The trade finance industry is undergoing a massive transformation – from time-consuming and cumbersome manual processes involving paper-based instruments such as Letters of Credit to an automated and digitised future.
In line with its 2020 Strategy, the ICC Banking Commission has launched a “Digitalisation of Trade Finance Working Group”. The aim of the Group is to identify strategies to overcome the constraints of digitalising trade finance – such as a reliance on paper-based practices, a lack of recognition of the legal status of electronic documents, uncertainty over standards, and a general lack of clear legal and regulatory frameworks.
The working group will be chaired by Michael Vrontamitis, Global Head of Trade, Product Management Transaction Banking at Standard Chartered Bank and co-chaired by Alexander Goulandris, co-founder and CEO of essDOC. The group will be coordinated by David Bischof – Senior Policy Manager of the Banking Commission – who will oversee its daily operations. The group will also be the focal point for relevant external parties such as the international transaction banking association BAFT, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Customs Organization (WCO).
“The digitalisation of the trade finance industry is already underway,” said Michael Vrontamitis, Chair of the Digitalisation of Trade Finance Working Group. “In order to help the industry to reach a point of critical mass, where the benefits are fully realised, we need to develop a framework and create a digital ecosystem to enable connectivity and collaboration between stakeholders, in turn speeding up wider adoption.”
A key focus for the working group’s activities will be in helping the trade finance industry realise the many benefits of digitalisation – including transparency, time and cost savings, reduced errors, and reduced compliance and operational risk.
The working group’s core activities are threefold:
(1) “E-compability” of ICC rules for trade finance
The group will evaluate ICC rules, such as the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits (UCP), in order to assess e-compatibility and ensure they are ‘e-compliant’. This will enable banks to accept data rather than documents.
In order to remove uncertainty in the industry and accelerate the uptake of digitalisation, the group will develop a set of minimum standards for the digital connectivity of service providers – particularly across legal, liability, information security and technology.
(3) Legal status
The group will examine the legal and practical issues related to the validity and value of data and documents in digitised form. For instance, it will conduct a legal survey to understand how the rights of third parties compare under paper and electronic Bills of Lading (eB/Ls).
Olivier Paul, Head of Policy at the ICC Banking Commission said: “The group’s focus is simple – to improve awareness of digitalisation and to encourage banks and other corporate actors to participate in the transformation of the industry. Digitalisation can bring about significant operational improvements – working capital benefits and a reduction in the time and costs of the trade finance business – with significant wider economic benefits. Yet e-compatibility and minimum standards are critical, as is legal certainty. This group will thus play a pivotal role in delivering a digital future for trade finance.”