Dan March: How WCA is backing the independents
19 / 06 / 2017
Just keeping up with all the activities of WCA can leave one a little dizzy. Its founder and outright owner David Yokeum has spent two decades relentlessly travelling the world and creating not one but four different global networks for independent forwarders, and six specialist ones.
He has now stepped back to take on a chairman role, heading a newly-created advisory board that includes Ram Menen, former cargo boss at Emirates. Taking over the job of chief executive is Dan March, WCA communications director for over five years, and before that editor of this publication.
It is a somewhat unusual transition, perhaps, to go from journalist to heading a global company, but March is no newcomer to strategic decision-making, having closely been involved on the commercial and management side of WCA for the past three years.
He thinks that his journalistic background is no disadvantage either. “Having worked for over ten years on the media side does give you a very broad view of the industry. You learn a lot and talk to a whole range of different people.”
March will need that broad understanding as he pilots an organisation with over 6,000 forwarder members in 190 countries, 160 staff and eight offices around the world; a main base in Bangkok, an IT-focused operation in India, and offices in Amsterdam for Europe, Istanbul for the Middle East and CIS, Accra for Africa, Shanghai for China and Miami for the Americas.
WCA’s forwarder networks include WCA First, the original one set up in 1997, WCA Advanced Professionals, which followed two years later when the first WCA became too full, WCA China Global linking smaller Chinese forwarders to the world, and WCA Inter Global focused on India.
To these it added six specialist networks — WCA Pharma, Perishables, Time Critical, Project, Relocation and DGR, whose members have some overlap with the main global networks.
There is also an “affiliated network”, Lognet Global (also owned by WCA), which limits membership to three or four members per market. And a “side network” — WCA Vendors — for companies that provide services to forwarders, such as airlines, IT and charter brokers.
The vendor network apart, the aim of these networks is to provide smaller forwarders with partners that they can trust around the world. Each has its own conferences, and there is an annual conference that brings all the networks together. These create extensive opportunities for forwarders to meet and get to know counterparties.
Unlike most forwarder networks, however, the WCA ones are wholly owned by Yokeum. His aim was to avoid the politics that arise in multi-member organisations. March says it also enables WCA to make quick decisions and develop efficiently new ideas from members. “It makes this a very dynamic place to work,” he says.
Another key benefit WCA offers is financial guarantees. Members can claim up to $100,000 if a deal with another member of its network goes awry, or $50,000 in a transaction with members of other WCA networks.
March says such claims are limited to $2m a year across the whole of WCA, but that in practice they have never approached that figure. “But it has reached 50% of that total, so that shows that we do pay out. We paid out a significant amount last year.”
That gives WCA a huge incentive to resolve disputes, and this is one of the roles performed by its 160 staff. March says 98% get smoothed over in this way. WCA also conducts rigorous vetting of forwarders who apply to join, insisting that they have been in business at least three years, getting references, and visiting premises to validate their claims.
The result, March says, is that WCA members can do business with confidence in new markets.
“Let us say you have a customer who is an exporter and who gains a new contract in South America. It is a big risk for you to go out and find a new agent in a country in which you have no experience. But with WCA, our people in the region will find you a new partner without any risk.”
WCA also facilitates payments between members, having created Partner Pay, which allows members to transfer money instantly worldwide. March estimates this can save up to $10,000 a year in bank fees.
The company’s biggest investment in recent years, however, has been WIN, a complete e-freight solution for its members. Accessible via the web or capable of being integrated into third party forwarding software, it has filled what the organisation saw as a gap in the market.
“We never wanted to be an IT company, and it has been a big challenge for us that has taught us a lot,” says March. “But we felt that smaller forwarders were being left behind in this area.”
WIN has twelve modules and initial ones, which went live over a year ago, focused on putting air and sea schedules online, and providing a platform for members to get quotes from each other. In the last six months the airfreight module — providing e-booking, e-air waybills, the capability to send all documents electronically, and track and trace — has also been undergoing pilots.
WCA has been working to integrate WIN with various other forwarder systems, with eight integrated so far and another four imminent.
Some 18 airlines have also been connected, with 80-90 more reached via Traxon. March says more direct airline connections will be added each month.
It is clearly early days for WIN, with the quotes module racking up about 1,000 requests so far, and about 150 forwarders using the airfreight module. WCA will be making a big push this year to educate members about the new system and get them using it.
But March points to the fact that some offices of multinational forwarders are already using WIN — it is not necessary to be a WCA member to use the system — as a sign that it is delivering the right functionality.
Helping it along is a deal between WCA and Etihad that will see the carrier offer special rates to WCA members who either book via WIN or using their own electronic air waybills.
March sees such incentives as a good way to attract more forwarders to electronic methods.
He is talking to a handful of other carriers, including one in Europe and another in North America, but says WCA will probably only work with one airline partner per region. “We have developed a lot of schemes with Etihad and that involved a lot of trial and error,” he says. “They were the first airline to make that effort, so it is only fair now to give them some exclusivity.”
Other plans in the pipeline include a possible product to support e-commerce — the cross-border movement of retail products bought over the internet. March convened a session at a recent conference in Miami, and was surprised by the level of interest.
Last year, WCA also created a new network — the Global Affinity Alliance — for start-up companies that don’t qualify for its main networks due to not having three years track record — for example, middle managers setting up their own business after their former companies were taken over.
Being higher risk, it is offering smaller financial guarantees to such companies, but has still attracted 150 members in just ten months.
It seems that demand for the kind of services that WCA provides is in no danger of being exhausted any time soon, and March will almost certainly be racking up the air miles in the years ahead.