(Bloomberg) -- The old-school world of commodities trading is staring at a digital future, according to team of industry veterans and heavyweights looking to bring physical crop deals online.
When it comes to buying and selling materials crucial to building the world and feeding people, phone-based trades and the use of paper documents for cargo ownership are commonplace, while personal relationships are invaluable. But now startups like Vosbor Exchange BV, which includes previous heads of Bunge Ltd. and Glencore Plc’s agriculture unit, are trying to change that.
The Dutch firm, founded by former grain trader Maarten Elferink, has 35 companies testing its online trading platform. It plans to roll it out for actual trades — initially for soybeans, corn, palm oil and wheat — in the coming months, generating pricing data for cash-settled futures.
Vosbor’s board includes agriculture veteran Chris Mahoney, ex-Bunge chief Soren Schroder and Aryan Van Den Blink, who has worked at traders such as agribusiness giant Cargill Inc. and Noble Group.
The company says the platform helps lower costs and risks of physical transactions. But pitching the idea to some wasn’t so easy.
“I’m probably in the older segment of global traders. My initial reaction was ‘Why would we need this?’ but when I spoke to Maarten I realized I’m the one who’s stuck in the past, this is the future,” Schroder said in an interview. “The younger generation of trader will see this as something totally natural.”
There are already a number of digital platforms operating in the physical agriculture space, offering growers a way to sell their output directly and cut out middlemen. Online platforms also exist for other commodities such as metals. Some use blockchain technology to enhance security.
For Vosbor, financial market participants could eventually be brought in to add liquidity for the platform, according to Elferink. The Covid-19 pandemic has also accelerated a push to conduct more business digitally, particularly among a younger generation of traders, he said.
“The millennials that run the desks now, they run their whole lives online, including buying everything they need,” Elferink said. “I don’t want to go to karaoke bars the whole time, I’d rather just make money.”
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