BNP Paribas has become the third bank to conduct a live trade transaction on the Voltron blockchain platform. The transaction involved the export of a bulk shipment of iron from Rio Tinto in Australia to Cargill in China, with BNP Paribas issuing a blockchain-based letter of credit to HSBC Singapore. It also saw the execution of an electronic bill of lading. Voltron is a platform aimed at making the exchange of trade finance documentation digital and more efficient. Built on R3’s blockchain framework Corda, it is run by a consortium of eight founding members: Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribas, CTBC Holding, HSBC, ING, NatWest, SEB and Standard Chartered.
Up until today’s announcement, ING and HSBC had been the only banks to test the platform in a live setting. The integration of the electronic bill of lading is a new feature on the Voltron system that was first tested earlier this month when HSBC and ING carried out their second Voltron pilot, which was for a polymers shipment from India to Peru. By integrating Bolero’s solution for issuing and managing electronic bills of lading on the platform, the blockchain enabled the digital transfer of title of goods.
Following Voltron’s formal launch at Sibos in October, it was expected that more members of the consortium would soon be trialling the platform. Alain Verschueren, BNP Paribas’ head of distributed ledger technology, trade and treasury solutions, said at the time that the bank was contemplating a live transaction.
“We all have several clients knocking on the door,” he said.
He also urged patience on the product’s development, saying that the consortium had not yet even committed to bringing Voltron into full production while testing is ongoing. However, judging from more recent comments by the banks involved, it seems there is a strong intention to bring the platform to market. For one, Ajay Sharma, HSBC’s head of global trade and receivables finance for Asia Pacific, says the banks will continue to improve the solution by adding new features and functionality “as we move towards a commercial launch”.
A statement from HSBC further notes that the new transaction “will take the digitisation of trade finance a step closer to becoming a commercial reality”. But there is still a long way to go. Speaking to GTR this week, Chris Sunderman, blockchain initiative lead for trade finance services at ING, said that bringing the Voltron solution into production will take at least another year. “We have to involve all banks in the consortium in executing pilots, and upon these pilots we will get feedback from our clients, which is essential for the improvement of the solution, but also to further develop Voltron into a market-fit solution. And when that has been achieved, we will have to make it into a scalable solution, which is something different. So it will take some time to get there,” he said.
One improvement the consortium is now working on is an option to integrate Voltron with other providers of electronic bills of lading, such as essDocs and eTitle.