Swiss financial giant UBS has started full-fledged transactions on we.trade, a blockchain-based trade finance platform that’s nearing wide adoption by its member banks.
UBS confirmed it went live on we.trade at the beginning of October, facilitating services to small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs). A spokesperson told CoinDesk:
“We’re reaching out to clients on a one-to-one basis to educate them on the new platform and walk them through the process.”
Blockchains offer a shared digital record to the previously paper-based world of global trade, and help reinforce trust between companies executing trade agreements. We.trade focuses on creating a trusted network among the SME clients of European banks. Services include bank payment guarantees and invoice financing, for which the banks charge a fee.
Launched in mid-2018, we.trade is ahead of rivals like Marco Polo, a trade finance blockchain backed by TradeIX and R3 that’s still in the pilot stage. The we.trade platform is now all about commercial adoption and it’s taking a two-pronged approach: attract more banks and onboard more SMEs.
Erste Group of Austria and Spain’s CaixaBank also started pushing through on live transactions this month. And early next year, Eurobank of Greece and the three main banks of the Czech Republic — CSOB, Komercni, and Česká Spořitelna — are set to join them. The three Czech banks account for 80 percent of domestic trade in that country.
Ciaran McGowan, general manager at we.trade, told CoinDesk:
“We are starting with a model where the auto settlement product is free in the Czech Republic, to see if a free model for domestic trade generates easy and rapid on-boarding that works for us.”
On Eurobank, Gowan added: “A fascinating element is that in Greece the post-dated check is still very prevalent, so they see the platform as a way to replace that, which is another use story we hadn’t foreseen.”
Société Générale, HSBC, Santander, UniCredit, Nordea, KBC Bank, Rabobank, and Deutsche Bank already use we.trade to settle trade contracts.
The more, the merrier
The banks are encouraging their corporate clients to use the platform, thereby spurring wider adoption. “The accelerated collaboration between these corporates and banks is amazing,” McGowan said.
“We.trade needs more SMEs using the platform,” said Marie-Laure Gastellu, deputy head of trade finance at Société Générale. “To have more SMEs, it also needs more banks to join, not as equity investors, but really users of we.trade. The SMEs we are dealing with are telling us how happy they are to have such an offer and they are also asking us as much as possible to try to convince other banks to join.”
Gastellu said one of SocGen’s clients in France was dealing with a company in Italy which was not on the platform. Following its recommendation, the firm directly opened an account with Unicredit and joined we.trade.
“We.trade is also a great tool to get new relationships for banks,” said Gastellu.
Similar stories are coming out of Scandinavia, where Nordea has built up a we.trade client network across Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.
For example, a Swedish company that imports limited edition sneakers asked a supplier in Spain to open a business account with Santander so it could sign up to we.trade, said Ville Sointu, head of emerging technologies at Nordea.
We.trade plans to add a new feature to its software allowing clients to invite their partners to its platform. “We can increase the network by creating a mechanism that will allow customers who have signed on and are looking for a counter-party to have a very easy way of saying ‘I want to trade on we.trade with you,’” Sointu says.
Nordea has positioned we.trade as another product in the bank’s portfolio, Sointu explained. This means that rather like a corporate credit card, there are we.trade brochures, customer support and so on. “We have a real landing page for we.trade,” he said, adding:
“One thing you won’t find on that page is the word ‘blockchain.’”
Prices to trade on the platform range from $2,000 a month (for the curious early users) to full annual membership license at $175,000. Trialing a project with We.trade costs $75,000 costs per year.
“Up until now, the shareholder banks had paid $330,000 per annum,” said McGowan. “From talking to other banks, we got a clear message this is too expensive. So we listened.”
The we.trade platform is built by IBM on the open-source Hyperledger Fabric blockchain system, but McGowan plans to bring the tech work in-house soon.
“We are a technology company and we want to build our own capability,” he said. “We have a very good working relationship with IBM and they understand that we can’t continually pay for an outsourced team.”
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