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Trade finance – how it’s catching up with the digital age

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Trade finance – how it’s catching up with the digital age

Uzair Bawany, COO at Traydstream, explains that the ancient process of trade finance is finally being transformed thanks to the application of artificial learning, machine learning and robotics.

Although it drives the global economy, trade finance processing remains in a time warp and hasn’t really progressed over the centuries. Despite the modern digital world that we live in, current trade finance operations still involve manual, paper-based processes that are duplicated across multiple parties. The net result is that these activities remain extremely costly, time intensive and inefficient. At long last, the trade finance process is now the target for massive disruption to move into a new era of digitisation and efficiency.

Why change is required

A good example of the problem is the transfer of trade documents. A supplier will draw up the documents and send them to its bank, which will then send the documents to the buyer’s bank, which will then send them on to the buyer. All parties involved basically perform the same process, which is an enormous waste of time and resources – and can take many weeks to complete.

This status quo creates major inefficiencies at every point of the trade finance process, as well as security and compliance risks – with heavy fines and an abundance of regulatory obligations, becoming increasingly commonplace.  Some firms have tried to digitise parts of the process with electronic Bills of Lading and other similar components to a transaction, but this really isn’t solving the real issue – as checks still need to be performed.

Imagine the scenario of a trade transaction between two oil majors, transacting a large oil shipment. To start the trade, the shipment is made and the exporting major prepares its’ documents – this process could take between three and four days. The documents are then handed over to its bank for checking against the Letter of Credit, which could easily take two more days. At this point, it would be highly likely that the documents are sent back to the major for corrections due to discrepancies – which further delays the end-to-end chain. These documents are then physically sent to the buyer’s bank that will take another two days to process. If all is well, the buyer will get the documents to concur and be ready to pay.

This end-to-end process could take ten to twelve days, not to mention the holiday impact – depending on jurisdictions. That said, oil majors, typically benefit from a faster turnaround, and so the process can be quicker. On the other hand, with SME’s, or other sectors, this process through the banking system could take much longer. It’s also a process that goes on day in day out for all companies trading in the international arena.

The biggest barrier to addressing trading inefficiencies in the finance sectors has been the inertia to change. As trade finance processes have remained the same for decades, it’s hardly surprising there is a certain comfort factor associated with this.  Additionally, over the last ten years, financial organisations have been faced with huge regulatory pressures and increased capital costs. A general political climate where banks need to become more utility-like in their approach has also meant that “change” has not been their priority.

Thankfully, we are now seeing a new industry focus on efficiency and accuracy, driven by the huge attention on expense management – which is forcing organisations to be more receptive to change. Life after Brexit is also another key driver – especially when dealing with the inevitable changes in trading rules. Solutions are therefore being sought that enable operational processes to become leaner and fitter – and this feels like a behavioural shift which is more endemic.  This can only be a good thing for the industry.

Technology game changers

To overhaul the trade-finance industry and more specifically – the documentation process, senior management and business leaders in the banking and finance sector are embracing technology and championing it through their respective organisations. Digitalisation and leading-edge technology are now the key areas of strategic focus – driven by the promise of potential cost reductions, efficiency and compliance benefits.

New technologies, such as robotics, are positively disrupting the trade finance sector, specifically with the automation of key processes such as moving documents and data, enacting document comparisons and performing due-diligence checks. Other technology innovations like artificial intelligence (AI) and behavioural learning can arm trading partners with transparency and predictability in global trade and provide a greater capacity to identify potential non-compliance and fraud risks.

In practice

New digital, cloud-based, platforms are emerging that enable banks and corporates to complete trade finance operations, in minutes – rather than days. Through the use of best in class technologies, in a safe and secure manner, information can be shared, checks can be conducted and the entire process can be consummated quickly. These platforms work by scanning trade finance documents and extracting the data using advanced Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software which the platform can use downstream. Subsequently, the data is run through a very sophisticated artificial intelligence and machine learning-based, rules algorithmic engine.

