A. LACK OF KNOWLEDGE AND PROPER INFORMATION AMONG INTERMEDIARIES
Most experts and keen analysts of the industry often lament and bemoan one nagging fundamental shortcoming of the modern Internet-era class of brokers, agents and other intermediaries – namely, that, as a class, they tend to be overly handicapped and plagued by a general lack of education, training, knowledge and proper information concerning the true nature and workings of international trade, and of its fundamentals and basic procedures.
Mr. R. Ambardar, a broker experienced for over 10 years in international market development and advisory services who has personally closed several petroleum deals, calls “lack of experience and knowledge” one of the principal primary reasons why many brokers and facilitators fail in crude oil endeavors and never close any deals. “Many people are attracted into this business because of [the tales they hear about the] kind of money one can earn on account of successful deals,” Ambardar asserts. “Many agents fail, [however], to understand that requirements to succeed in this business are very demanding, [and that] only those who have years of hands-on experience and thorough knowledge of the industry can strive to do well as middle-men.”
Echoing what almost every other respected expert in the field emphatically asserts, Ambardar adds, that “To become a ‘Facilitator’ in oil business,… what you actually need is right knowledge and expertise [since this is what will help] you hook up genuine buyers and sellers. One should be in the industry for long to have acquired knowledge related to the dynamics of this business.”
In the same vein, Davide Papa, the co-author with Lona Elliot of “International Trade & the Successful Intermediary,” one of the most prominent experts in the field today on the basic methodology and procedures of international trading by brokers and intermediaries, asserts that,
“Without the requisite knowledge of the correct trading procedures, you [the broker or agent/intermediary] are simply wasting your time by attempting to trade. The vast majority of traders you will meet on the Internet don’t know how to close a deal. Most don’t even know how to start a deal correctly, let alone bringing one to a successful conclusion.”
Consequently, says Mr. Papa, “Anyone attempting to do business with these types of intermediaries [or with their procedures] will also be unable to close a deal or collect a cent in commission, no matter how long they trade for or how hard they try.”
What Misguided Agents and Intermediaries erroneously think is “trading”
Yet, as a factual matter, most (in deed, just about ALL) brokers and intermediaries that one meets on the Internet who claim they have oil to sell, or who, for example, flood my Consultancy Office with “offers” and “deals” by the dozens every hour of the day each day, haven’t got even the foggiest clue of what is actually involved in proper trading, or how it works or is done. Almost to a man or woman, they essentially think that all there is to oil “trading,” is basically the accumulation of any number of some copied generic documents – ‘SPAs,’ ‘LOI,’ ‘FCO,’ ‘ICPO,’ and what have you – with almost none ever verified, and passing them around on the Internet to potential buyers or their agents, asking them to “just sign,” “just sign”! In deed, what is even worse, they hardly ever have the foggiest idea of even what their PROPER function and duty is, or should be, as an intermediary in the modern Internet era of TOO MUCH information and data, but TOO LITTLE quality or genuine information and data!
B. A MAJOR WAY IN WHICH THIS LACK OF KNOWLEDGE BY THE INTERMEDIARY IS MANIFESTED
Quite oddly enough, one of the major but most fundamental ways in which this woeful pervasive lack of knowledge and information of the fundamentals and proper procedures manifests itself on the part of the intermediaries, is the awesome lack of knowledge among them concerning even the basic purpose and proper function or duty which the modern intermediary is supposed to serve for the oil trader and in the marketplace. Most Internet intermediaries are NOT even aware of what EXACTLY that is!
THE TRADITIONAL ROLE & FUNCTION OF THE INTERMEDIARY
First, let us start with looking at the “traditional” role and function of the intermediary in the marketplace. This description of the duties and functions of a facilitator given by Sam Nelson, the author of a noted primer on oil trading that’s commonly used by many brokers and agents, best represents, perhaps, the conception of the traditional primary function of the intermediary in oil deals:
“Facilitating a business [by a Facilitator] is an act of arranging business activities as contained in a contract and bringing two parties into an agreement towards the smooth implementation of a contract as defined by the contract procedures… The facilitator is the individual, or group of people, arranging business activities as contained in a contract and bringing two parties into a mutual agreement towards the smooth implementation of a contract as defined in the procedures of the contract… There are people who work as facilitators in different kinds of business transactions, for example, ‘Currency trading.’ “
Nelson adds that, as a Facilitator on the seller’s side, for example, “the seller depends on you to find a reputable buyer. You, as the facilitator, become the hub for these deals. Honesty is required on your part. You can facilitate a deal as a buyer or seller’s facilitator but I will advise you not to be on both sides at the same time for the same deal. That will be an absolute greed.”
