Article

08.03.2024

Has your company also locked in its energy prices?

The price of energy has experienced both high highs and low lows in recent years. This yo-yo behaviour is a worry to many entrepreneurs. Once again, BNP Paribas Fortis is here to offer you stability.

Controlling the price of energy: it’s an issue that’s almost impossible to avoid, or one that has been a recurring concern in your company over the past few years? We come from a time when energy prices were very volatile, with both high highs and low lows. These fluctuations have worried many entrepreneurs and, in some cases, caused huge additional costs. There is, however, a less well-known way for entrepreneurs to carry out risk management in this area. BNP Paribas Fortis is here to advise you.

Pendulum movement

Energy prices have been on a volatile ride in recent years. After the invasion of Ukraine, they rose to unprecedented levels. Gas prices rose to EUR 300 per MWh, while in previous years they had been around EUR 10-15 per MWh. Electricity prices rose to over EUR 600 per MWh. In previous years, the price was barely EUR 50 per MWh.

Crisis management

"As a result, BNP Paribas Fortis has received an increasing number of enquiries in recent years from companies looking to financially lock in their energy prices. Typically as a company you pay a variable price to the energy supplier. While you fix the price with the bank via a financial swap. Such financial swaps are also used to hedge other commodities (metals, oil products, etc.)." 

Mattias Demets, Commodity Derivatives Sales at BNP Paribas Fortis

The energy crisis of 2022 sent shock waves through the economy. Especially in energy-intensive sectors such as metallurgy or chemicals, it became clear how much affordable energy was crucial to the survival of many companies. Those that were self-sufficient in their energy needs weathered the storm better than others. The energy crisis also highlighted the importance of risk management. Companies wanted, as the legislator put it, to act like "prudent and reasonable persons" - the former "good householder principle". They fixed their energy prices and came out of the crisis virtually unscathed. While others could only hope that energy prices would come down again.

'Never waste a good crisis' is a regularly heard truism. For this energy crisis, we can use this expression once again. It’s fascinating to see companies now taking charge of their own energy supply. The rise of PPAs – Power Purchase Agreements – is particularly remarkable. A PPA is an electricity purchase agreement between a power producer and a customer.

Risk management

Companies are also making great strides in risk management. In the past, it was often up to management to lock in energy prices. They saw it as an additional responsibility to negotiate with energy suppliers. But since the energy crisis, we have seen companies become much more professional. Managing energy prices is today a job in itself. Companies are increasingly thinking about the right strategy to manage their energy costs so that their energy prices come down. How and when they lock in energy prices has become more of an informed decision than ever before, allowing them to protect their margins in the event of rising prices.

As a result, BNP Paribas Fortis has received an increasing number of enquiries in recent years from companies looking to financially lock in their energy prices. Typically as a company you pay a variable price to the energy supplier. While you fix the price with the bank via a financial swap. Such financial swaps are also used to hedge other commodities (metals, oil products, etc.). A financial swap may seem a bit complex at first, but it’s actually not such an intricate transaction. Of course, other structures are also available, depending on your needs.

This is where the “prudent and reasonable person” returns to assess what lies ahead. After all, whether you’re looking for smart investment opportunities or advice on ways to control your energy costs, it ultimately boils down to two sides of the same coin. BNP Paribas Fortis not only thinks about investing with you as an entrepreneur, but also about ways to help you smartly and safely manage important expenses  such as energy costs.

Permanent drop?

Regardless of how companies choose to fix their energy prices, the current market context is very interesting at the moment. Industry in Europe is going through tough times. Nevertheless, the economy is experiencing a soft landing – a slowdown, without a real recession. This is currently leading to lower gas and electricity prices. We have also had a mild and windy autumn and winter. As a result, energy producers have generated a historically high amount of electricity from renewable sources in recent months.

And there’s nothing to suggest that prices won't continue to fall. Europe is importing more LNG from the United States than ever before. Indeed, both the price of US gas and the cost of transporting it have fallen dramatically in recent months. However, elections are coming up in more than 65% of the developed world, and the geopolitical situation (Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan) could again cause volatility.

