Updated: Oct 8, 2020
Revolution, evolution, disruption.
The latest buzzwords do not really matter as trade finance has seen them all. What does matter is the kind of net value a change in the industry can generate.
The legacy world of trade finance has gone through many initiatives, but it still remains close to the bottom of the digital league table. This is because the net value generated for the industry has not been positive for most of these initiatives. Optimising one sector, one region, or one product group may offer some localised improvements, but the whole industry suffers due to the creation of yet another isolated digital island – and the costs and complexity to adopt, integrate and support it.
Initiatives with limited ambitions, a protectionist approach, or inherent adoption barriers just add friction to an already complex ecosystem. In contrast, Contour’s openness and global reach offers a new innovative solution that is witnessing rapid adoption and a growing partner program. As for adoption barriers, these have been significantly lowered through Contour’s innovative use of blockchain technology and governance, underpinned by the company’s values of openness, stability and progressiveness.
Distributed ledger technology
Technological adoption barriers were once, simply represented by system limitations such as a lack of APIs, rigid deployment options, limited multi-language support, inconsistent user experience, or a need to significantly customise the solution for each customer. Contour is already solving for all of these issues, but also addresses more recent concerns that individuals and corporations have regarding trust and data control.
At Contour, we haven’t simply patched distributed ledger technology (DLT) on top of an existing centralised system for minor functions or quick marketing wins. We have designed our architecture from the ground up with Corda Enterprise at its core. Smart contracts and 'Corda Flows', incorporate internationally standardised workflows that securely communicate and synchronise immutable data between all parties, removing the need for reconciliation and enabling instant decisions.
Controlling one’s data is now paramount due to increasing regulatory restrictions and the growing risks of breaches, as centralised platforms have become a lightning rod for data harvesting, mismanagement and complex data-residency compromises. Most platforms claiming to be based on blockchain or DLT do not fully solve for this because the “distributed” part in DLT is only there in name. Many of these platforms only use distributed databases for tiny amounts of data with the majority hosted centrally and/or operated by a centralised controlling single party.
The litmus test for any “decentralised” network is to ask if you can host your own instance and who sets the rules.
There are reasons for this – true decentralisation is hard. It requires a multitude of hosting options, complex upgrade mechanics and support processes to educate users’ technical teams that are not used to such approaches. Fortunately for users, Contour’s engineering and operations teams have years of experience with this and have already solved these challenges to enable full decentralisation, and we will continue to educate and collaborate with the industry to optimise this critical differentiator.
Governance and operations
The issues of trust and control cannot simply be solved with immutable data or permissioned networks. While elements of DLT and a fully decentralised hosting model certainly help, the governance and operation of the network is also paramount.
Permissionless networks and closed consortia often find it hard to scale, and networks operated by non-aligned shareholders can at any time put their own interests above their users. This is why Contour’s network governance was carefully structured to guarantee alignment between users, management and shareholders. Contour’s Board, its committees and all internal processes are focused on optimising at the industry level, enabling different organisations to openly collaborate to solve common pain points and create new opportunities. The addition of so many new banks and corporates over the recent months demonstrate the value they place in our technology and our operating model.
Time to scale
With the recent launch of the first production release (version 5.0) and our production rulebook, Contour is no longer solely a suitable choice for organisations with an appetite for innovation and the risks that come with that. Our first product, which transforms how banks and corporates use the Letter of Credit (LC), was not just chosen because of the LC's lack of digitisation and the benefits we could drive, but because it was a well understood product and process. Introducing new products, new technologies and new operating models at once would have been too much for most organisations to process, so we took this adoption barrier away. Our roadmap is vast and additional products and services will be progressively launched over time in collaboration with the industry, at the right pace with the right foundation.
Contour is optimising at the industry level with an inclusive global ambition, a proven governance framework and a solution that is easily adopted, all of which is generating net value for its users and the industry as a whole.
The journey has just started. Interested to learn more? Get in contact here.