Affinity Shipping LLP is the new shipbroker founded by Richard Fulford Smith and partners, following Clarksons’ purchase of RS Platou for $440m in 2014.
One of the best things about my job is getting to see inside other businesses, and find out how they work. Often these are places or brands I’m already familiar with so I have an idea about what they do. It’s usually a surface impression, (you don’t know how to run a restaurant just by eating in one) but at least I have a notion of what they might be trying to achieve.
What about shipbroking?
I’ll give you two minutes.Tell me everything you know about shipbroking.
No. Me neither.
Fortunately, this level of ignorance is not taken as such by most shipbrokers, who seem to quite enjoy the mystery surrounding their work. It’s one of the last personal network businesses, dominated by big characters having big lunches, and long established firms. The people inside know about it, and the people outside don’t.
So the first meeting at the Affinity office was spent with them outlining the basics, while I tried not to be distracted by the view.
First revelation – Over 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea. Without ships there is no trade.
This makes perfect sense, but I’d never considered it before. I know my TV was made in China, but I don’t dwell on how it got here, or how the raw materials to make the TV got there. All that stuff, moving around, all the time.
There are different ships to move different things. Container ships are the ones you will be familiar with, that bring the TVs. Also oil tankers. Add to this ships for dry cargo, Liquid natural and petrochemical gas, and various other specifics. It’s a long list.
Shipbrokers manage the relationship between the people who own the ships and the people who have the stuff that needs moving. Most brokers will focus on sector, (let’s say oil) and negotiate prices for moving that oil from A to B. The oil company will want to pay as little as possible and the ship owner will want to charge as much as possible, which is why you need a broker in the middle. Shipbrokers will also negotiate between shipyards and shipowners for the prices on new ships. There are lots of different departments.
What makes a good broker? Relationships, and information. The broker with the best information is the best broker.
Second revelation – In terms of personnel, the global shipbroking business is tiny. Given the amount of stuff they are moving around, the number of people working in broking is remarkably low, and most of the key players know each other.
Third revelation – Technologically, it’s in the dark ages. It’s still a room full of people doing business on the phone. I didn’t actually see a fax machine, but I definitely felt one.
Affinity want to change that. To be a more open business. To be fast moving, and embrace technology. But they also need to establish trust, and remind people that although they are a new company their staff have a long history in shipping and know what they are doing.
For history and trust, we started with a shield, (yawn)
Then, because they are shipbrokers, we turned it into a ship (oh, clever!)
And then we used this ship to explain all the things they do, creating an icon for each aspect of the business, starting with the ships themselves, which are a gift because they are so weird looking…
And going through every department…
We knew from the start we would be making a mobile app, and that we wanted the navigation to be fast, so each of these icons is designed to work well as a button.
Then we had to deal with the rest of the information, and if information is what you are trading in, it should look good. Clear graphs, legible typography. Simple things that make a twelve page market report more bearable.
The identity is now complete, the website is live and the apps are in development.