These platforms are able to come up with responses and decisions which humans currently take on a daily basis, enabling the entire process to become data-driven – as opposed to paper dependent – with an exceptionally high rate of accuracy and precision. These automated steps include document discrepancy-checks, due-diligence, and regulatory and compliance screening, thereby making the role of the user, more the exception rather than the rule in discovering errors, and removing the need for mundane, repetitive activities.

The underpinning of any global system for banks and corporates needs to be in a very safe and secure environment, so platforms use the best in class measures to keep data partitioned and protected.  Very soon, blockchain technology will also be integrated to further enhance transaction processes and research is currently being conducted on live trades. Once incorporated, it will reduce the trade cycle time even more.

Positive outcomes

This new technology wave promises to reduce the costs and complexities of trade finance for banks and corporates, and even enhance working-capital management. The use of Smart contracts (i.e. digitised contracts), AI and Machine Learning to automate processes –  ensures a more streamlined operational process across the whole Trade ecosystem.

The ability to access, examine and approve original documents remotely and separately from other parties—anywhere across the supply chain— will improve logistical efficiency at banks, ports and terminals. By enabling individuals in different countries to collaborate on drafting digital documents, it will also reduce errors, centralise processes, maintain data integrity and accelerate the completion of agreements from weeks – to minutes.

Another key benefit of digitalisation is by increasing visibility and by making processes more efficient and reliable, it becomes easier to comply with regulatory requirements. With the increased control and visibility over documents, and the capability to instantly transfer documents across the globe – this can help organisations reduce the risk of fraud too. Documents can be issued or endorsed only by authorised users and can be configured to prevent unwitting transfer to sanctioned parties.

There are also wider economic benefits. As the cost of processing a letter of credit decreases, this reduces the entire cost of trade finance operations. The ease of process also facilitates customs-clearance procedures—allowing goods to move through supply chains more easily and reach consumers faster.

Looking forward

Although change won’t happen overnight, and transformation is still at an early stage, there’s clearly great potential for technology to create major efficiencies and opportunities in the trade finance sector. Ultimately, as finance sector organisations continue to show increased interest in collaboration, and as technology continues to innovate – the multiple benefits for all parties operating in trade finance will be transformational.

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Energy stocks drag down FTSE 100, IG Group slides

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Energy stocks drag down FTSE 100, IG Group slides 1

By Shivani Kumaresan

(Reuters) – London’s FTSE 100 slipped on Thursday, weighed down by falls in energy stocks as oil prices slid after a surprise increase in U.S. crude inventories, while IG Group tumbled on plans to buy U.S. trading platform tastytrade for $1 billion.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index lost 0.4%, while the domestically focussed mid-cap FTSE 250 index also slid 0.4%.

Energy majors BP and Royal Dutch Shell fell 3.2% and 2.5%, respectively, and were the biggest drags on the FTSE-100 index. [O/R]

“What is holding back the UK is a lack of tech stocks to capture the ‘rotation’ back into tech seen since Netflix results,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG.

“Stock markets overall are much quieter today, looking so far in vain for a new catalyst for further upside.”

The FTSE 100 shed 14.3% in value last year, its worst performance since a 31% plunge in 2008 and underperforming its European peers by a wide margin, as pandemic-driven lockdowns battered the economy and led to mass layoffs.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was too early to say when the national coronavirus lockdown in England would end, as daily deaths from COVID-19 reach new highs and hospitals become increasingly stretched.

IG Group tumbled 8.5% after announcing plans to buy tastytrade, venturing into North America after a stellar year for the new breed of retail investment brokerages.

Ibstock jumped 7.3% to the top of the FTSE 250 after the company said fourth-quarter activity benefited from better-than-expected demand for new houses and repairs.

Pets at Home Group Plc rose 2.2% after reporting an 18% jump in third-quarter revenue, boosted by higher demand for its accessories and veterinary services as more people adopted pets during lockdowns.