Prudence

Gas and electricity prices have not been this low for two years and the market is currently stable. But the 2022 energy crisis has shown that we must always be on our guard. Locking in your energy price is not only the most cost-effective tactic, but it will also protect you, as a business owner in times of increasing volatility.

For more information, please contact your relationship manager.

Article

12.06.2024

We need to move forward together

Since 2019, the bank has reduced its CO2 emissions per full-time equivalent by 55%. And according to Sandra Wilikens, Chief Human Resources Officer, everyone must play their part.

Between 2019 and 2022, the bank succeeded in reducing its CO2 emissions by 55%. So how did you do this?

"Mainly by focusing on the energy efficiency of our buildings, which account for approximately 80% of our immediate emissions. We also optimised our real estate and significantly reduced business travel. We settled on a structured approach involving all departments. Since 2012, our Green Bank Platform has gathered the contact persons of each department every quarter, allowing them to present an action plan with their initiatives. They then develop a series of KPIs on energy and paper consumption, business travel, the electrification of the vehicle fleet, waste management, etc. Because measuring is knowing."

The target was to achieve a 42.5% reduction in emissions compared to 2012 by the end of 2025. A goal we have since achieved. What else is in the pipeline?

"We have no intention of resting on our laurels until 2025. Because there is no time to waste if we want to be carbon neutral by 2050. Our new headquarters at Montagne du Parc in Brussels is a good example of energy efficiency, but there is still a room for improvement in the rest of our real estate. We will improve the energy efficiency of the various regional offices, install solar panels in more than 80 branches, and LED lighting will become standard in all our buildings. These efforts must allow us to reduce our CO2 emissions by another 7%."

How much progress have you made in terms of the electrification of your fleet?

"We are making a sustained effort to electrify our fleet, and I think we are on the right track. At the end of 2022, just under 30% of our fleet of leased company cars was electric – 100% electric and plug-in hybrids. In the third quarter of 2023, these cars accounted for 95% of new orders. This was largely due to the new car taxation. But for employers, it doesn't stop there. They must deal with a complex tax framework, including the reimbursement of electricity costs. Some of our staff members also face obstacles, for example, because they have difficulty accessing a charging station. I intend to organise a mobility roundtable this year. The aim is to bring governments, operators, start-ups and companies together. Because we have to move forward and are all in this together."

How do you ensure sufficient employee engagement?

"With a lot of communication. You need to explain what you are doing and why. That is the only way to get people to cooperate. We have a network of more than 200 EcoCoaches within the bank. The sustainability compartment of CBA 90 also inspires. We set six specific objectives each year. If we achieve at least three, all staff members receive a bonus at the end of the year. To date, this has been a success. We also have other incentives. With our “Green Fuel Consumer Plan”, we reward staff members who have a company car but use it sparingly. We are also launching many campaigns to promote soft mobility, such as walking, cycling and public transport. The decision to base our offices in cities is also positive. At the end of 2022, 79% of the employees working in Brussels used public transport to get to work. Outside cities, 60% of employees do this."

Finally, can you think of any issues that need to be addressed urgently?

"Digital pollution is often underestimated. To give you an idea: sending 100 mails emits just as much CO2 as driving twenty kilometres. That’s why we organise an internal campaign every year to raise awareness among our staff members and give them tips on how to reduce their digital footprint. Regularly cleaning up your mailbox, sending links instead of files, deleting outdated files: all little things. But if our 11,000 colleagues do this daily, we can make a big impact. Every effort counts!"

Article

10.06.2024

Electronic invoicing between companies to become mandatory

The bill to introduce this obligation in Belgium has been submitted to the Federal Parliament. If the draft bill is approved, B2B e-invoicing will become mandatory from 1 January 2026. Our experts explain why Belgium wants to introduce these new rules, what the implications are for your company and how we can better support you.

