Moving freight is a complex process that involves high degrees of logistical expertise as well as contacts across the sector. There are a number of different roles across the industry, all of which offer a key set of services. Three of these roles are freight agent, freight forwarder and freight broker. The terms are often misunderstood and the roles are mixed up. While there’s some crossover, they are in fact distinct roles providing a different set of services and approaches.
Here we’ll take a look at these three roles, what they are and how they differ.
What is a freight agent?
A freight agent helps to connect shippers with carriers who are willing to move the freight. They will work for a freight broker, acting as a customer-facing professional who works to find available carriers to ship their client’s freight. They will usually be less involved in the shipping process, providing a minimal service that connects shippers with carriers.
Once the carrier has been booked and arranged, the agent’s job will be finished. It will be the shipper and the carrier who negotiate the pick-up, and the rest of the shipping and delivery process. The shipper will liaise with the carrier and both will take care of most of the arrangements without much input from the agent. Should any problems arise during the shipping process, the agent and the shipper will take care of them independently.
What is a freight broker?
A first glance the role of a freight broker may look identical to that of a freight agent. Both act as middlemen between shippers and carriers, and neither take possession of the freight. The broker will facilitate communications between the shipper and the carrier, helping to facilitate a smooth shipping process. They will be the ones who ensure that the handoff goes smoothly between the carriers and the shippers, and that freight arrives safely and on time.
Working with a freight broker gives shippers a range of benefits. Crucially, they provide a single point of contact from point A to point B while the freight moves towards its final destination. The shipper doesn’t have to take care of the negotiations with a carrier, they don’t need to plan routes, nor do they have to keep track of their freight.
A freight broker can negotiate a lower price for shipping goods and can optimise routes, minimising the miles that the freight needs to travel to reach its final destination. A freight broker can save businesses a substantial amount of time and money on their shipping costs.
There are limits to what a freight broker will take care of, however. They won’t normally take care of any of the paperwork involved in shipping goods, which with import and export can be complex and extensive. Nor will they handle the goods themselves. They won’t store the goods and won’t take care of any extra services that might facilitate the shipping process such as break bulk, consolidation or packaging. So while a freight broker will give you a more comprehensive service than a freight agent, there will be aspects of the shipping process that you will still need to take care of yourself.
What should you do if you’re looking for a more comprehensive service than is usually provided by a freight agent and freight broker?
What is a freight forwarder?
If you’re looking for a comprehensive shipping service then using a freight forwarder might be the best option. They perform similar services to freight agents and freight brokers in that they arrange the transportation of a shipper’s cargo by contracting with third-party carriers to ship freight. They may or may not be able to handle some of the physical shipping process themselves, but they will take an active role in the preparation and shipment of a shipper’s cargo. This is a key point of difference between freight forwarders and freight agents and brokers.
Freight forwarders provide an extensive range of services for their clients. These services might include packaging services, warehousing, consolidating shipments, and preparing customs paperwork. Freight forwarders can negotiate freight rates, organise shipping, freight and onwards transport. They provide a bespoke supply chain solution overseeing all the different aspects of the process.
Freight forwarding services simplify the import/export process
Importing and exporting goods offers a range of opportunities for ambitious businesses. The bureaucracy and complications of the process can often seem daunting. If you’re new to the entire process the extent of the paperwork involved can make many businesses think again. All of this can be difficult to make sense of if you’re not completely familiar with the ins and out of international trade. As a result of Brexit, importing and exporting to and from the UK has become even more complicated.
If you have an understanding of the system and require a limited package of services then a freight agent or broker may be all you need. If, however, you’re looking for a company to handle the whole process, then a freight forwarder can ultimately save you time and money.
At SSOIF, we provide a comprehensive freight forwarding service. We can take on the time-consuming and complex administrative aspects of logistics and supply chain management. This allows our clients more time to concentrate on their core business.
We keep abreast of any regulatory changes and take care of the complex administrative aspects of logistics and supply chain management.
Contact us today to find out more about how we work and the services we provide.