(Reporting by Shivani Kumaresan in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V and Mark Potter)

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Wall Street bounce, upbeat earnings lift European stocks

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Wall Street bounce, upbeat earnings lift European stocks 2

By Amal S and Sruthi Shankar

(Reuters) – European stocks rose on Wednesday after Dutch chip equipment maker ASML and Swiss luxury group Richemont gave encouraging earnings updates, while investors hoped for a large U.S. stimulus plan as Joe Biden was sworn in as president.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index closed 0.7% higher, getting an extra boost as Wall Street marked record highs.

All eyes were on Biden’s inauguration as the 46th U.S. President, with traders betting on a bigger pandemic relief plan and higher infrastructure spending under the new administration to boost the pandemic-stricken economy.

Tech stocks rallied to a two-decade peak in Europe after ASML Holding NV rose 3.0% to all-time highs on better-than-expected quarterly sales and a strong order intake for 2021.

Meanwhile, Richemont rose 2.8%, after posting a 5% increase in quarterly sales as Chinese splashed out on Cartier, its flagship jewellery brand.

Britain’s Burberry jumped 3.9% after it stuck to its full-year goals, saying higher full-price sales would boost annual margins, while Asian demand remained strong.

The pair boosted European luxury goods makers that are heavily reliant on China, with LVMH and Kering gaining between 1% and 3%.

“Any sign that retail spending is picking up in China is going to be a boost to the Western markets and those heavily exposed to it,” said Connor Campbell, financial analyst at SpreadEx.

The European Central Bank is set to meet on Thursday. While no policy changes are expected, the bank could face more questions about an increasingly challenging outlook only a month after it unleashed fresh stimulus to bolster the euro zone economy.

“With the new round of easing measures fully in place and no new forecasts to be presented tomorrow, it should be a fairly uneventful day for the euro,” ING analysts said in a note.

Italy’s FTSE MIB gained 0.9% and lenders rose 1.6% after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte won a confidence vote in the upper house Senate and averted a government collapse.

Conte narrowly secured the vote on Tuesday, allowing him to remain in office after a junior partner quit his coalition last week in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daimler AG jumped 4.2% after its Mercedes-Benz brand unveiled a new electric compact SUV, the EQA, as part of plans to take on rival Tesla Inc.

Germany’s Hugo Boss added 4.4% after Mike Ashley-led Frasers said it boosted its stake in the company.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar and Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Arun Koyyur and Kirsten Donovan)

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Miners lead FTSE 100 higher on earnings cheer

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Miners lead FTSE 100 higher on earnings cheer 3

By Shivani Kumaresan

(Reuters) – UK’s FTSE 100 rose on Wednesday as miners gained after a strong production forecast from BHP Group, while encouraging updates from luxury brand Burberry and education group Pearson drove optimism about the earnings season.

BHP Group Ltd climbed 2.8% after it forecast record iron ore production for fiscal 2021, helped by high prices for the commodity. Other miners Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Glencore rose more than 2%.

Global markets rallied in anticipation of more fiscal spending as Joe Biden prepared to take charge as the 46th U.S. president.

“There is a view in the markets that more spending is in the pipeline, after all, Mr Biden will want to start his presidency on a positive note,” said David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

The FTSE 100 index rose 0.4% and the domestically focussed FTSE 250 index added 1.4%.

The FTSE 100 has recorded consistent monthly gains since November after the sealing of a Brexit trade deal and hopes of a vaccine-led economic recovery, but has recently lost steam as tighter business restrictions sparked fears of a slow rebound.

Burberry rose 3.9% as it stuck to its full-year goals and said higher full-price sales would boost annual margins and Asian demand remained strong.

Global education group Pearson jumped 8.6% after its global online sales grew 18% in 2020, helped by strong enrolments in virtual schools.

WH Smith Plc surged 10.4% to the top of the FTSE 250 index as its trading during Christmas was ahead of its expectations.

(Reporting by Shivani Kumaresan in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V, William Maclean)

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