Personalised approach to international business

From funding and transferring payments to navigating myriad laws and regulations: Dutch businesses pursuing international opportunities face no shortage of challenges. What's more, these challenges only increase as they venture farther from home. From the Dutch network Rabobank supports its 55,000 Dutch customers with international business interests online and through its International Desks. 'We've found that this type of support strengthens and improves the relationship with the customer.'

Of the roughly 200,000 Dutch businesses operating in the international market – which run the gamut from equipment manufacturers exporting to Asia, broccoli farmers marketing their vegetables in Britain, car dealers importing used vehicles from Germany and trading companies opening branches in Africa – a total of 55,000 are Rabobank customers. While these companies of all sizes representing a broad cross-section of industries conduct the bulk of their trade with surrounding EU countries, they are finding that the real growth is to be found in Asia and the Americas.

Strategic importance

'We have noticed that Dutch businesses are building their presence internationally more than ever before. As well as helping to achieve their growth objectives, this enables them to diversify their risk. This internationalisation process is a boost both to the businesses themselves and for the Dutch economy overall. The growth of Dutch business is of strategic importance to Rabobank, and that is of course true at the individual level as well, when our customers decide to branch out internationally', says Caroline Steenvoort, Rabobank's Global Head of International Services. The bank supports these customers in a variety of ways, including through its twenty International Desks. The Dutch-speaking employees at these Desks assist customers in conducting business locally, supported by local Rabobank experts. These colleagues in the global Rabobank network manage funding, bank accounts, foreign currencies and lease contracts.

Discouraged by foreign laws and regulations

A GfK survey commissioned by Rabobank and conducted among 440 companies in spring 2015 reveals that businesses feel the need for support in their international ventures. Many companies toying with the idea of moving their business abroad view the international laws and regulations as a barrier and tend to be daunted by the prospect of building a network and finding the right partners. Businesses already operating internationally, for their part, regard defaulting customers, exchange-rate risk and transport risk as the most significant risks. They see the bank as a 'sparring partner'.

A series of online seminars on conducting international business, organised by Rabobank for the first time in Spring 2015, reflect the interest among Dutch companies in overseas expansion. The seminars were attended by 1,250 business owners – a number that far exceeded expectations – and a series of new seminars are in the pipeline.

Overlap

Dutch businesses have access to a wide variety of information and facilities – but this may actually be part of the problem. Steenvoort: 'There are a large number of public and private sector organisations whose activities partially overlap. As a result, Dutch small- and medium-sized enterprises have not expanded internationally at the same rate as those in other European countries such as Denmark, Germany and Britain. Those countries have different policies in place for promoting international trade. Sure, it's the entrepreneurship that matter the most at the end of the day, but we are missing out on opportunities because we could be doing a better job of supporting our customers. That's why it is a good thing that the government is working with businesses to see how the situation might be improved.'

Within its own organisation, Rabobank is in the process of adapting its services to better align with the needs of customers looking to expand internationally.

As Steenvoort explains, the coordination between local Rabobanks, International Services and foreign Rabobank offices improves. In turn this leads to better services to the customers.

'Customers with international business interests can run into any number of challenges. But we are there for them no matter what, even when things get tough.'

Caroline Steenvoort, Global Head International Services at Rabobank.

Intricate business

Even though standard information and payments within Europe are increasingly being offered and conducted online, assisting customers in doing international business tends to require a personalised approach – and the farther afield a business ventures, the greater the challenges can be. A business looking to finance a new branch in Asia or Africa, for instance, has to deal with issues related to local risks in the country in question, guarantees and collateral, also in conjunction with activities in the Netherlands.

The Dutch government launched the Dutch Good Growth Fund in 2014 to encourage businesses to start ventures in developing countries. The fund serves as a type of guarantee, in conjunction with other sources of funding. Using the fund is a fairly intricate business, but the effort has paid off, with several Rabobank customers having taken advantage of the facility during its first year in operation. Steenvoort: 'It's an outstanding facility for businesses that require financing for activities in difficult countries with a high risk.'

Strengthening customer relationships

Steenvoort believes that supporting business owners in their international operations improves the relationship between the bank and its customers. 'In the international business, we engage in a strategic dialogue with our customers and discuss the various alternatives available. Customers with international business interests can run into any number of challenges. But we are there for them no matter what, even when things get tough. We've found that this type of support strengthens and improves the relationship with the customer.'