Thanks to the advancements in digitalisation, data-driven processes and distributed ledger technology (DLT), the trade finance industry has its sights set on a future where seamless, fast and transparent settlement via interoperable platforms is the norm.

In this 2020 interview series, TFG spoke to 20 experts in trade, receivables and supply chain finance.

An Interview with Commerzbank

Name: Hans Huber

Position: Trade Finance Innovation Project Manager

Organization: Commerzbank

Interviewed by Nikhil Patel (NP), Analyst, Trade Finance Global

Nikhil: In 200 words, what were the key highlights and opportunities of 2019 from an industry perspective in trade, receivables and supply chain finance?

Coopetition

Despite the current atmosphere of push back on multilateralism, most participants in trade and trade finance have understood the significance of communal efforts and that cooperation is indispensable in order to reap digital dividends.

In the industry the concept of coopetition has become accepted in reconstructing the paper-based world in bits & bytes. In 2019 we have witnessed widespread activities in trade digitization, which could eventually form an operating system of trade on a global scale. This is a technology defined multilateralism. We have continued building common layers of cooperation to then compete on it.

Consensus on DLT and maturing technologies

A broad consensus seems to have been achieved in the financial industry (and others) that Blockchain/DLT is a key technology to support digital data registry in global trade and trade finance to eventually replace paper-based records. It also appears people are in broad consensus about other maturing technologies (i.e. IoT, Ubiquitous Networking 5G, Artificial Intelligence) profiting from DLT, v.v.

The understanding of the powers of convergence of these maturing technologies seems to have dramatically grown in 2019.

A year of continued compliance and regulation

The significance of compliance and regulation continued to grow in 2019, and the common understanding for the role of technology and its potential to alleviate regulatory overheads and ease enforcing compliance has been broadened. Appreciably, national law and policymakers became more aware and sensitized for required policy adaptions to fully support digital dealings. The hype around technology advancements may have given them a badly needed wake-up call.

Commerzbank: 2020 Predictions

NP: What are your top predictions for trade, supply chain and receivables in 2020?

Common rules for digital trade

We may see a number of business networks built in the last 3 years starting to be visibly operational. This may accelerate the coopetition process of defining common rules for digital trade and the process of required legal harmonization among legislations.

Standardization

As business networks in the various trade participating industries mature and become operational, the need for standardization will become ever more obvious to many. In a hyperconnected world technical standards are a key enabler for network effects. Too many different standards are a deterrent. Deflation of existing standards, where there are many, seems to be required. That may prove harder to do, than creating new ones.

The adoption curve for technologies like IoT, DLT and AI will further steepen. However, also bridge technologies like OCR will still see considerable investments. 

Electronic transferable records

National policy and lawmakers may focus more and broader on the use of electronic transferable records. It may become evident that regulatory objectives like taxation compliance, environmental and sustainability ambitions, social targets and crime deterrence become reachable much more easily, effectively, and cheaper in a fully networked trade environment.

Plausibility checks on sustainability claims throughout entire supply chains can only be achieved affordably once all records are maintained digitally and in a trustable fashion.

The same holds true for sanction checks and anti-TBML efforts.

The Tricky Road Ahead

NP: In 200 words, what are the biggest challenges in trade, receivables and supply chain finance you predict for 2020?

Justifying investments into digital transformation in order to continue to gradually transform our application landscapes to fully networked and paper-free trade finance administration, won’t be easy. We’re still having to maintain (and partly further develop) applications supporting the paper-based administration processes. And the respective bridge technologies as well.

It can be difficult to assess the pace of digitization and its effect on the markets and therefore decide upon the best time for investments into a multitude of technologies.

We believe that the time of destination platforms for i.e. e-invoicing or supply chain finance will be nearing its end. Many platforms will realize that further growth will no longer materialize in 2020.

This is due to market participants understanding the superiority of fully networked, more decentralized business networks. 

The KYC hurdle will continue to be a deterrent for the adoption of business networks. Regulatory changes should ease making KYC an outsourceable service. Since the basis for this are legal considerations in different legislations, this may be a hard nut to crack.

Again, it appears there is a need for harmonized trade policies.

trade tech predictions 2020

The top tech brackets for 2020

NP: What’s your top prediction for a technology that you think will truly kick off / have the most success in 2020?

Why? I believe this is really hard to predict!

Reasoning technologies

I’d say that AI depends on data being available. No data, no intelligence. AI could be seen as a reasoning technology.

AI has no fixed location. It’ll be glazed across entire application landscapes and be instrumental “here and there”. In trade it could i.e. help to enable new products, assist data entry, detect crime patterns and underscore the plausibility of sustainability claims.

Machine Learning is a close relative. Think of a swarm of packaging robots learning to optimize prioritization of consignments on a set of digitally provided parameters like value and dispatchment urgency.

Data Source technologies

IoT will make a lot of data reliably available, so it’s a source, data creation and input technology.

NLP is also a source of technology. It will translate previously unstructruable data (and relies on AI to do this).

Advanced Analytics will help to make sense of data that is already available, but was previously unusable for a given purpose.

Connecting technologies

DLT will make data exchangeable and credible, so it’s a connecting (but also infra) technology. DLT enables building a network of networks, however, this will take more time to be brought about and consequently spur the use and utility of DLT.

The same applies to API! No network of networks without APIs. APIs are the cornerstone of data permeability.

Infrastructure Technologies

Further acceptance of cloud computing in business is also an important factor. Cloud can be seen as an infrastructure technology. It will gradually replace the privately ran data centre. It enables great elasticity of required calculation power, and ubiquitous storage and access to data. It allows an entirely new distribution of application functions and has therefore knock-on effects on application architecture and application deployability.

It’s a computing paradigm change in many ways.

DLT and API could also be subsumed under Infrastructure Technology.

5G or ubiquitous broadband networking is another infra technology whose uptake will contribute to the adoption of other technologies. It will i.e. greatly accelerate the deployability of IoT-devices and, given its low latency also machine-to-machine communication.

Smartphones can be seen as “ubiquitous computing” since in conjunction with mobile networks it provides a user interface for anything. Also this is a required infrstructure.

Bottom line

The general acceptance of cloud computing will maybe be a 2020 turn out. This will make breaking up data siloes an order of magnitude more feasible and propel the deployment of more DLT based platforms

Read our trade finance 2020 predictions here