Helping e-commerce business and online sellers to grow: Interview with Jeff Parker, CEO of WorldFirst

Scaling a business is not easy, particularly an e-commerce one. That is the beauty of the internet… but also its biggest drawback. You can launch and run a business from absolutely anywhere with a decent internet connection. And so can help anybody else. In that intensely competitive environment, how do you help e-commerce business and online sellers to grow? Fintech Review asked Jeff Parker, the CEO of WorldFirst, which recently came together with RITMO to launch the WorldFirst Growth Package.

Tell us more about WorldFirst. What is your elevator pitch?

WorldFirst is a global fintech and international payment service provider. We help importers, exporters and online buyers and sellers around the world to pay their suppliers and get paid by their customers quickly and easily.

We do this by making it really simple and easy to set up local business accounts in up to 10 currencies. Customers can do this online from the comfort of their home, for free, without the need for a foreign address.

Once their account is set up, they can link their account to more than 60+ marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy. As well as their online websites, and start collecting their sales revenue. 44% of product searches start on an e-commerce marketplace, so these platforms offer a great opportunity to grow internationally. 

It’s a fast, safe and affordable alternative to setting up and managing multiple business accounts in the countries they want to operate in. Which is a process that can take weeks or months. 

What is your background and what is the story behind the company?

We were set up in 2004 to help small and medium-sized businesses to manage their cross-border FX transactions. WorldFirst also wanted to tackle the complexities and high fees that meant small businesses were paying more than they should do. We wanted to make international payments faster, safer, easier and cheaper for them.

Since then, we’ve been on a journey to help global companies with their cross-border payment needs. WorldFirst provides them with the tools to grow internationally. We’ve evolved into a global fintech with 500+ employees and offices in London, Amsterdam, Singapore, Tokyo, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Sydney and Hong Kong. We also became part of the Ant Group in 2019. 

At the same time, we’ve not lost sight of what I think is one of our biggest strengths: our strong regional focus and quality of customer service. We know the needs and challenges of businesses are different in each of the countries we operate in. But there are also differences within a single country by region.

Core investment

In many of our core markets, we have invested a lot in building a local presence. As well as getting experts who understand the needs of businesses in each area. We wanted to offer a more personable approach, and take the time to understand our customers’ needs. In today’s tech-driven world, people really appreciate the ability to talk to a real person. 

Our local relationship managers are also focused on giving customers a helping hand. Especially for more complex aspects of their business such as managing exposure to different currencies and giving certainty over their cash flow. I like to say we offer a world-class service, supported by world-class technology.

The reality is that as our customers grow, we grow with them. What that means is that as they expand, their needs and requirements change. So, whether they are importers that need to pay their suppliers, exporters that are selling to customers around the world or online sellers, we try to help them as they grow. Whether that’s by improving our products or working with partners that complement what we do.

This means we can help a business in Dorset, Coventry or Manchester tap into new export channels, diversify their supply chains and access finance when they need to buy stock quickly or launch quickly into new countries.

What are the main challenges that e-commerce businesses are facing?

Timely access to finance and day-to-day working capital is often at the top of the wish list. All too often, the traditional routes to accessing finance and business loans have created barriers to growth. 

E-commerce businesses are often seen as too small or too risky, and delays in receiving their funds after they have been approved mean they miss out on potentially lucrative opportunities. 

This is a gap of about 8-12 weeks from the moment £1 cost comes back as revenue. Given the current supply chain challenges, this has increased to 12-18 weeks. With tighter margins and long stock-to-sale cycles, cash flow management has become the main issue for e-commerce businesses.

Quick access to working capital loans and tailored repayment models based on monthly revenue has the potential to be a gamechanger for these businesses. It allows them to operate with greater flexibility and freedom – just like their larger business peers.

Correct identification is key

Identifying the right markets, channels and services to grow and expand into new countries is also a key challenge. Many businesses have their sights set on international expansion this year and for good reason. But sometimes they’re not sure where to start, and this is where our technology and customers can add a lot of value.

We know how digitisation has made the global business landscape more borderless, but the same cannot be said for much of the international banking and payment systems. For example, it’s unreasonable to expect a small business in the UK to wait for weeks or months to open a foreign business account in each country it wants to expand into. 

We solve this problem for online sellers. Customers can open local currency accounts and link them to dozens of global marketplaces such as Amazon, AliExpress and Newegg. This provides instant access to a huge ready-made audience of consumers from around the world.

You’ve just launched a growth package with RITMO, tell us more about it?

That’s right. We came together with RITMO to launch the WorldFirst Growth Package. It combines our cross-border payment infrastructure with access to working capital loans through RITMO, an online growth platform specialised in financial solutions for online sellers. 

Our customers can apply for loans up to £3 million through RITMO. If they qualify, they’ll receive an offer in 24 hours and the money reaches their account in just five business days. The package is available to companies selling on online marketplaces, multi-platform sellers, aggregators and those selling on their websites and other digital channels. 

We think there’s a lot we can do to help online and e-commerce sellers in the UK grow their businesses through the combined value proposition of fair and easy access to working capital, international payments and FX.

Customers also benefit from a flexible repayment model. Each month, they pay a small percentage of their sales income. If sales fluctuate or fall, the financing period is extended at no additional cost.

Any innovation in fintech more broadly that you are really excited about?

Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy and I am passionate about anything that reduces friction and allows them to focus on what they do best – running their business.

As banking and payments become more digitised, the data we hold and how we utilise that data to unlock value for small businesses is a priority for me. Initiatives like open banking will allow us to offer more personalised products and services to our customers so they can grow more quickly.

Any plans for the future or product roadmap you want people to know about?

Absolutely. Our vision is to build a one-stop cross-border platform for digital payments and financial services. We want to help small and medium-sized businesses go international and to make that process as easy and seamless as possible.

Whether it be importing or exporting, online or offline, there are so many opportunities to support small and medium-sized businesses. The launch of our Growth Package was an important milestone for us, and we’re adding lots of new functionality and services for our customers.

Amongst other things, we’ll launch our new global platform that brings our current services into one easy-to-use global platform. We’ll also increase the number of online marketplaces we can support, launch a virtual credit card linked to the account and enhance the accounting integrations we have.

We’re very much in expansion and growth mode and looking to expand into new countries around the world this year. Stay tuned!