AN ONLINE Wool Exchange Portal concept has passed its first test in a workshop attended by Australian woolgrower, processor, trading and testing house leaders in Melbourne yesterday.
But final industry agreement on the online wool marketing options proposal and its funding will be unclear until after the Australian Wool Innovation’s Wool Selling Systems Review panel takes more submissions and makes a final report, possibly by October this year.
About 80 invited wool industry stakeholders attended the workshop to give feedback on the AWI Wool Selling Systems Review discussion paper to the WSSR panel.
The panel includes Fox and Lillie managing director James Lillie; Monash Business School adjunct Professor Graeme Samuel; consultant and director Bernard Wonder; Australian Investor Relation Services director William Wilson; Bell Financial Group executive chairman Colin Bell, and; Eubindal Pty Ltd director John Roberts, the panel’s executive officer and secretariat.
The WEP has been proposed by the panel as part of its review of wool selling systems to find efficiencies and cost savings, understand the potential for increased competitive tension and determine if there is sufficient transparency for woolgrowers.
The panel has proposed that the online WEP include a database of wool selling, testing and appraisal options; a ‘ready reckoner’ and a ‘smart router’ of selling alternatives, and a ‘find a broker’ and ‘find an exporter’ function.
WSSR panel executive officer John Roberts said there was very productive and robust discussion among the exporters, brokers, woolgrowers, consultants, forward market operators, testing house and online exchange representatives at the workshop.
Panel chairman Graeme Samuel said submissions will continue to be received until September 4 and the final report delivered to AWI and industry, possibly by the end of October.
“The whole report — it is up to the industry to say ‘yes we adopt’ or ‘no, we don’t’.
“If they do, it is a process of implementation as they see fit.”
Workshop participants came around
Mr Samuel said the general reaction early in the workshop that “the industry is working alright” and “what are we here for”, particularly in regard to initial scepticism about the Wool Exchange Portal, changed later in the day to the offering of suggestions.
“We were getting suggestions from participants as to aspects of the WEP that they might be able to contribute to and elements of the WEP that we might want to think about.
“So they are actually starting to think that this is something that we ought to be looking at and would be interested to participate to assist in doing so,” he said.
“I don’t think you could say that there was 100 per cent support for anything, because in all the areas that we were talking about today there were those who have a vested interest in leaving things exactly as they are.”
Panel member James Lillie said many stakeholders changed their attitude to the review during the workshop. Panel member William Wilson believed many at the workshop felt they had some ownership of the process, that there could be benefits and they wanted to be involved in its development.
Some stakeholders also said there was “a sense of inertia” in the industry along the lines of “We’ve done this for years, what is the point of changing? There is not a lot in it,” he said.
“But I think, particularly with the WEP discussion there was a sense of ‘there might be something in this.”
Mr Samuel said the exporters tended to be more vocal and supportive of the WEP.
“I didn’t hear much from the brokers and heard a lot from growers.”
He said the attitudes of growers to the WEP varied greatly.
How will the WEP affect current online wool trading options?
Mr Samuel said some of the workshop participants suggested the panel should get some input from the current online selling options, AuctionsPlus Wool and Wooltrade.
Elements of that might be able to be integrated or “overlaid” into the WEP, he said.
“Remember the WEP is a one-stop shop.”
But panel member Bernie Wonder said the panel was not suggesting the WEP would duplicate Wooltrade or AuctionsPlus Wool.
“We see it as a strength, not a concern that we can actually make use of existing institutional mechanisms that are already there and we can actually embrace them under an umbrella.”
Mr Samuel said it was now a matter of developing the WEP concept.
“Part of the process now over the next few weeks is to engage in more targeted consultations on specific areas and particularly the WEP with a view of developing into a more analysed and detailed proposal.”
Mr Wilson said while there was broad acceptance of what the WEP was trying to do, stakeholders also made suggestions to expand its role into areas such as hedging or futures. Stakeholders also raised the issues of quality and accountability in online wool selling or other innovations.
