, they become isolated from the rest of the world and  economic reality. For practical reasons, these companies then disappear from the Trade Finance universe. This makes their access to traditional trade finance more difficult and, at the very least, costlier and more inefficient. Unlike real black holes, this paradoxical state of privacy and transparency by which these black holes are formed is not so unimaginable and remote. FEBIS is on an expedition and will continue to promote its

principles and the need for good open information provision.

The legal gravity is so strong that the difference between consumers and the businesses disappear and corporate data fades away.

Looking back on my Christmas dinner conversation about our industry. I think I will stick with my initial

answer ‘something to do with information’.



a Gertjan Kaart original,

no AI-generated content, no photoshop.

President FEBIS

January 5, 2024


*) You might find the FD-article on my LinkedIn account for those who can read Dutch.


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