Letters of credit are used to eliminate counterparty risks in global trade. A transaction normally involves four parties: A seller who exports the goods, the seller’s local bank, a bank in the recipient country, and the foreign buyer who imports the goods.
Today, the letter of credit contract and document are to a large part exchanged between the parties by physical mail. The new platform is therefore expected to reduce lead times by 90% from an average of ten days to less than 24 hours by replacing today’s paper-based process with a digital solution.
“Using this technology, all parties get a common interface and can access all information simultaneously. This replaces SWIFT and the need to send each other physical mail,” says Marina Sandquist, Trade Finance, who is part of the team working on implementation at SEB.
Development of global platform
SEB has been involved in the development of the global platform from the outset. The first step was taken five years ago when the bank joined an international bank consortium to develop an open blockchain platform. This resulted in the formation of the USA-based company R3 which has launched an infrastructure platform called Corda. SEB has been a part-owner of this company since 2017.
In the same year, a project started to develop a solution for trade finance built on the Corda platform. It is this solution which has been put into global operation by Contour, a company founded by eight international banks including SEB. Kristina Söderberg, Venture Capital, and Helen Seeman, global product manager for trade finance, Transaction Services, are representing SEB in the company board.
The technology has been tested by some 80 banks and companies in 17 countries for transactions involving commodities, petrochemical products, energy, metals, consumables and textiles. The potential is large.
“The trade finance market is expected to amount to 79 billion dollars by 2026. According to the original estimates, about 40% of this trade will use Contour’s blockchain technology by then,” says Marina Sandquist.
Internal production environment
A year ago, work started on implementing an internal production environment at SEB based on Contour’s blockchain technology. A test environment is in place which is currently entering its beta phase prior to the upcoming launch of the live production environment.