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Trade finance: Banks’ digital deficit

Digital innovation has the potential to transform international trade, yet many argue that banks are lagging in replacing antiquated systems for trade with smart solutions. What is behind the delays?

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Thanks to international trade – exporting flowers from Kenya to Spain, soy beans from Brazil to China and diamonds from India to the US – we have access to pretty much whatever we want whenever we want it. But the movement of goods from one place to another creates a colossal amount of bureaucratic waste. That’s because, when it comes to trade, paper is king.

It is not just the cardboard and paper that protects your Amazon parcel, so much as the reams of paper passed from person to person between countries and continents that follow each physical shipment as it crosses borders.

“Each trade transaction requires, on average, 40 pieces of paper,” says Natalie Blyth, global head of trade and receivables finance at HSBC. “Processing all these documents is not only extremely inefficient, it’s also incredibly expensive.”

Some bankers lament that often information isn’t even printed on both sides of the paper. And if there is a mistake on one of those of pieces, it means many hours are spent on finding the root of the problem.

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