A trade finance transaction between the Seychelles and Ireland, via Barclays Africa, could herald a new era in financial technology.
|Africa was at the forefront of a major technology landmark this week as Barclays Africa and its UK parent company Barclays plc completed the world’s first trade finance transaction using blockchain technology.
The trade, between Ireland and the Seychelles, was based on a new technology platform developed by Wave, an innovative start-up company that went through the Barclays Accelerator programme powered by TechStars in New York last year. The bank says it could herald a new era of simpler, faster and safer trade finance.
While companies around the world are looking for ways to improve trade finance transactions using the speed and security offered by blockchain technology, this is the first time it has been achieved in a live trade. Because of the involvement of Barclays Africa, additional pilot projects involving African clients are likely as the technology is developed and adapted.
The pilot trade involved a letter of credit transaction between Seychelles Trading Company Ltd and Ornua (formerly the Irish Dairy Board), clients of Barclays Africa and Barclays UK respectively. It used the Wave technology platform to transfer the electronic Bill of Lading (“eB/L”), with the funds sent via Swift.
The Wave application allows all stakeholders on the supply chain to send, receive and track an eB/L as well as upload and send related documentation. The application is linked to a distributed ledger which securely records and verifies the ownership and authenticity of the documents. This eliminates many of the current inefficiencies in international trade.
The Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation estimates that “7% of the global value of trade is absorbed by the cost of documents alone”, which means companies around the world stand to save significant costs and time, with the shipping industry and financial institutions expected to be some of the biggest beneficiaries.
George Wilson, Head of Africa Trade Financial Institutions, says that “While trade finance is ripe for innovation, it has been a difficult area to digitise because every unique trade involves numerous parties – importers, exporters and banks at either end, shipping carriers and customs officials – and they all have to be supportive and comfortable with the technology.”
Barclays Africa project manager for the pilot, Kelly Parkhurst, said the successful Seychelles pilot trade would accelerate interest in the Wave technology.
“The Wave application is simple to use, and their team has a long term vision and strategy that sets them apart from other start-ups playing in this field,” she said.
Given the speed of technological advances and the global interest in the Wave product a full commercial rollout of the application might happen sooner than originally anticipated. The key to adoption is in an agile and highly collaborative approach, says Parkhurst.
James Scott, Head of Digital at Corporate and Investment Banking for Barclays Africa, said the successful pilot trade was an example of the technological advances taking place across Africa.
“We have been taking a leading role in helping to develop products and investigate technologies that will bring efficiencies and cost savings to Africa. This includes blockchain, which has the potential to fundamentally change the way certain businesses operate.”
“Barclays Africa was the first African bank to join the R3 Blockchain consortium, which includes some of the world’s biggest financial institutions investigating the uses of blockchain technology. We nominated our Seychelles client for this first pilot and could involve other African trade finance clients, and other banks with clients in Africa, in future tests.”
Temi Ofong, Chief Executive – Corporate and Investment Banking Africa (Excluding South Africa) and Head of Global Finance and Transactional Banking at Barclays Africa, said Africa continually provides examples of new technology leapfrogging over existing and often outdated systems.
“This technology solves a lot of issues for everyone involved in trade finance. It reduces risks such as fraud, it prevents forgeries of documents, and it eliminates a huge amount of paper work. Importantly, it saves a lot of time – typically these documents take anywhere from 2 to 10 working days to be couriered from party to party. Now it can be done electronically in hours or minutes, depending on the back end processing.”
Both Seychelles Trading Company and Ornua were excited about the change the Wave application could bring to the trade industry, CEO of Seychelles Trading Company, Veronique Laport commented that “The allure of Wave is in its simplicity. It’s easy to operate and simply reduce paper based transactions in the international trade. An industry wide roll out of such an application will greatly benefit any Company dealing with imports or exports.”
David O’Rourke, Group Trade Finance Manager at Ornua Co-operative, said: “Moving to paperless trade would be hugely beneficial in supporting the supply chain, through reduced costs, error free documentation, and fast transfer of original documents to our customers worldwide.”
Gadi Ruschin, CEO at Wave said: “Effective use of blockchain technology really can have a huge impact on the future of trade. By adopting our system, trade can be done more easily and more cheaply while providing a simple and friendly user experience without changing existing workflows.
We thank all participants for joining our live pilot and for taking the first steps towards paperless trade. Barclays has been a tremendous support in getting us to this important milestone and we look forward to engaging in more industry collaborations as the application progresses to the next stage.”
IoT’s answer for Africa
IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.
With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.
Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.
Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.
The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks
It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.
We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.
The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization
One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.
Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water. IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.
In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.
Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.
Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain
Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.
African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain frozen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s.
So its population uses Hawala; an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a central country clearing house, then onto a clearing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.
Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually become a replacement for Hawala and other existing forms of international remittances. Cryptocurrencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks.
International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, particularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.
At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging technologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and services. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s software developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.
Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infrastructure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.
We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Uplus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding platform. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.
A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of blockchain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for African communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.
Regulation can nurture or constrict the technology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Kenya, I’m proud to see how proactive the government has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself resonating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.