Paying It Forward

Miami-based PayCargo receives a massive cash infusion to go global

How a Miami company is revolutionizing the way that companies pay for freight

By Doreen Hemlock

Paper payments for freight? Not if you’re a customer of PayCargo, which offers an online platform that lets shippers pay electronically, speeding up the payments and reducing the time for cargo to be released from seaports, airports, and other facilities. The platform also provides easy-to-use electronic data not available when paying for freight through traditional means such as vouchers, checks, or cash.

In June, PayCargo secured $130 million in investment from Blackstone Growth, part of the behemoth global investment firm Blackstone. That infusion – coming on top of $160 million raised in 2020 and 2021 from Insight Partners – is accelerating overseas expansion beyond Europe and the Middle East. PayCargo is now setting up offices in Japan, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand, and it plans to open in Chile, Panama, and Mexico in 2023, says CEO Eduardo Del Riego.

“By the end of 2024, we hope to be on both coasts of Latin America – east and west – and in the Caribbean,” Del Riego told GLOBAL MIAMI in a wide-ranging interview.

CHALLENGING TIMES, AS TRADE SLOWS

PayCargo was launched in 2007 by a group of South Florida shipping executives who saw the need to modernize freight payments. By 2019, the venture had matured its business model and grown substantially, processing a record $2 billion in payments that year. Business then doubled each year to $4 billion in payments processed in 2020 and $10 billion in 2021. This year, it’s on pace to reach $20 billion, according to Del Riego.

Today, PayCargo serves more than 40,000 customers, including heavyweights DHL, UPS, and Kuehne & Nagel. They pay some 5,000 vendors from shipping lines to airlines, train operators to warehouses.

PayCargo’s business has soared recently, partly because of overseas expansion. It first grew across Europe and earlier this year opened in the Middle East in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and in Asia in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Adding to revenue, freight rates had risen sharply due to COVID-19 up-ending supply chains and crimping the availability of metal shipping containers and other supplies. 

But PayCargo’s growth is set to slow in 2023, Del Riego says, as the world economy also slows. Many analysts predict a global recession in 2023, though earlier predictions of a recession in the U.S. never materialized. Regardless, world trade is already slowing, slashing the rates to ship goods. In early 2022, U.S. importers paid about $18,000 to transport a metal container by sea from Shanghai to Los Angeles. Now, they pay roughly $1,800 to ship that same container, down 90 percent, because of shrinking demand in the U.S.

“For PayCargo, we’re forecasting to grow about 50 percent next year,” Del Riego said. “That’s still pretty impressive, if you consider that global trade – if it grows at all – is expected to rise only by 1 percent.” PayCargo charges a fee for each payment it processes, currently about $6 to $12.50 per transaction. In 2021, its revenue topped $40 million, and for 2022, it expects to reach at least $100 million. The tally also includes revenue from a tech company that PayCargo is now buying.

That acquisition and strong growth should boost PayCargo’s global employment to top 300 at year-end, including some 50 at their Coral Gables headquarters adjacent to Miami and 25 at a tech hub in Downtown Miami. Hiring is easier now that the tech boom has increased the number of programmers locally, he says. “We also have a partnership with Florida International University, which helps us to get programmers, developers, and logistics specialists,” Del Riego said.

MORE CREDIT FOR TRADE IN EUROPE

Of course, doing business globally presents diverse challenges. For example, to start an office some countries require more paperwork than others, while other administrations move more quickly. Setting up in Dubai and the United Kingdom went “relatively fast,” but took longer in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam, Del Riego said.

Operations also differ. “There tends to be more credit offered in Europe than in the rest of the world,” Del Riego explained. Companies in Europe often get 30 to 180 days to pay for freight shipments, whereas importers in the U.S. typically get no credit and U.S. exporters tend to offer 15 to 30 days. “In Europe, it’s part of the sales presentation for freight to include credit.”

For PayCargo, the new investment from financial giant Blackstone offers more than cash. Blackstone owns or has interest in some 200 seaports and more than 1.1 billion-square-feet of warehouse space worldwide. It’s keen on three trends, says Vini Letteri, senior managing director at Blackstone Growth: “the proliferation of electronic payments, the digitization of the supply chain, and the modernization of business-to-business payments.” PayCargo fits perfectly in that mix and ranks as “a category leader,” according to Letteri.

Blackstone is starting to introduce PayCargo to some of its portfolio companies, which could become customers, Del Riego says. With quicker release of cargo and better data, “ports and warehouses can operate more efficiently, so working together makes all the sense in the world.” The potential for growth remains enormous. Less than 10 percent of U.S. cargo payments – and less than 1 percent of freight payments globally – are now handled electronically, with most still relying on paper, from vouchers to checks to cash. Says PayCargo’s CEO: “There’s a lot of upside.” 

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