Sibos 2018: What’s holding up trade finance technology development

A Sibos panel considers the drive to modernize a historically paper-based industry and urges stakeholders to engage in an open discussion on connecting trade finance systems

SYDNEY, Sibos 2018 Sydney - Despite complaints that trade finance hasn't moved with the times, technology within the industry has rapidly developed over the past several years.

From bank payment obligation to blockchain-based trade authentication, there is technology out there ready to solve the pain points of treasury professionals. In fact, recently banks have been more than willing to put aside differences and actually work together a common network.

Just yesterday at Sibos 2018 Sydney several banks agreed to build a trade-sharing network to make it easier for corporates to share trade information between different financial institutions.

"The technology in trade is there we can do that now. The system is the challenge and how can we get beyond this adopted system that we have that keeps us anchored in yesterday's capabilities," says Jason Kelley, general manager at IBM Blockchain Services at panel session at Sibos 2018 Sydney entitled 'Trade wars & technology – A new era for trade finance'. Nevertheless, regulators are working on developing some guidance on how technology can be applied in trade finance.

"Regulators definitely play a role in building the right ecosystem. The role of the regulator will come regarding trade documentation and the standardization of the formats. When there is standardization the technology will evolve. It will be a seamless flow," explains Rajkiran Rai, managing director & CEO at Union Bank of India. This summer, for example, India's central bank developed a regulatory framework regarding blockchain usage in the country on trade finance. While useful domestically, this framework doesn't solve all the issues around emerging technology usage.

"Why do these schemes work? Because it's in a national system or a closed eco-system where rules and regulations are clear on how you can operate. That challenge comes when it becomes cross-border or involves many constituencies. The question now becomes how we can convince other counterparties to get rid of their paper-based processes. We need to create an eco-system where technology can come to its full fruition. If this goes well we might even agree on a new currency or settlement system," says Daniel Schmand, global head of trade finance & regional head of global transaction banking, EMEA at Deutsche Bank.

The panel at Sibos Sydney was urging not only banks but also regulators to engage in a more open discussion on how they can connect their trade finance systems. This has happened in some aspect in Asia with Hong Kong and Singapore joining forces last year to create the Global Trade Connectivity Network. The system went live last month with an aim of streamlining trade finance processes between the two cities.

However, the drive for more trade information flow could go beyond just providing additional visibility.

"What really ramped up trade in the past was efficiency. My view is that technology is able to drive efficiencies that can improve the process and improve the risk appetite," says Samuel Matthew, global head, trade products at Standard Chartered.

That level of efficiency particularly when it comes to trade data could be key in riding out bouts of volatility brought about from the ongoing trade war between China and the USA. Through polling audience members at the panel session, it was made clear that a large slice of audience members (42%) felt that improving access to data that allows banks to make quicker and more informed decisions was the most important way to counter geopolitical uncertainty and trade wars.

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