Robert McAngus, the Chairman and CEO of the McAngus Group, a Marbella, Spain-based global conglomerate actively engaged in the business of primary commodities, including oil products, through its network of offices and partners in Africa, Europe, the Far and Middle East, and the Americas, gives his own description of the usual traditional role of the intermediary, this way: “a broker’s entire job is to help a petroleum company’s trading department find or sell oil and related products so that he will receive a commission when the deal comes together.”
In other words, by traditional standards, the primary role and function of the intermediary in the so-called “secondary” market petroleum trading operations, is simply the “sourcing” function – that is, the job of finding the suppliers of the product and matching them with intending buyers, in return for which the sourcing broker or agent will receive commission payments for successfully completed deals.
THE NEW PARADIGM SHIFT IN THE ROLE & FUNCTION OF THE INTERMEDIARY
But here’s the central point to be made here, however. And that is this: That this old, “traditional” role and function of the broker or the intermediary in crude oil and petroleum products deals have changed in this current era of the Internet – and in a big, big and drastic way! And anyone who operates in the oil trade industry today as a broker, agent or other intermediary without knowing, or understanding or recognizing this critical modern-era reality, or who continues to operate as though, as in the past, all that is required of him is just to find a seller and “match” him with a buyer, or vice versa, totally misses the mark as to his proper place or function today in the marketplace, or his true market value or worth.
In deed, in this writer’s studied assessment, much of the problems and negative aspects (the so-called ‘dark side’) of the international commodities trading business that have often been primarily attributed to the role and involvement of the modern intermediaries’ in the business – the inability of most to successfully close deals or to make a commission, the involvement of many in scams and fake offers, etc – can be directly traced to this factor alone: namely, the failure on the part of the intermediary, whether knowingly or otherwise, to modify and adjust his business tactics and method of operation to align with this new “paradigm” shift of the current Internet era market place.
I’LL SUM IT UP SIMPLY THIS WAY, IN A NUTSHELL: True, in the past, BEFORE the present-day business ethics of the computer/Internet-era, what the average traders viewed to be the more important need and service from an intermediary – and one about which, therefore, the trader primarily sought and employed the services of the intermediary for – was primarily to obtain trade leads and contact sources for business prospects. But in this present post-Internet era, however, what the average trader now primarily wants and needs from the broker or intermediary, is not so much the trade leads or contact sources. But, rather, he primarily needs and wants the broker/agent intermediary to get him trade leads or contact sources and information that are duly verified or verifiable. Or, to put it another way, the trader’s primary need and most vital interest in an intermediary today, is for the broker and intermediary to aid and assist him in verifying and doing DUE DILIGENCE on the trade leads and opportunities or contact sources that are now generally available in superabundance, whether online or offline.
Jeffrey P. Graham, President of JPG Consulting, a Philadelphia-based international business consulting and research firm, makes that point rather quite clearly in his classic 1997 essay titled, “Evaluating Trade Leads.” Graham, who was one of the first to make that profound observation, states that with the coming of the Internet, the major issue and concern of international traders significantly became, NOT having too few or an insufficient number of trade leads on the buying or selling of a particular product or service, but having too many and too much of it. And that with that profound change, the central issue for the world traders became the ability and facility of traders – and the brokers, agents and intermediaries who work for them – to carry out good DUE DILIGENCE on the trade leads presented by or about a company or product, and being able to do competent evaluation on such company or product as to its genuineness and quality.
Thirty years ago, Graham says (meaning before the Internet became a factor), there were far fewer companies doing business as traders and intermediaries, and, secondly, the task of finding out how credible a company was, was a simple matter of just checking the telex address and obtaining some bank references on the company.
However, Graham adds, all that has drastically changed – thanks, or no thanks, to the Internet!
