From public health scares to ongoing conflict and geopolitical tensions, supply chain disruptions are becoming more frequent.
Past lockdowns in key port cities, military conflicts, and trade disputes slowed the flow of raw materials to manufacturing hubs and finished goods to consumer markets, forcing companies to reconfigure their supply and production networks. More companies are following in response to ongoing conflict-related shortages.
Aside from strategies such as near sourcing production and regionalising supply chains, companies are also investing in digital solutions to address disruptions. These include tools that enable complete supply chain visibility for decision-makers, the utilisation of data and analytics for better planning, and predictive models to identify future disruptions.
But while enterprises are progressing in these fields, the trade finance sector continues to lag behind other components of the supply chain network.
Financial institutions’ processes are still paper-intensive and highly manual, slowing down the entire supply chain and generating more operational costs for all parties involved while remaining vulnerable to fraud.
Traditional processes are holding the trade finance sector back
Trade finance has been a paper- and labour-intensive sector throughout its long history. But with the astronomical growth in supply chain networks’ complexity, as well as the sheer volume of goods being shipped, the highly-traditional trade finance system is hindering business efficiency, agility and scalability.
With its preponderance of manual processes and overreliance on physical documents, supply chains are littered with process inefficiencies, susceptibility to fraud, and unnecessary increases in costs.
Large amounts of physical documentation, such as product, shipping, and transaction details, are exchanged through multiple parties. Fairly straightforward processes can take up to months to complete.
Meanwhile, this is all against a backdrop of more stringent due diligence requirements such as know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML). These regulations are precisely in response to the lack of transparency that legacy processes exacerbate.
And failure to comply will have serious consequences on businesses’ ability to continue driving Asia Pacific’s economic growth. According to the Asia Development Bank (ADB), the region has the highest rejection rate of trade finance proposals at 34 per cent.
Little wonder, as fraud, especially duplicate trade financing, continues to be a thorn in the side of trade finance. In one of the most prominent cases in recent history, Singapore oil trading company Hin Leong led to US$3.85 billion in losses for 23 banks.
While this type of fraud, which involves financing a single invoice multiple times, is not new and has occurred in the industry as far back as decades ago, institutions are unable to make significant progress against it.
This is a result of the lack of visibility and transparency between stakeholders due to the difficulty in sharing critical data in a timely fashion. In turn, a collaboration between stakeholders takes a blow and opportunities for malpractice become commonplace.
Blockchain tech makes processes faster, cost-efficient, and transparent
When trade finance is done on a decentralised blockchain, all transactions are recorded in a secure database which is accessible to all parties to the trade. This addresses the three major challenges facing trade finance transactions: inefficiencies stemming from the use of large quantities
of physical documents, increased costs of complying with regulatory requirements, and the lack of total visibility, which makes the system vulnerable to fraud.
Conducting transactions through a decentralised blockchain entails digitalising the documentation created, exchanged, and processed by the various stakeholders in a supply chain.
Transmitting the electronic versions of these documents through the blockchain reduces transaction times from months to hours because all involved parties have access to it. The costs associated with such paper-intensive processes are also reduced.
In addition, stakeholders with access to the blockchain have complete visibility over the whole process, significantly reducing the risk of duplicate trade financing. At the same time, parties are assured of the integrity of their data due to the unprecedented security of digital ledger technology.
Successful blockchain adoption is a network-wide effort
For the utilisation of blockchain technology in trade finance to be successful, all parties must buy into it. If just one of the multiple parties in a cross-border trade scenario is not part of the decentralised blockchain, other parties will not be able to have full visibility on all transactions, and confidence in the latter’s integrity against fraud would not be possible.
Improvements in transaction speed and lowered operational costs would not reach their full potential as well. There would still be a need for physical documentation in certain links in the whole supply chain, as well as slower processes.
Financial institutions and other large organisations must take the lead with blockchain adoption. They can be the drivers of change in trade finance, influencing other stakeholders to become more efficient via improved transparency and collaboration.
In addition, this can also fine-tune legislation and regulatory mechanisms to enable the pivot towards blockchain technology in the overall supply chain process.