HSBC Claims Blockchain Breakthrough for Trade

The U.K. bank says a shipment of soybeans for Cargill was completed in only two days using the blockchain instead of paper-based documentation.
Matthew HellerMay 14, 2018

In a milestone for trade finance, HSBC announced Monday it had used a blockchain platform to process a shipment of soybeans for agribusiness giant Cargill.

The U.K. bank said the digital transaction involving a bulk shipment of soybeans from Argentina, through Cargill’s Geneva trading arm, to Malaysia took only two days to complete compared to the five or 10 days it normally takes to exchange paper-based documentation.

Using the Corda blockchain platform, HSBC issued a letter of credit to Dutch bank ING, with both banks acting on behalf of Cargill entities. According to HBSC, it was the first end-to-end trade transaction to be completed on a single, shared application rather than multiple systems.

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“The transaction demonstrates that blockchain as a solution to trade digitization is commercially and operationally viable,” HSBC said in a news release, adding that the faster documentation turnaround for trade shipments could “lead to increased flexibility in liquidity management for businesses.”

Corda was developed by R3, a New York-based blockchain consortium whose members include more than 100 banks, regulators and trade associations.

The Financial Times said the transaction opens “the door to mass adoption of [blockchain] technology in the $9 trillion market for trade finance.”

According to the United Nations, digitizing all of the Asia-Pacific region’s trade-related paperwork could slash the time it takes to export goods by up to 44%, cutting costs by up to 31% and boosting exports by as much as $257 billion a year.

“The reason why letters of credit have persisted is because of two real challenges — the absence of digital infrastructure and the challenge of coordinating multiple parties,” Vivek Ramachandran, global head of innovation and growth at HSBC’s commercial banking unit, told Reuters.

“This platform helps us overcome the first and I think the technology and everyone focused on it gives us the impetus to go after the second now with hopefully much better results than we have seen in the past,” he added.

Banks are also developing blockchain applications to simplify other back office processes such as the settlement of securities trades.

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