The Innovators 2019: Trade Finance

Using technology and creativity, banks help clients—big and small—reduce paperwork and costs.

At a time when world markets are unsettled by the threat of escalating trade wars and the imposition of tit-for-tat tariffs, the Trade Finance category of the awards takes on added significance.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) promotes its ProTrade Online Channel for trade finance as an “exclusive B2B matchmaking portal for trade-oriented customers.” Clients use the service, which has been steadily refined since its launch at the end of 2010, to improve international trade financing by reducing trade cycles, automating supply chains and lowering operating costs. As the bank notes, customers’ expectations continue to rise. ADCB has recently deployed the agile technology for trade finance workflow automation. Rollout, which began in July 2018, is progressing to all of its channels, including ProTrade and SWIFT.

Australian and New Zealand Banking Group’s (ANZ) submission was for the bank’s general deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in trade finance. Two years ago, the Australian bank announced plans to follow the lead of tech trailblazers, such as Google and Spotify, to cut out its middle management in IT and introduce an agile, self-directed approach to developing new products. The group recently announced that it had completed the rollout of its New Ways of Working program, with 9,000 of its Australian team converted to the benefits of agile development technologies. ANZ is also one of seven bank founding members of the Trade Information Network launched last October. The network aims to close what the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates is a $1.5 trillion trade financing gap hampering the export efforts of small and medium-size businesses. The network lets companies more easily and securely communicate trade information directly with their bank of choice.

Based in the Philippines, ADB is an international development bank set up more than 50 years ago to help reduce poverty in the Asia-Pacific region through affordable loans. ADB’s Trade Finance Scorecard is a compliance tool to help in the global anti-money-laundering campaign. ADB says the scorecard aims to initiate “a channel of dialogue” among stakeholders that can help prevent crime and terrorism while simultaneously financing economic growth and job creation.

Launching the solution last September, ADB announced that it assigns a two-level score to applicants: first, at a macro level, to identify ways to strengthen effective regulation; second, at a micro-transitional level, to highlight specific challenges that can be addressed in the short term.

Banking Circle, the peer-to-peer marketplace for lenders set up in 2016, has been critical of the banking industry’s poor performance in lending to smaller businesses. Banking Circle Lending was launched last year after research confirmed a gap in this market. It aims to provide an additional revenue stream for fintech firms, helping them offer affordable loans to their merchant customers by cutting out the high fees associated with traditional business-lending models. The service is distinguished by its ability to offer quick decisions and flexible options for repayment. Banking Circle says the complete application process can be wrapped up within 72 hours, compared with the average 60-day loan review process of a traditional bank.

Merchants using the solution can receive an indicative offer within minutes via an online calculator. A binding offer is made within 24 hours after an identity verification and credit review process. Money is received as soon as the next business day. Banking Circle Instant Settlement, a recently added service, provides additional support for businesses needing an urgent cash injection.

Spain’s CaixaBank says companies need to “leave their comfort zone” as they respond to new technologies and customers’ shifting expectations. The bank detailed no less than 19 innovative new projects in this year’s submission, and its BrokerNow mobile app is aimed at the most active investors. The app offers these investors “an advanced environment in which to trade with maximum speed and precision,” and provides wide-ranging information, addressing questions about the stock market to the latest regulation.

The app represents a redesign of an earlier mobile app, which CaixaBank created with the input of more than 100 investors who offered views on the design and customer-centric methodologies they wanted. The new version incorporates tools that work more efficiently on a mobile device, for both iOS and Android.

The Saudi British Bank (SABB) is an associate of HSBC, and prides itself on providing a range of innovative Islamic financial solutions. SAAB enjoys a strong reputation in the Middle East, having been Global Finance’s Best Trade Finance Bank in Saudi Arabia for 10 successive years. Its Supply Chain Finance initiative is a state-of-the-art platform giving buyers and suppliers full visibility and enabling seamless online transactions. The platform aims to help major corporates make regular payments to a larger number of smaller suppliers.

Last September, SAAB became the first Saudi bank to join the blockchain ecosystem of global banking and software consortium R3. David Rutter, CEO and founder of R3, says the bank’s input will be invaluable in developing blockchain solutions for the financial sector. SAAB’s most recent innovation has been the launch of an instant cross-border transfer service powered by Ripple.

Like many trade finance initiatives, UniCredit’s Trade Finance Gate aims to reduce or eliminate the volumes of paperwork that traditionally accompany transactions. A digital platform that lets corporates view and manage their trade finance portfolios, Trade Finance Gate was launched in Italy and will be rolled out in Germany during the second half of this year, with other regions of Europe following in 2020. “Trade finance is moving into a new era of digitization, characterised by faster and more efficient processes,” says Raphael Barisaac, global co-head of Trade and Working Solutions at UniCredit. “Trade Finance Gate was founded upon a desire to improve customer experience, and our success highlights our willingness to embrace new digital tools.”

UniCredit is one of the seven European banks that were founding members in 2017 of, a consortium with IBM that has since doubled to 12 banks. The banks are exploring uses of digital ledger technology and blockchain for trade finance. Belgian bank KBC deserves recognition as the initiator of the consortium, which is being recognized with an award as an example of how banks pool their resources to harness new technology to address a specific issue.

“Using distributed ledger technology and smart contracts, and its member banks are opening the door to trade finance for 70% of small and mid-size businesses in Europe that previously did not have access,” IBM announced in February this year. Most recently, UniCredit completed its first Italian transaction via the platform—a consignment of tinplate between metal packaging producer Gruppo ASA and its supplier Steelforce, which was supported by KBC.

India’s YES Bank, created in 2004 and now the country’s fourth-largest private sector bank, aims to modernize trade finance in the Asia-Pacific region. The bank is recognized this year for two trade finance initiatives. Bolero, a platform for the electronic documentation of digital trade, helps eliminate paperwork from trade finance transactions. It makes Yes Bank the first Indian bank to pioneer the digitization of trade documents. The first digital transaction using Bolero for the end-to-end presentation of export documents was completed last November for home-fashion supplier Welspun Global Brands, a subsidiary of textile producer Welspun India, which has yearly exports of $700 million.

Yes Bank also actively uses advanced technologies, including robotics, for its Paperless Trade for Exporters and Importers initiative. Launched in March 2018, this digital solution was offered to select corporates in India during its first phase, and is set to be rolled out over time to more than 2,000 customers. It reduces the turnaround time for payments by an estimated 80%.

Trade Finance Innovators 2019

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) ProTrade Online Channel
ANZ Deployment of Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning in Trade Finance
Asian Development Bank Trade Finance Scorecard
Banking Circle Banking Circle Lending
CaixaBank AgroBank App
SABB Supply Chain Finance Platform
Unicredit Trade Finance Gate Consortium
YES Bank Bolero and Paperless Trade for Exporters/Importers
Yap Kredi Bank FOCA (Financial Documents Corrective Analysis)