“The bill is consistent with international developments and initiatives at the European level,” says Nicolas De Vijlder, Head of Beyond Banking at BNP Paribas Fortis. "Europe's ambition is a harmonised digital standard. Structured e-invoicing between companies will also reduce the administrative burden of invoicing, enabling companies to work more efficiently and increase their competitiveness. The automation of VAT declarations will also help governments prevent tax fraud and adjust economic policies based on more qualitative data.”

Evolution rather than a revolution

“The new legislation is an evolution rather than a revolution,” adds Erik Breugelmans, Deputy Managing Director at BNP Paribas Factoring Northern Europe. "Digitalisation is becoming pervasive at all levels of society, as we have seen with the increase in electronic payments, as well as the additional obligations in recent years regarding electronic invoicing to the government. In this sense, the bill for mandatory electronic invoicing between companies is a logical next step. Our bank is happy to contribute to this process, although we do not intend to offer the same services as accounting software or fintechs. However, we are happy to help our customers with payments and financing."

The impact on businesses

“Customers need to be aware that the new regulations will have an impact on their internal and external processes,” continues Erik Breugelmans. "The majority of Belgian companies mainly serve an international market, which means that the introduction of electronic invoicing will be more complex for them than for companies operating in the domestic market. As the legislation will be introduced in one go, they need to start preparing now."

“The new rules will affect a company’s accounting department as well as its IT department,” emphasises Nicolas De Vijlder. "The procedural requirements are key, otherwise the automated process will not work. However, one of the main benefits of advanced automation is that everything can be done faster and more efficiently. The time between sending an invoice and paying it will be shorter and cash flows more predictable. In addition, it will also reduce the risk of error and fraud, as all transactions will pass through a secure channel."

Ready to offer you even more and better support

“Thanks to the far-reaching digitisation resulting from the new regulations, we will be able to further optimise payments,” concludes Erik Breugelmans. "As a bank, we need to finance our customers’ receivables as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that they have easier access to their working capital. In addition, because we have already gone through an entire process in terms of large-scale automation, we will be able to adapt quickly to the new rules. We can also draw on the expertise of the BNP Paribas Group, which is currently developing an e-invoicing solution for large companies."

Want to know more?

Listen to the episode on B2B e-invoicing :

A subscription to build customer loyalty, reinvent yourself in times of crisis and buy better: Emna Everard saw that as exactly the right way to launch and maintain her Brussels-based start-up.

Born into a family of dietitians, Emna Everard knows what it means to eat healthily. "At the age of 12, I was already deciphering packaging labels. My dream was to open a supermarket one day where you could shop with your eyes closed", she recalls.

And because Everard has entrepreneurship in her bones, that’s exactly what she did. In 2016, just before the end of her university studies, she launched the “healthiest online supermarket on the market”: Kazidomi. Her standards are high, both in terms of composition and taste. Kazidomi selects products carefully, enabling its customers to buy healthy, mainly organic, plant-based products with complete confidence.

The loyalty programme

Six months after its launch, Kazidomi’s growth is accelerating thanks to the launch of its loyalty programme. A 59 euro subscription offering 20–50% discounts on all food, cosmetics or care products available online. Profitability and savings guaranteed.

This was followed by a first fundraising of €50,000 in 2017. Kazidomi is growing, expanding the size of its stock and developing its marketing. Everard hired her first two employees. Sales grew rapidly and literally exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Consumers suddenly had time to think about their health and well-being and were doing most of their shopping online," she adds.

How did you reinvent yourself?

The post-crisis period was a turning point. "Kazidomi had to reinvent itself. We wanted to have financial stability and avoid any dependence on external resources," continues Everard. Together with her teams, she looked at their cost structure, operational efficiency and marketing. After these reflections, the aim was no longer growth at any price, but the company's long-term viability and financial health, thanks to an intelligent reorganisation.

Two acquisitions would subsequently enable Kazidomi to boost its growth, creating significant synergies: "Smart Fooding" in August 2022 and "Bébé au Naturel" a few months later, a business specialising in healthy products for babies and their parents. "With Bébé au Naturel, we doubled the volume of orders sent out," adds Everard. "This has allowed us to get a better rate from our carriers and reduce costs."

