Empowering Micro SMEs through Accloud
Accloud PLC was founded to empower and stimulate the growth of micro SMEs, (Small, Medium Enterprises) by offering business management tools through its integrated cloud-services platform. Founded in 2015, the company’s signature platform – Accloud offers user-friendly and affordable support to accelerate micro SME growth in rural communities, thus offering the ability to trade and network with other micro SMEs. The man at the helm of affairs – Ross R James, CEO of the company, is a man with a mission. He is on a quest to bridge the economic disparities within communities. An astute man with sound business acumen, coupled with great determination and a competitive spirit, Ross has earned great admiration within the industry. Empowered with high-level expertise and excellent leadership skills, he has proved to be an exceptional CEO. In an interview, he talks on an array of topics – from the decision to build Accloud to the current fintech industry, from the present economic slowdown to Accloud’s expansion to other countries. Excerpts from the interview:
Ross feels that for too long, entrepreneurs in high-growth economies have struggled to achieve their ambitions. “Accloud was created to challenge that status quo. In October 2015, we began developing a platform that makes business management simpler, empowering people to grow, and giving them access to new markets and services. Since then, we have reached several key milestones.”
Further elaborating, Ross adds that Accloud was conceived based on the concept of utility computing, which later became the Cloud. “In moving applications and processes to the Cloud, I saw tremendous opportunities to build virtual communities. In the same way that physical communities require many services, virtual communities have needs and requirements beyond their initial application.” He observes that having mobile access to the Cloud means that the company can offer these services to many more people, especially the disenfranchised.
The Fintech Industry
Noting that entering the fintech industry was born of necessity, Ross maintains that he has always been passionate about helping the most deprived MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) get access to capital, giving them the power to change their own lives. Empowering them in this way means greater income, better health and stronger education services, he observes. “Ultimately, we have a responsibility to help tackle the vast structural and systemic inequalities that exist in the world. Fintech – coupled with the most exciting parts of distributed ledger technology, can fulfil that vision,” Ross assures.
Synergizing Technology and Finance Industries
Ross reckons that with the advent of blockchain, the industry is now capable of creating identity and reputation within virtual communities. This further support those selling goods by providing confidence and authenticity to a buyer, he maintains. “And it means that micro-financial services can be supplied at fractional costs compared to legacy systems. What’s exciting is that we can provide many such micro-services through one platform, while mitigating risk through our vast spread of clientele.” Ross believes in rewriting the rules of global commerce, with the merging of finance and technology.
Bridging Disparities Among SMEs in India
Accloud’s platform helps traders to conduct business more competitively. Notes Ross that the company has enabled practices and techniques that were previously not available and allowed millions of MSMEs to professionalize their offerings. “That opens up a new world of business to so many people, driving better returns and lowering investment cost while raising standards for their partners and customers,” Ross observes that the maturity in financial services and technology is very disparate within Indian markets. He, however, expresses optimism on creating more opportunities to build positive changes as millions of people do not have access to quality business software at affordable prices, which Accloud can provide.
Breaking Existing Barriers
Though Accloud has made tremendous progress in India, Ross adds that the company is looking to expand to other Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia and Vietnam. “We have launched our accloud.Asia site, and are now looking to quickly build strong partnerships in these countries.” He also adds that Africa is yet a continent that offers vast opportunities. “There is a tremendous need in Africa (accloud.africa) and we are working hard to enter several countries there.” Accloud can help the region’s 150 million-day traders by providing them better micro-finance rates, greater connectivity to buyers in Europe and providing accessibility to digital customs documents, making it easier to export goods, Ross points out. “We want to help people in Africa to trade with everyone, not just those in local markets.”
Ross notes, “We are also working with the UN to provide Accloud to all refugee camps worldwide. Our platform already supports more than 30 languages and we are continuing to add more. This scalability and versatility will allow us to adapt, moving into new markets and areas of need quickly.”