Graham sums up this view this way:
“Until very recently, gaining access to reliable sources of trade leads was a very expensive and time-consuming proposition for many small and medium sized companies (SME’s). In the United States, [for example], the Department of Commerce was the sole purveyor of trade leads… companies paid a monthly subscription fee then in order to gain access to what was available, whether it was appropriate or not. [However], with the proliferation of trade lead sources available on the World Wide Web (WWW), access to trade leads is no longer a problem. What has not changed, however, is the time involved in handling trade leads.
Enthusiastic proponents of the Internet will always tell anybody willing to suspend common sense that more is better. What is wrong with this concept… is the assumption that the additional information provided by the Internet can be easily assimilated into a business enterprise and made useful without any cost whatsoever; [or that], therefore, the proliferation of trade leads now available on the [Internet]… should translate into more and better opportunities for everybody. [The reality, however, has been that] Nothing could be further from the truth, because the real problem with trade leads, is that most of them are of questionable value.”
Asserting that “a trade lead in 1997 means something quite different than it did in 1977,” Graham adds that:
“The Internet presents troubling issues even for the most experienced international business people because of the enormous amount of misleading information which is pumped into the system; a system which is not yet ready to process this amount of information. One issue is, really, [about being able] to evaluate the company which posts the trade lead and this is now a very tedious process… Since 1993, when the browser technology really began to take off and the Internet began to seriously emerge as a marketplace, the changes have been staggering… It is not unusual for people who are just wishfully thinking, to write and post trade leads which are designed primarily to elicit responses. These ‘companies’ [put out]… what many call ‘trade leads’ but which almost always turn out to be worthless junk… Such postings can send companies on time consuming and very expensive fishing expeditions which yield no sales and have little potential for future business as well.”
TRANSLATED: In short, the central point made by experts and keen students of modern trade history, is that the role and purpose of the intermediary in the Internet-era international commodities trading, have undergone some drastic, even staggering, fundamental change – a ‘paradigm shift” or change – from, say, the late 1980’s and early 1990’s to these days. In that previous era, a relatively few buying and selling trade leads existed which consisted really of just information posted on on-line bulletin boards and from the U.S. department of commerce trade publications. But by the mid 1990’s, with the rise of the World Wide Web, the Internet and Usenet gradually but steadily assumed more useful role for business purposes. The Internet soon emerged as a major and central marketplace itself, consequently making the need for, and expense of, subscribing to trade leads a thing of the past.
But, in making the subscription to and expense of trade leads a thing of the past, the Internet brought about, however, a host of other big challenges of its own – it has made the task and process of evaluating the trade lead or opportunity that’s posted online considerably more difficult than it was, compared to the pre-Internet times of 30 years ago, such that today, while the sheer volume of trade leads and information available is gigantic, and the buying or selling of leads from around the world can be solicited at low-cost or practically for free, being able to evaluate the authenticity and actual worth and value of such information is the central task and challenge of the time.
C. WHAT IS THE REAL AND PROPER ROLE OF THE GOOD INTERMEDIARY IN TODAY’S MARKET?
In short, summed up very simply, the central point is that, in terms of the business needs and desires of today’s world traders, there has been a gradual but drastic “paradigm shift” or a major change, over the past two to three decades of transitioning to the Internet era, and hence, in what the average world trader wants and requires from their brokers and intermediaries and the Primary Duty of the Intermediary in Internet Oil Trading. Today, what they (the traders) principally want and desire from their intermediaries, is not so much obtaining some sheer “raw data” concerning any trade leads or contacts, or merely what the volume and “quantity” of trade leads or offers they’re provided is, since the average trader generally has access already to such material in overabundant supply. But, rather, what they want and desire most particularly, is “quality data,” meaning data that shall have already been properly vetted and verified, data for which a good deal of “due diligence” shall have already been done on.
That is, long gone are the old days of the “traditional” role and function of the sourcing broker or agent when his primary role was only to obtain trade leads or offers about a product or business prospect and just try to “match” them with, or, in deed, more accurately stated, just ‘dump them on,’ a seller or buyer – without first verifying or authenticating them, or first doing even a minimal amount of due diligence on them as to their actual worth and legitimacy. For the credible or authentic buyer or seller today, that traditional approach will not suffice or be even remotely acceptable any more.
