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For just over ten years, HSBC adverts ran with the strapline ‘The World’s Local Bank’ – and despite retracting the slogan around 2011, it has continued to put itself forward as a globally-fluent banking organisation in the media. I rather liked the advert a few years ago showing the girl selling lemonade in multiple currencies, speaking different languages, because it expresses a very common problem in a very simple fashion.
A few years ago, I came across a large IT company which had its research and development office in Japan and its sales operations near San Francisco. In terms of skills and knowledge, this made complete sense. In terms of communication and the running of the business, it was a complete disaster! Of course, eventually both parts of the business ran cultural awareness training sessions, and after a few months, things ran smoothly again.
I’ve also come across this at a very personal level. As a self-confessed emphatic, gesticulatory Italian, I am keenly aware that this can be a mismatch for some more, shall we say, reserved financial services professionals.
This localisation problem is exactly what merchants face when they start to expand. Many grow, and see expansion to new countries or vertical markets as the next logical step – but it can be tough. After all, regulations around things like gambling, gaming and pharmaceuticals is one thing, but local customs and views can also have a significant impact.
It’s not just small, expanding merchants who have problems with this; in 2013, Tesco pulled out of the US market, after significantly under-estimating the competition from brands like Walmart. Marks and Spencer, and Sainsbury’s have had similar experiences, so there’s a very real problem here. Many merchants may think to themselves ‘If Tesco can’t get it right, what chance do we have?’
This is where large acquirers can help. Organisations like HSBC may shy away from labelling themselves as a truly ‘global’ brand, but to some extent, it doesn’t matter. As long as the team has experience in the right market, it doesn’t matter if an acquirer has truly global coverage. And obviously, as an acquiring bank, the more money flowing in from the merchant helps you!
Now, I’ve shied away from saying the ‘B-word’ until now, but I really don’t see Brexit as a barrier to this process. It’ll make expansion and European trade tougher, but international trade isn’t just going to shut up shop overnight. In fact, given the ambiguity around working with Europe, many merchants may simply shrug and look further afield to the ‘relative’ simplicity of selling to non-European countries until the problems settle down.
So please consider this to be my clarion call for the payments ecosystem to come together and be supportive. Together we can conquer difficult markets, whatever the conditions – and when our ecosystem is so closely tied together, everyone benefits from more trade.
I think I’ll start my campaign with a nice cold lemonade. Paid for with bitcoin, of course!
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