Bangladesh has a huge opportunity to secure a larger share of the global RMG export market, if local manufacturers use digital tools to showcase their products, capabilities and credentials to international buyers, said Chief Executive Officer Vivek Ramachandran of Serai, a B2B platform and corporate venture owned by HSBC.
In an exclusive interview, Vivek Ramachandran talked about Serai and potentiality of Bangladesh's RM sector.
How is Serai different from other platforms for the RMG sector?
Serai is uniquely positioned to connect apparel suppliers, buyers and brands worldwide, allowing them to build new relationships or strengthen existing ones. We are investing in bringing both large and emerging global and local brands to join the platform. Serai's platform allows these businesses to showcase their strengths, services, products and facilities. Essentially, Serai uses technology to facilitate and shape the future of international trade. With the upcoming movements in trade flows, we see huge potential to connect South Asian manufacturers to global buyers.
The platform is easy to use and offers an intuitive user interface. We've built a large network of over 2300 apparel suppliers and buyers on the platform, including well known Bangladeshi manufacturers such as Envoy Textiles, DBL Group and Viyellatex.
We continue to build on the platform to introduce valuable features to our customers so that Serai becomes a one-stop portal for facilitating international trade. Recently, Serai announced partnerships with top risk management and data analytics companies to help companies on our platform assess and monitor credit risk of their counterparties. We also launched Unify, a solution aimed at providing enterprises with visibility into their global supply chains. Businesses can easily integrate various external data sources to create visual dashboards to gain valuable knowledge and insights to help increase efficiency, mitigate compliance and regulatory risk, and meet growing consumer standards.
Serai is a B2B platform for the RMG sector. Can you elaborate on what that means?
Serai allows suppliers, manufacturers, buyers and brands in the garments and apparel sector worldwide to develop new relationships, showcase their strengths and services and grow their online presence. We offer a platform where suppliers and manufactures can create a company profile and highlight key areas of their business which include certifications of sustainability and compliance. Members of the platform also get exclusive access to industry news, views and data shaping global trends in the apparel sector.
Serai is an essential evolving resource that gives businesses control and ownership over their data and digital assets. It's all about helping members overcome the challenges and complexities of international trade – and making it easier for everyone. An example of how we do that is Unify, a solution for enterprise clients that allows them to access and exchange complex supply chain information from multiple sources to achieve their supply chain transparency goals.
How big is Serai in the global arena? Can you share with us?
Serai is less than a year old and already has over 2300 manufacturers and buyers on our platform, coming from over 30 countries, including Bangladesh, India, Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. We are continuously building on our offerings and recently introduced various solutions to help apparel buyers and brands to manage risk and have a transparent overview over their supply chain, an issue that is so pertinent in today's world.
What are Serai's current operations in Bangladesh? Also, could you share Serai's future plans in Bangladesh?
Bangladesh is a key target market for Serai and a major hub for apparel manufacturing. We have recently hired a Head of Business Development in Bangladesh and launched several new initiatives aimed at strengthening the digital presence of local manufacturers. We also have a close partnership with associations such as the BGMEA and continue to work closely with our HSBC colleagues in Dhaka to grow Bangladesh's share of the global RMG export market
Tell us about the free digital profile building services provided to manufacturers.
We believe that Bangladesh has a huge opportunity to secure a larger share of the global RMG export market, if local manufacturers use digital tools to showcase their products, capabilities and credentials to international buyers. Serai's platform allows manufacturers to do exactly that, to build a profile to highlight their strengths and showcase their products and services. We chose to embark on this free profile building service for the RMG sector in Bangladesh because we truly believe in the potential of the market.
To that end, we're funding an initiative connecting local manufacturers with digital agencies in Dhaka, who will create marketing assets to promote their businesses online. The agencies will produce promotional assets for Bangladeshi manufacturers such as videos and photos of products, facilities, fabrics and other items that are crucial in building a strong online presence.
What is the prerequisite for onboarding on your platform for the manufacturers?
Any manufacturer and supplier can create a profile on the Serai platform for free. However, it is important that they leverage on their profile fully to showcase their services so they can reach the most suitable buyers. We highly encourage the suppliers on the platform to build their profile to showcase their strengths which include their facilities, types of products they offer and certifications they have. This would help them connect with buyers who are looking for such requirements. Buyers set the criteria that matter to them and search for manufacturers on that basis.
How can B2B solutions make change in Bangladesh's RMG sector?