Technology to the Rescue
Ross considers blockchain as a technology that has a solid place in future developments, as it certainly can resolve some trust issues. He quickly adds that solutions as concepts are more powerful than just technology on its own. “We saw this with the whole ICO/ITO pace in 2018/19 when very poor projects looked at a way of using an inappropriate technology (blockchain) just to have easier access to capital. To make a sustainable change for millions of MSMEs by opening access to capital is still a work in progress and one I remain completely focused on. We want to see MSMEs growing at the scale of their ambition.”
Overcoming Challenges within Fintech Market
Ross laments that accelerating the change from traditional finance models to new-world models that reduce inherent costs and provide greater scale and flexibility remain the biggest challenges in the current fintech market. “The changes will take place, but creating more momentum, to shift the underlying access to capital is the largest challenge facing the industry.” He, however remains a staunch believer that corporations must embrace Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues at the deepest level.
Projections for the Fintech Industry
Ross feels that fintech would enable a much more cost-effective financial sector, making great inroads to becoming mainstream contributors over the coming years. “In Africa, we have already seen how communities have been able to leap-frog straight into the fintech space, to the great advantage of small businesses across the continent.”
Markets are expected to reach a saturation point, predicts Ross. “There are already many competing VC systems, meaning a number of them will have to drop out or merge. We would like more fintech and ISPs to focus on providing cheap access to technology and internet services in the developing world so that these countries and the tens of millions of sole traders and MSMEs can adapt to the new norm.”
Tackling the Economic Slowdown
Ross notes that he has been working with advisers in the UK to set up two MSME Corona Virus Bounce back Bonds. “Given that banks in Europe either have or are moving towards negative interest rates, I think there is tremendous opportunity to raise capital at very reasonable rates for deployment across Africa and India. Through Accloud, we also have the opportunity to connect these small businesses to potential new customers,” he adds.
Coping with the Current Crisis
Ross remains confident that Accloud’s robust network and the ability to constantly adapt, has helped the company bounce back in a much stronger way. “The more people we can get on to our platform, the better they can run their businesses. We can also create access to better-priced products, including financial instruments, and ultimately connect them with new customers.”
Ross feels that this was a platform for recovery. “Importantly, our efforts to allow contact-free commerce will help to minimize the effects of such global pandemics in the future. Small Mighty Entrepreneurs (as we prefer to think of SMEs at Accloud) are used to economic instability. By underpinning them with capital, we will give them more certainty – and an opportunity to grow quickly during the post-COVID phase,” he adds.
Greatest Moment of Success
Ross notes that witnessing the success of millions of MSMEs across the world because of what the team has done is what will be most memorable. “I have been involved in creating new business ventures in many countries around the world. The most important lesson is the one about persistence. If the project has true value, passion infects those around you and will bring ultimate success to your journey.”
The Road Ahead for Accloud
“Our biggest milestone is still ahead of us. We are going to completely change access to capital for MSMEs, in a way that reflects our vision and the needs of Small Mighty Entrepreneurs across developing economies.” Ross believes that transformation with access to longer-term capital is much more aligned to the needs of these businesses. “At the moment, MSMEs are forced to take small loans over a very short duration and at excessive interest rates. Loan periods are generally just a few months and interest rates can range from 18% to 38%,” he adds.
A True Visionary
As a leader, Ross believes in focusing on inspiring his team with the dream. He considers himself extremely lucky to have a pool of highly talented and committed staff and advisors. “Inclusivity is also vital, ensuring all team members feel very much a part of everything we do” says Ross who has spent 30 years at the forefront of the ITC industry.
“I don’t believe as an entrepreneur there is such a thing as work-life balance. Being an entrepreneur is about passion, enormous energy, creativity and great resilience. I’m also constantly inspired and supported by my life partner and my friends and family. Business is about people and that is an essential focus for me and us here at Accloud,” Ross signs off.
Where it all Began
Ross commented that “Between the ages of 7 and 12, during fire side chats with my ex-British grandfather, Ernie J James I was constantly advised that ‘we’ needed to fix the mess that we have made in Africa. It has taken me half a life time to understand the meaning of those words and to have the skills and technology available to fulfill the seed he planted.”