BUT MOST AGENTS & INTERMEDIARIES TODAY FAIL TO FOLLOW THIS NEW PARADIGM ROLE
Yet, that profound new reality notwithstanding, that is precisely what many a sourcing broker and agent – in deed, the vast majority of them – who operate in the Internet crude oil and petroleum products trading business today, largely do: they merely go around dutifully but indiscriminately collecting and amassing SPA (Sales and Purchase Agreement) documents, ‘LOI,’ ‘ICPO,’ and ‘POP’ documents, and other copied similar documents, from any and every conceivable sources they can find on the Internet, and simply passing them over to any prospective buyers they can reach, virtually with nothing ever vetted or evaluated by them concerning the reliability of the information being peddled, or the bona fides of the providers or originators of the documents or the even actual existence, availability or authenticity of the product claimed. No DUE DILIGENCE ever done by the broker/agent intermediaries on the offers presented and represented in those “documents”! To the vast majority of these brokers and agents on the Internet, notorious for largely being uninformed and non-knowledgeably in the business, this is what and all they think is “trading.”!
Frequently, the most that the Internet broker or agent (or trader) who sends in the offer would add, is that he or she would throw in some meaningless, worthless, self-serving statements such as: “This is an authentic seller.” “I can assure you this seller has excellent reputation and is reliable.” Some would even claim something like, “We just successfully concluded another deal like this with this seller.” Yet, as a rule, no shred of concrete evidence whatsoever, much less any proof, is ever provided by such broker or agent to substantiate or back up any of such statements and claims – and therefore still making them (i.e., the intermediary and the offer they might have presented) not only just as worthless in the eyes of any credible buyer viewing the offer, but additionally irritating and time-wasting to them, since virtually no credible buyer in the business would view such representations as worth even one dime, any way!
Think of the image of the scornful “Joker Broker” role in the present-day international trading described by Kamal J. Southall, in his book on trade and financial fraud and the ‘Joker Broker.’ The image of individuals (call them brokers, agents, mandates, facilitators, etc) “who knowingly or unknowingly peddles and plies deals and products that, in the vast majority of instances, are non-existent, or badly defined… [and go] plying deals often involving a string of brokers from one end of the planet to another, and yet not a single one has verified the very existence of the goods at hand.”
By and large, most unfortunately the modern Internet broker/agent intermediaries largely fail to provide the current market (i.e., the legitimate buyers and sellers in the industry) “what the market actually wants,” pure and simple. Namely, they woefully fail frequently to provide and serve the primary duty of the intermediary in Internet oil trading, to serve their Number #1 and most appropriate and most important function for the trader, which is, basically, to help do the essential DUE DILIGENCE on the trade leads or offers or information they provide or come across, before or when they pass them on to the trader, and to have fully evaluated and verified such material before hand as to their authenticity, reliability, and intrinsic worth and legitimacy.
And the result? Predictably, largely as a result of such woeful mass failure to provide the current commodities market “what the market actually wants,” the average broker and agent today often invariably is unable to close any deals with any traders, month-after-month, even after years and years of doing the business. Or, worse still, partly because of this general failure on their part to legitimately make sales or legitimately earn any commission income, many of these brokers and agents often resort, wittingly or otherwise, to the act of defrauding and scamming other innocent traders and the peddling of fake offers.
And what then might be the remedy for this?
As a broker or agent today, if you wish to be able to make any progress and to close any deals with any credible traders, the first and foremost thing you should at the very least know, is what should be, and is, your most important and proper duty and function as an intermediary in this Internet era. And then, quickly get yourself back to that crucial business of serving that purpose and function for the traders. You had better got yourself back to serving what should be your Number #1 and most proper and valued function to traders’ and providing the current market (the legitimate buyers and sellers in the market) “what the market” of the present-era actually “wants.” Which is, in a word, to provide the traders trade leads, offers and information that you shall have properly evaluated, verified, and shall have subjected to the requisite due diligence as to their authenticity, reliability, and intrinsic worth and legitimacy, before you submit them to buyer (or a supplier, as the case may be). Or, to put it another way, be sure NEVER to provide any such material to traders UNLESS you’ve first done your proper due diligence on such material – since, in short, doing proper due diligence is really your principal job and value, your ONLY function, as a broker/agent intermediary! And if you do this – and ONLY if you follow this basic procedure in doing business – will you be able to see progress with credible buyers as they will be more inclined even to look at the offers you present or to consider them, and not just toss them in the proverbial waste paper basket outright, unconsidered and unread.