When the world woke up to the news that the British people had voted to leave the European Union in 2016, the team at Europa Worldwide Group knew they would need to work hard to ensure their operations delivered when Brexit finally happened.
The leading logistics company spent £5 million preparing for Brexit, so that its customers would experience as little disruption as possible.
In a series of articles, based on interviews with staff across the company, Europa’s team talk about their experiences and how working together turned a potential challenge into an opportunity that will benefit customers for years to come.
Here, we talk to Paul Hinchley, Head of Development, Europa Worldwide Group to gain insights into how the software management team worked hard behind the scenes to help the group keep driving forward in the run-up to Brexit and beyond.
Paul manages the software development team, which involves writing, maintaining and extending Europa’s internal bespoke software system, Leonardo.
Leonardo gives Europa Worldwide Group in-house control over its systems, improving responsiveness, efficiency and productivity.
Paul said: “Leonardo is very forward-looking software which helps keep us ahead of rivals. My role is to continue to come up with ideas for software development that will give us an edge over competitors.”
The launch of the first version of Leonardo coincided with the UK’s Brexit vote. Back then, though, it was too early to imagine what the implications of leaving the EU may be.
But as time went on, Paul and his team knew they had to pull together to debate how leaving the EU would affect cross-border trade.
He said: “We really started focusing on Brexit after Article 50 was triggered, making judgments about what may or may not happen, what it all meant and what the system would need to do.”
This was a daunting prospect. But Paul and his team cracked on regardless.
The first thing to establish was what Europa Road wanted to deliver to its customers. The answer was clear: a seamless transition so that customers could trade with EU countries in much the same way as pre-Brexit.
Paul said: “The problem throughout the Brexit process from my point of view was the lack of clarity about what it was actually going to mean. It could mean we have to do customs declarations for absolutely everything. Or it could mean, based on the agreement we make with the EU, that we don’t. Nobody really knew.
“So, we had to make decisions and take action based on our best guess of what is most likely to happen.”
It was during this process of guesswork and many hours of debates with customs experts that the idea for Europa Flow was born.
Europa Flow was launched on the 1st January this year after 12 months in development. It is a software system that has been designed to facilitate exports to the EU on DDP terms – removing the hassle for EU importers by negating their need to appoint a customs broker or pay import duties, whilst zero rating the import VAT.
Under DDP the seller takes total responsibility for the export and import formalities, transport, duties and taxes – meaning that the buyer doesn’t need to worry about managing any of those things. This removes barriers to trade – making it just as easy for the EU customer to buy from the UK exporter as before Brexit.
Paul recalls the anxious days and nights running up to midnight on 31 December 2020.
He said: “The UK government didn’t have a deal until Christmas Eve. So, we had a matter of days to go through a whole pile of legislation. Plus, we hadn’t been able to test Flow – it could only be launched when we had actually left the EU. So there were lots of last-minute adjustments to be made.”
Luckily, for Paul and his team, the seemingly endless meetings and discussions with Europa Road’s internal experts, as well as external advisers, paid off. Many of the assumptions they made turned out to be accurate, meaning Flow could be used by customers from the off.
Paul said: “We wrote the software for Flow based on invaluable advice from Deloitte. They advised us about the legislation we needed to know about and the processes we needed to deploy into the system.
“Flow is still in development, and I guess it’s always going to be in development, based on post-Brexit adjustments and the evolving needs of our customers.”
Paul admits that it was not all plain sailing for Europa Flow. “There’s no doubt it had a rocky start, but that was the case for everyone. We worked flat out in the first three months of this year to make improvements to Flow. We had to do a lot of tweaking because we’d had to put the system live based on our best estimates of how it was going to work.
“Now, though, it is working extremely efficiently and many customers using it feel it is a massive benefit. Yes, they still need to provide more information than before, but apart from that there is no difference now in terms of exporting timescales.
“My job now is to make sure all our systems are robust and that we respond quickly to any issues that arise and ensure they don’t reoccur.
“Throughout our Brexit journey there has always been a real sense of pulling together across all the various teams – and management. Everyone understood the need to share information. It was a bit nerve wracking at times – to put it mildly.
“But now, looking back at how everyone performed to their very best, there is a real sense of exhilaration – and optimism – as we move forward into 2022.”