Q&A with Henning Rahlf, Head of Business Development Credit & Surety at SCHUMANN.
Q. Could you tell me a little about the history of SCHUMANN?
A. We started in 1997 as a provider of software solutions for credit risk assessment and our first client was a German trade credit insurance company. We have always been pioneers in the industry: in the 90s connecting insurers to information agencies, in the 00s building the interfaces between insurers and their clients´ ERP systems, and now creating whole ecosystems with insurers, clients and brokers by providing fully integrated end-to-end solutions. This has always been very challenging but also really exciting.
Q. Please describe your current job?
A. Business development can mean anything, I know!
Here at SCHUMANN, business development is a mix of strategic product development, key account management, underscored by a close understanding of our clients' needs. Our primary goal is to provide our clients with practical, packaged 'turn-key' solutions which can be readily adapted to reflect and respond to their individual requirements. Through a close collaboration in terms of products, platforms and APIs with the trade credit insurance companies we work with, we all win.
Q. What was your first project?
A. It was a project with a German information provider. We were the first company in Germany to succeed in making the annual report data of millions of German companies available within seconds. At the time, nobody believed it could be done, but we did it! Using AI to generate additional value from mass data, we also set up algorithms to rate companies' financial data; another industry first!
Q. What is your current professional goal?
A. There is tremendous scope for technology to be integrated with the trade credit insurance industry, and my personal goal is to help this become a reality. I believe that both our clients and the whole market would benefit tremendously by more APIs, standard file formats, standardised wordings, and so on. I have a strong belief that credit lines can learn a few things from B2C insurances lines.
Q. Who is the business person you most admire?
A.From a tech perspective, I admire people like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Having a clear vision of a product that can potentially change peoples' lives is amazing and inspires my business life. From a leadership perspective and among the people I know myself, it is undoubtedly the founder of SCHUMANN. She managed to balance raising her family with growing the business and finding the right people to help her develop the company into a market-leading solution provider. She's created a unique working atmosphere which I have been proud to be a part of for the last 12 years.
Q. What is the most important lesson you have learned in business?
A. It’s the same in private life and business; you win as a team.
Q. In your experience, how has the credit insurance industry changed over the last few years?
A. In the last twenty years that SCHUMANN has been associated with the trade credit insurance industry, it has become more digital for sure. I have seen a lot of changes regarding the availability of data, speed of decisions and scalability of business models. But to be honest, there is still a long way to go, especially in the surety business.
Q. What do you think the industry's next big challenge will be?
A. One of the biggest challenges will be for growth through digitalisation. Industry leaders will have to adapt to this new 'platform economy', and the next couple of years will determine whether they will succeed in becoming an important part of the value chain. Technology and IT is vital to help deal with the complexity and speed of change in the market. The second, and possibly even more important challenge, is to make trade credit
insurance more attractive, especially to SMEs. Unfortunately, many companies still consider trade credit insurance too complicated and are not aware of its benefits. By using technology, we have the chance to make the products both more straightforward and accessible.
Q.Do you think the UK should stay in or leave the EU?
A. I have always been a fan of the European community, so the answer is obvious to me on a personal level. But also from a business perspective, I don’t like the uncertainty we have in the market right now - as well as the financial cost. I would wish for our UK clients and prospects to stay.
Q. What do you enjoy in your spare time?
A. I spend a lot of time on the water, mostly sailing. I really like the freedom you get when you untie the rope, leave the harbour and set sail. You have to rely on yourself, your preparations for the trip and especially on your crew. This year, we sailed from the Netherlands down the coast past Belgium and France, crossed The Channel and finally arrived in Southampton. Entering a country this way and getting your entry permit from a harbour master is so much more satisfying than going through
electronic border control at an airport.
Q. Country or City?
A. As most of my business life takes place in cities, at the weekend I appreciate spending time walking and enjoying nature in the countryside or simply relaxing in my garden.
Q. What is your favourite music?
A. In contrast to my digital goals in business, I like to listen to and make analogue music. In my youth, I played piano in a folk-rock band and now, two or three times a year - family obligations permitting - we get together and play.
Q. What is your business/personal wish for 2020?
A. I would be happy to create a fully digital product with one of our clients, at least as an MVP in 2020. We have some terrific ideas which we are currently discussing with the credit insurance community.
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