Economic recovery post-COVID-19
Economic recovery post-COVID-19
Interview with Oliver Bonavero
Founder, Woodsford TradeBridge
We interviewed one of our founders, Olivier Bonavero, to find out his opinion on the shape of the economic recovery from COVID-19 across different sectors.
The UK is fortunate to be strong in both the tech and finance sectors which would bode well for a quicker “V-shaped” recovery – what other sectors do you foresee setting the pace in the new economy?
It is true that the UK relies heavily on its financial services engine, which contributes some 7% of GDP (House of Commons Library, Financial Services: contribution to the UK economy 2019). This is a double-edged sword: when times are good and the global economy is firing on all cylinders, the UK financial services industry does very well. Conversely, when the global economy stutters or falls into recession, the sector suffers. All those lucrative corporate transactions – mergers, acquisitions, IPOs, debt issuance – which feed the UK’s financial services sector, slow down abruptly. So it is a highly cyclical component of the economy.
It’s currently the fashion to pick a letter which best describes your view of the economic recovery. Are you an optimistic “V”? Or a pessimistic “L”? Or a middle-ground “U”? Or a “K”, concerned about a socially unequal recovery? A “W” who fears an inevitable second and third wave. There is a letter for everybody.
My own view is shaped around a single central anchor: COVID-19 is an external shock, with a start point (early 2020) and an endpoint (perhaps mid-2021).
I do not think there was anything terribly unstable about the global economy in late 2019. Some pockets of excess certainly; some bubbles which needed deflating; well-understood challenges for brick-and-mortar retail in the face of the shift online; the usual merry-go-round in airlines; concerns around a (so-called) trade war between China and the USA; and – from the UK’s perspective – the dark cloud of Brexit on the horizon. But by and large, the global economy was doing well.
I expect that we will return to that level of output, once a vaccine is found. I expect that the economy post-vaccine will closely resemble the economy pre-COVID. So although it makes much better news to cast COVID-19 as a paradigm shift, the safer bet (as almost always) is to assume that things will get back to the way they were.
There might even be a few “upside surprises”: consumer behaviour might be more exuberant than expected, as we all rediscover the pleasure of partying with our friends and families. Carpe diem could be the defining motto of the post-COVID generation, and a roaring twenties might follow, a century after the original.
In the meantime, while we are all stuck in the waiting room, we muddle along – with a remarkable level of efficiency – and thanks to massive governmental support the engines of broad economic output are kept intact, ready to fire up again as soon as that becomes possible.
Woodford TradeBridge is an international business – which economies (countries) do you think will recover quickest and why?
The global economy is too tightly interlinked for there to be a great deal of divergence in recovery. We are all waiting for the USA to be back up and firing on all cylinders.
That said, I have been impressed with recovery indicators in China (consumer spending patterns, car sales, home sales, electricity consumption – these are all back to their pre-COVID highs) which bodes well for Asia generally. I expect our office in Singapore to be a growth engine for us in the coming years.
Europe has had a tough COVID crisis, as we all know. However, EU governments have been smart and proactive, and I suspect the damage to the underlying economic engines has been mitigated by very deep state support mechanisms. Certainly, at Woodsford TradeBridge we are pushing ahead with the expansion of our Paris office, to meet growing demand from the European eCommerce sector.
What must businesses prepare for to ensure that they continue to trade and how can Woodsford TradeBridge help them?
Each business is individual and unique, and no business owner needs lessons from Woodsford TradeBridge on how to run their affairs!
What they all have in common though, is a need for financial support which is deep enough and flexible enough to allow them to seize good opportunities when they arise.
I would also urge business leaders not to underestimate the value of diversifying their base of financial partners. Diversification is the only free lunch in finance, and it is a powerful insurance policy.
The last major economic downturn saw the rise of fintech companies like Woodsford TradeBridge. How well prepared is fintech as a sector to forge a path in the new economy?
One of the upside surprises of COVID has been the fintech sector. It will emerge from this crisis much enhanced. As a sector, we have shown ourselves to be mature, well-run, professional actors in the finance space.
We have been an integral delivery mechanism for the government’s support and recovery framework. I’m proud that the government chose to rely on Woodsford TradeBridge – together with a number of other fintech companies – to distribute CBILS loans to SMEs. While some perhaps more “traditional” financial companies (yes, the big banks) were struggling to find their footing as the shutdown took over, Woodsford TradeBridge never missed a beat. Our entire global workforce switched seamlessly to remote working without any interruption to client support. We proved that we could be counted on when we were needed the most.
The COVID crisis will, I think, be seen in the future as fintech’s “coming of age”.
We are already starting to see change and innovation, and new businesses start to emerge, particularly in tech and the digital space. How can Woodsford TradeBridge support businesses like this to grow?
We specialise in eCommerce, which will continue to see tremendous growth and acceleration, and which remains poorly understood by traditional banks. As a fintech company embedded in the eCommerce space, we have the systems and capabilities to work seamlessly, platform-to-platform, to transform data flows into financial support.
Put simply, our technology, and our understanding of our clients’ data and business, allows us to offer better terms. Larger working capital facilities, at a lower cost, than our competitors. It’s a powerful edge which our clients can put to work to capture market share in a growth environment.