A responsive and attentive bank

As the Brussels start-up’s bank, BNP Paribas Fortis granted it three loans for its launch, between 2016 and 2019. This support came naturally, with Kazidomi’s commitments in terms of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) objectives perfectly aligned with the bank’s strategy. "We joined the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation Hub programme and our relationship manager – who knew the start-up environment extremely well – was immediately enthusiastic and very attentive. He believed in our project, followed it closely, advised us to participate in a series of events to meet other players whose background and profile would be of interest for us," explains the Entrepreneur of the Year 2019.

But the support didn't stop there. "In December 2022, it was thanks to BNP Paribas Fortis, among other things, that we were able to acquire “Bébé au Naturel”. Start-ups like Kazidomi need a high level of responsiveness from their bank. When there is a company to buy, or another opportunity, things have to move fast. Analysis of the file, provision of funds: BNP Paribas Fortis has always been responsive and enthusiastic and has supported us in 99% of our requests," says the CEO enthusiastically.

Eight years since launching, Kazidomi today has 4,000 products that it delivers across Europe. The Belgian start-up makes 90% of its sales on its website and 10% via external resellers, such as Delhaize.

Kazidomi has also launched its own brand “Kazidomi”, which has 200 products on offer. By working directly with producers, we can offer the best possible quality products at the best price.

https://www.kazidomi.com/en

Kazidomi is ready to change the world. Discover even more inspiring entrepreneurial stories.

Cosucra is investing in the decarbonisation of its production processes. Their focus is on using fibre and plant-based protein from chicory and peas for a healthy and less polluting diet.

Belgium’s Hainaut-based Cosucra has been operating since 1852. The company is quite small with 365 employees, but its activities have evolved over time. From the 1980s onwards, sugar beet processing gave way to chicory and yellow peas. Also, sugar was replaced by inulin and pea protein.

"Many families lack the time to put a fresh meal on the table every day. With our products, the industry can offer them easy, quick and nutritious meals," says Eric Bosly, CEO of Cosucra. "Nutritionists stress the importance of fibre and plant proteins for health, and such a diet has a positive impact on our carbon footprint."

New investors

To take their decarbonisation a step further, in 2023, the company launched a seven-year investment plan worth EUR 150 million. “We are keenly aware of the climate crisis, so we wanted to make this transition fast,” says Bosly. “That's why we brought three investors on board who share our values and are willing to commit in the longer term.”

Long-term relationship

Cosucra and BNP Paribas Fortis have a long-standing partnership. "The bank has supported us in expanding to Denmark and the United States. It's of great value to have the same contact person for setting up the financial structure of subsidiaries, opening accounts abroad, etc. We also meet regularly, which means we can count on the expertise of teams specialised in the food industry. Their macro vision complements that of our local account managers who know our business well."

Same market conditions

Cosucra’s efforts will result in a 55% reduction in CO2 emissions within three years. Yet, decarbonisation is just one of Bosly’s bold ambitions. "We are pushing for the same market conditions as animal proteins. Why, for example, is 20 per cent VAT levied on pea-based milk while for cow’s milk, this figure is under 6 per cent? Plant-based products are also more expensive because you can't achieve economies of scale due to the lower quantities required. If you consider all the “negative external effects” of animal products on human health and the environment, our sector deserves support until we reach a certain scale."

Change of mindset

The entrepreneur also laments how the retail sector uses meat as a decoy product, lowering its margins to offer consumers an attractive price. "In times of inflation, that price difference is all the more detrimental to us. This is why a change of mindset is essential. Nutritionists say that a weekly serving of just 200 to 250 grammes of meat is enough to get the nutritional benefits with no negative impact. But at the moment, most Belgians consume 200 grammes of meat per day."

Bosly also cites competition from imported agricultural products as an obstacle.

Cosucra is ready to change the world. Discover even more inspiring entrepreneurial stories.

"The European Green Deal aims to reduce inputs by half, leading to the ban of many herbicides, among other things. Farmers should be supported in this transition. And a company like Cosucra, which buys chicory and peas within a 200-kilometre radius, is not on an equal footing with strong Chinese competition."

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