Digital B2B solutions and platforms are accelerating international trade development for all countries and all industries. With platforms such as Serai's, not only do RMG businesses in Bangladesh have easy access to buyers and brands worldwide, they can easily be found by these buyers as well. This has become especially important during this COVID-19 pandemic, which has made adoption of digital methods essential. Leveraging digital B2B solutions can also help RMG manufacturers cut down on exorbitant marketing and operational costs while improving efficiency. Imagine being able to showcase all your products comprehensively online. Going further, with such a huge focus on sustainability in the supply chain these days, digital B2B platforms can play a part in helping the apparel industry be transparent and show compliance in their operations, they can also aid in manufacturers and buyers map out their supply chain. On the whole, such tools can help advance the industry into one that is more accountable, innovative and connected.
Do you have any plans to work with BGMEA in the near future?
Serai, and our parent company HSBC, have enjoyed a strong partnership with the BGMEA. This has led to us collaborating on several initiatives such as events, webinars and, most recently, an initiative where we help RMG manufacturers in Bangladesh build or strengthen their digital profiles on the Serai platform.
What are your thoughts regarding Bangladesh's RMG sector? Any challenges you are facing?
Bangladesh is one of the key markets for Serai. With our focus on the apparel industry and the RMG sector being the main export sector in Bangladesh, it's a clear synergy. We believe the industry still holds a lot of potential if it can move past the traditional way of working. It's still a very offline industry and we've found that many manufacturers don't have an online presence. Obviously this has presented a key challenge for them in growing their business this year due to COVID-19. We've had to work closely with many of the local businesses in educating them of the benefits of going digital and even helping them build digital profiles. On the positive side, we've found that many Bangladeshi RMG manufacturers are receptive to going digital but lack the knowledge of how to do so.
In what areas Bangladesh's RMG sector needs to improve? What might be the possible solutions?
Traditionally the RMG sector in Bangladesh has been over-reliant on exporting to major markets such as Europe and the United States. With the economy in Asia going from strength to strength, the sector is missing a huge opportunity by not targeting markets in this region. That said, it could be hard for local manufacturers to broaden their scope without the right connections and that's where online B2B or ecommerce platforms can help.
Another key area which I discussed previously is the need to shift to a tech-savvy mindset and business model. The sector should take advantage of the various innovations in the industry such as 3D prototyping to differentiate themselves. Manufacturers in Bangladesh are known for the quality of their products and services, but they are not particularly good at marketing themselves. It's important for them to build a stronger digital presence and adopt a B2C mindset in a B2B world.
Lastly, with buyers becoming increasingly sophisticated and eco-conscious, Bangladeshi RMG manufacturers need to do better in focusing on and showing compliance of their operations. The trend is shifting from fast fashion to more durable, high quality materials and a huge emphasis on sustainability. It's important that the industry in Bangladesh progresses accordingly so as not to be left behind.
Tell us about yourself and your vision with the company.
Before Serai, I had built a career in banking and management consulting. Most recently, I was the Global Head of Growth & Innovation for HSBC Commercial Banking where I was responsible for coordinating key strategic growth initiatives, exploring new business models and driving the adoption of new technologies. I was also responsible for HSBC's Global Trade and Receivables Finance products. It was during that role that I saw an opportunity in digitising the way businesses built relationships and the idea for Serai was born. We wanted to build a platform that helped businesses build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. In just over a year, we've gotten more than 2300 businesses on the platform. My vision, eventually, is for every business in the world to have a Serai profile.
Lastly, do you have any plans to visit Bangladesh in the future?
With Bangladesh being a key market for Serai, we are extremely committed to it. We have strong relationships with the government and the RMG business community there.
I visited Dhaka twice in the six months prior to COVID and really look forward to returning when travel opens. I look forward to the warmth of the people and the opportunity to meet our clients again.
About Vivek Ramachandran
He is the chief executive officer of Serai. Before Serai, Vivek was the Global Head of Growth & Innovation for HSBC Commercial Banking. He was responsible for coordinating key strategic growth initiatives, exploring new business models and driving the adoption of new technologies. He was also the Global Head of Product for HSBC's Trade & Receivables Finance business. Prior to joining HSBC, Vivek was the co-founder and CEO of VTA, a boutique advisory firm working with banks across Europe and Asia. He previously held senior management positions at Barclays and Lloyds Bank. Vivek has a Ph.D in Economics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, where he received the University's highest recognition award for his accomplishments in teaching and research.
Serai is an online business-to-business platform launched by HSBC in 2019. It's designed to help companies build trusted relationships and grow their business.
Initially focused on the apparel sector, Serai aims to simplify digital global trade. Members can easily build a global showcase to promote their products and services, connect with other businesses to develop new and grow existing relationships.
Serai also presents news, insights and trends shaping the future of the apparel sector.
The Serai community is evolving into an essential business resource where members can find and develop opportunities, and overcome the challenges and complexities of global trade.
For more information, visit www.seraitrade.com