Any transition is a journey.
A journey from the present to an idealised future state, following the long, winding, and often foggy path connecting the two.
To make progress, someone needs to be willing to venture out and take that first step, accepting that the early versions will not be perfect.
As trade digitalisation continues along its own path, it is fascinating to have an inside look at the organisations and people that are on the frontline driving this iterative change each day.
Contour is a global network of banks, corporates, and trade partners working to build a global standard for trade by removing barriers and transforming trade finance products, beginning with the letter of credit.
TFG’s Deepesh Patel met with Contour’s CEO, Carl Wegner, and Chief Product Officer, Josh Kroeker, to discuss their approach to innovating in the trade finance space.
Co-creation at the Contour lab
When developing new concepts, Contour turns to its in-house ‘Future of Finance Lab’.
“The whole company is quite innovative,” Josh Kroeker, chief product officer at Contour, said.
“But we do have people within our company that are just focusing on how do we take an idea from conception, create a business case around it, and ultimately develop it into our production solution.”
Contour also benefits from the support of several major trade finance banks worldwide that all have a vested interest in seeing the platform develop new capabilities.
For example, multiple banks have raised the prospect of using the platform as a communication medium since they and all of their major risk distribution counterparts use the platform already.
These conversations will lead to the Contour lab designing and mocking up the workflows and wireframes needed to test the idea and – if it proves to be a useful business case – ultimately release it into production.
“It’s really a great process for us to go through that cocreation all the way through development and then release, and then it will be available for all the banks that are now overseas,” Kroeker says.
The best part, according to Kroeker, is that failure is encouraged, as long as it is done with a growth mindset.
“We like to say, not that it failed, but that it is just not ready yet.”
Contour uses the lab to explore new things without needing to change its production roadmap, ensuring that what they build is something that can be used today.
“We’re not going to build the future before the industry is ready – let’s solve the existing problems today and work with the industry to solve tomorrow’s problems tomorrow.”
Partnerships are a key innovation driver for Contour
The team at Contour acknowledge that they rely on partners for much of their innovative ideas.
“Our strength is the banking network and our understanding of trade finance – we’re never going to understand things like cargo release, bunkering, or booking containers,” Wegner said.
“There’s a lot of other areas out there that are involved in global trade – it’s a very complicated industry.”
This has led the firm to focus on instances where there is an existing customer nexus and work to solidify that connection.
This happens where there are fields that should be linked together to eliminate the need to rekey data multiple times into different systems.
Advances like this create a much smoother platform for users, reducing friction, encouraging more users, and ultimately leading to more trade finance.
Catering to the big and small alike
Due to its nature as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) the platform’s innovation and development efforts are not restricted to just the largest players, but positively impact everyone on the network.
Contour has large global banks, regional banks, and local banks on their platform – all of which work interchangeably with one another.
This size diversity extends to their customers as well, with some of the largest corporates sharing the platform with medium, small, and even micro-sized businesses.
This range is particularly beneficial because the smaller banks, which generally serve smaller businesses, have the ability to give the same experience to clients as larger banks can offer to theirs.
“The software-as-a-service nature of Contour’s platform means that these smaller players do not need to spend millions of dollars building a system themselves,” Wegner said.
“This further democratises the space and gives these smaller banks the ability to give better service to smaller businesses without the extra cost.”
With pioneering firms like Contour leading the way, the path towards the ideal future state for democratised digital trade continues to get shorter by the day.