As companies battle the recession, bartering comes in handy

First posted on Commercial Law International on Feb 24, 2010.

By: Carsten Lexa

Money helps a lot when it comes to exchanging goods. One buys the goods, pays with cash and takes the goods away. So far, so good. But what if free cash to spend is a rare thing? For example in times like today, when the economy is not doing well and money is scarce?

Today, more and more companies turn to third party networks to contribute and use barter schemes. Of course, bartering is nothing new: It is a medium in which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods and/or services without a common unit of exchange, e.g. money (according to Wikipedia). Firms routinely arrange exchanges on their own. But cultivating relationships with business partners in such a way, that barter schemes can be discussed and established among each others takes time and presents numerous hurdles. Let´s assume the owner of a restaurant needs printing services with a value of $ 10.000,00. Where can he find a printshop with an owner who is hungry for a $10.000,00 meal?

Formal barter schemes can help. One of the biggest providers for example is Bartercard, the largest exchange network with trades through its network worth more than $ 2 billion and 75.000 members in more than 9 countries. By using such a provider, the restaurant owner in the example above would owe $ 10.000,00 to the exchange network, not the printshop. The provider provides the business partners and makes sure that every member of the network honors the services of the other members. It therefore provides security and accountability, something informal bartering cannot provide in an adequate way.

What are the additional advantages of such barter schemes, other than security and accountability? The biggest advantage is the fact that no money is needed to “pay” for services and goods. Another one is the fact that a member can “buy” services first throught the network and pays later in his own services and goods – sometimes months later, if nobody wants his services or goods earlier. And finally such a scheme can work not only in one country, but – ideally – worldwide, as long as the members accept the scheme.

Even in Germany such barter schemes are tried and – especially among small and midsize compamies – found helpful. But currently, no big exchange networks exist. So, member of traditional business networks try to establish their own barter networks. Reason is that a company owner who knows another company owner through a traditional business network and has done business with him in a traditional way using cash will be more open towards doing barter transactions with this person than with a total stranger.

Is barter the holy grail for companies in recession times? Probably not. But it can be a helpful to do business if cash is scarce. The difficulty is to find the right partner.

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