Mr Wilson said the WEP could also offer connectivity to wool futures and derivative marketing options.
Who will pay for a Wool Exchange Portal?
Mr Samuel said a range of options could be considered for the funding of the WEP, including industry participants that use the portal.
Mr Wilson said the panel members made it “very clear” they were not proposing that the WEP be funded from levy funds “in the first instance”.
“To be fair we felt that if we do our job correctly and we get the buy-in of industry, then we really want their ownership of it.
“Now what ownership meant could vary, but certainly whether it be investment or in fact, build something that may have commercial opportunities attached to it as well,” he said.
“It was fair to say that given this industry is an unregulated industry that any initiative that we propose has to have commercial implications.
“We can’t impose a WEP on the industry, the industry needs to see that it has got commercial benefit.”
Mr Lillie said his view was that AWI would have to “tip in a bit” on behalf of growers.
“Half of them (the growers) said no and half said yes.”
Mr Wonder said there was grower interest in funding the WEP, but the issue needed more consideration by the panel.
A workshop suggestion for a vote on the funding of the WEP was disallowed by Mr Samuel and no other votes on any issues were made at the workshop.
Mr Samuel said the purpose of the proposed portal was to facilitate growers adopting various wool marketing options to help overcome “inertia” in the industry.
“The portal is a platform for the future as well as the issues we see at the moment.
“It also puts us on a footing to deal with the other issues that may arise,” Mr Wilson said.
Mr Samuel believed the WEP “will start to crystallise a whole range of issues.”
“What the WEP does is open up a whole range of courses of action that potentially deal with the operational issues that we’ve raised in the first part of the report and the pricing efficiency issue.”
These included different selling mechanism and route choices, and buying options and processes, he said.
“The discussion paper starts off with operational and pricing efficiencies, and then gets to the solution.
“I think if we now work a lot harder on the solution — the recommendation — that will start then to deal with the operational and pricing efficiencies.”
WEP information on selling options will lead to competition
Mr Samuel said “competition in many respects is a much better discipline than full transparency of every element of a business or operation” and by providing more information about participant selling options the WEP will facilitate competition.
“The portal is designed to do that – it is designed to open up options for growers.
“The portal might even develop sufficient sophistication that it will indicate to the grower that for particular grades at a particular time, with particular volumes, if you adopt option 3 that will get a better result than adopting option 1 – that’s options.”
The same process could work for buyers seeking wool, Mr Wonder said. However, Mr Lillie said it was highly unlikely that brokers would list their charges on the WEP.
But Mr Samuel said “You will only want one broker to list its charges on the WEP for growers to say ‘That’s really interesting, I might go with that broker’, and then a second broker will say, ‘Well I better do the same thing and I will actually come in with some lower charges’.
“The beauty of the way in which a WEP works is that provides transparency and accountability – and that happens through competition,” he said
“That could cause it to happen,” Mr Lillie said.
But the greatest challenge to the WEP will be training woolgrowers in how to use it, he said.
WEP could start an incremental change process
Mr Samuel said the review and the WEP would not be “the answer to everything’ for Australian woolgrowers and the industry.
“This will be a process to incremental change and it’s a process of incremental change that will be entirely dependent on the industry adopting it.
“So the task that is ahead of us is to actually be certain that we are recommending is good for the industry and then to present it in a way that the industry is compelled to adopt that incremental change,” he said.
“And if they adopt the incremental change that we are recommending here — particularly the processes of moving into the WEP – it gives the chance then for that incremental change to gather pace and to work on itself.
“Change then becomes inexorable, whereas at the present time change is inhibited, it is impeded,” Mr Samuel said.
“There are too many barriers in the way, including the barrier of inertia.
“What the WEP will start to remove is that (inertia) barrier and start that incremental change that we think the industry deserves.”
Mr Roberts said the panel had maintained it wanted to be highly consultative and “try to bring everybody along for the journey and give them some buy-in or some ownership of this whole process”.
“I think we went a long way in achieving that today.”