New technologies can revolutionise the way that businesses operate. In this article, we look at Martin Bellin, CEO of BELLIN, and how he changed the face of treasury software.
It has been 20 years since Martin Bellin founded BELLIN in 1998. Today, the group is the global leader in providing web-based treasury software and services for multinational corporations and inspires more than 15,000 companies with over 25,000 users in 150+ countries. Modern, web-based treasury platforms serve all corporate treasury functions, from liquidity planning to global payments, netting and risk management. BELLIN has been on the market for nearly two decades now, but one thing hasn’t changed. After all these years, Martin Bellin is still in charge and BELLIN is still entirely family-owned. So who is the man behind this unique success story? And how did he and BELLIN get to where they are today?
It is not very often you find that the Head of a multinational corporate group is an expert in their field, but this is exactly how Martin Bellin started his professional career – as a treasurer. After university, he worked for a major German corporate group in what would today be called their treasury department. He was responsible for handling FX trading and commercial papers, and his department assumed the role of an in-house bank. It was also his responsibility to enable the daily reporting of the group’s financial status, to collect money from subsidiaries and to have an overview of the global banking business.
However, treasury operations were decentralised so the task of managing these operations proved nearly impossible. At the time, fax machines were state of the art and Excel was in its early stages. Martin could see first-hand that an adequate treasury management system for group-wide data management was needed. But in trying to acquire that, he quickly realised that there was no such offering anywhere on the market. Changing jobs didn’t resolve the issue. He encountered the same data collection problems in his next job, setting up a global treasury for a financially sound, medium-sized company. This experience proved both fundamentally frustrating and deeply transformational. His conclusion was that “the only way to get a suitable system would be to develop my own.” He had the treasury experience and an IT background from his university days, but most importantly he had both determination and drive.
A one-man treasury vision
Martin set out to create the tool he needed while still working in his day job. He bought a computer, set up a small corner in his living room and worked after hours and weekends to get a demo version of the application he had in mind, so he would be able to present it. After a while, Martin gave up his day job as a treasurer to concentrate on setting up the business to market his new tool: BELLIN.
There was no business plan, no employees, no partners or banks on board and no concept had ever been designed and discussed in a boardroom. Martin and his wife set up the business while raising three children, financing everything themselves. Having quit his job, Martin was faced with the challenge of having to make sure his business would provide enough income to support his family. There was no other source of income, no plan B – just Martin and his wife, their tireless energy and the absolute conviction that this was the right thing to do, that this was what treasury needed. It may have meant immense sacrifices, but it also meant the freedom to run business and development the way Martin thought was right.
BELLIN takes off
As it turned out, the major challenge wasn’t the development of the application as such, but getting a foot in the door with corporate treasuries. BELLIN was a one-man business, and that failed to impress multinational corporates with large treasury departments. Eventually, Martin found a first customer, then a second and then a third, who spread the word that there was ‘a new guy in town.’
However, it was difficult to compete with other, established providers, who eyed a new player with suspicion. Consultants were reluctant to take the risk of recommending BELLIN, and the company was only rarely long-listed in Requests for Proposal. Sometimes Martin was even invited, off the record, to see ‘how the big boys do business.’ The obstacles were high, but Martin was relentless, and slowly but surely, the tables started to turn. Customer by customer, what had been a one-man show became a respected and well-known provider in the treasury sector. Martin had made it!
Looking to the future
What is it that turned things around? What was it that made the BELLIN group unique? From the very beginning, Martin was focused on the idea of a global platform, even before the advent of the Internet. The aim was always to consolidate and connect, to make processes more efficient, and above all, to provide added value to all group companies.
BELLIN aims to make a fundamental difference in the world of corporate finance and is always searching for the next great idea and the next great technology to delight multinational organisations. An impressive list of BELLIN ‘firsts’ is proof of BELLIN’s success:
1st to offer a 100% web-based treasury management system (2004)
1st to offer a SaaS-based treasury solution (2005)
1st to offer fully integrated payments functionality (2006)
1st to offer embedded direct SWIFT connectivity and Matching Service (2014)
1st to offer embedded full-service EMIR reporting (2014)
1st to offer a fully integrated trade finance solution (2014)
1st to offer TaaS – Treasury as a Service (2015)
Martin has never steered off his original path – to create something revolutionary, to think differently and to always be one step ahead. He has dedicated his entire career to improving treasury management, and he has achieved just that. Does he have any regrets? Martin’s answer is, “there have been times when I felt very lonely. But if I had to do it all again, I would go down exactly the same route.”