I started my business at the onset of the recession in 2008; I'm no stranger to managing uncertainty. But the UK's recent decision to leave the EU is a curve ball, particularly for an importing company like mine.
Freeworld Foods imports 150,000 tonnes of frozen vegetables every year. We mainly source with our key partners in Northern Spain, but also with sweetcorn providers in Hungary, bean growers in China, and a host of other producers from around the world. Our customers in the UK range from food retailers to manufacturers, who enjoy the broader choice of vegetables arriving from the Mediterranean and further afield - made within reach because of Freeworld Foods and other cross-border businesses.
With the majority of our imports sourced in Europe, we already feel the effects of a post-Brexit exchange - but we are resilient and times have changed since the global recession. Technology in particular has developed significantly and has played a more sophisticated role in how we - and I can safely say many other SMEs - run a business.
Fintech as it is now widely known, has revolutionised Freeworld Foods. In the company's infancy, my cash management strategy involved burying myself in a pile of Excel spreadsheets. This worked for a time, but as the company grew, it became more difficult; I wasted too much time transferring figures from one tab to another - and I began to use a variety of platforms to help streamline the increasing activity.
Finance is certainly not my area of expertise. I am in the business of selling vegetables, not FX trading. Yet, setting up an importing business, it came with the territory. At first, it was a trial-and-error game - dipping our toes in and testing the water before slowly figuring out how things worked.
We experimented with a number of platforms in our years of heavier growth, and first began to use Western Union's expertise in the area of foreign currency, to better inform our decisions and make our processes more efficient. Most recently, we introduced Western Union's EDGE platform to consolidate our payment process. Technologies like EDGE have the ability to create a seamless workflow for SMEs like mine, managing every stage of the transaction from order to payment. With fluctuations and uncertainty in the marketplace, this is becoming increasingly important - and EDGE not only helps us organise our payments, but to monitor our FX exposure.
As EDGE and other platforms are introduced and enhanced, small businesses like mine have the tools and solutions available to meet growth opportunities, and more so now than ever - evaluate our risks in unknown, uncertain economic territory.
A month after the vote for the UK to leave the European Union, we are fighting against a 15% difference in exchange rates. And as our customers themselves grow wary of the unfavourable post-Brexit rates, these technologies give us peace of mind, and the confidence to advise and deliver in the most effective way.
We are also approaching the harvest season, a period when contracts are signed and deals are made. Our customers are facing a massive inflation on any imported vegetable and we are competing against a cheaper local vegetable grown in the UK.
But Britain needs to import; we cannot produce enough food on home soil to feed the population and our customers know that. While I don't know what a post-EU nation will mean for certain, my focus is reassuring customers of the continued quality of our service. This is something I can control and while currency fluctuation is not, Fintech can help navigate that uncertainty.
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