This time last year, the fintech ecosystem was in the midst of a shake-up. Two major bank-backed initiatives, and Serai, announced their closure, and a few months later, AP Moller-Maersk and IBM decided to discontinue TradeLens, a blockchain-based supply chain ecosystem, due to a lack of commercial viability. Earlier this year, Marco Polo Network, a trade digitisation project, joined the growing list of initiatives running out of funds without achieving success.

The developments were a stark wake-up call after years of industry optimism, and served as a reminder of the challenges faced by fintech startups in scaling and managing resources. Questions emerged about whether certain technologies, such as blockchain, are as well suited to the digitalisation needs of trade finance as previously thought.

But as this year’s Q3 fintech issue goes to press, the prevailing sentiment indicates a shift in the tide, characterised by a resurgence of positive industry news.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of banks strengthening partnerships and investments in trade finance fintechs as part of their digital transformation plans. This has involved Santander’s equity participation in Komgo, Barclays’ capital infusion into TradeLedger and JP Morgan’s financial backing of, as they all strive to boost efficiency, automate processes and deliver improved client experiences.

Other encouraging news has been the recent launch of Singapore’s much-anticipated Trade Finance Registry, a secure database for trade transaction records that enables near real-time detection of double financing attempts. Elsewhere, R3 has delivered Corda 5, the latest version of its blockchain platform, aimed at addressing the challenge of achieving critical mass and lowering technological barriers to trade digitisation.

We delve into these and various other aspects of digital trade finance in this issue, exploring the latest trends, innovative technologies and successful case studies.

Well aware that the narrative around digital efforts has to date been dominated by industry bodies, banks and fintechs, our feature on the real-world impact of trade digitisation focuses on the experience of corporates from multiple sectors, revealing their perspectives, challenges and support requirements for a successful digital transition.

Also in our ‘fintech focus’ section, our digital trade law report takes a look at the ways in which efforts to grant legal recognition to electronic trade documents have gained momentum and how the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records is being used to shape national legislation on almost every continent. Elsewhere, our piece on artificial intelligence explores the potential of machine learning to revolutionise credit and risk management, potentially bringing financing to a wider range of companies.

Our compliance tech report investigates the role of technology in the current complex sanctions environment – specifically in terms of how it can be harnessed to track vessels and analyse counterparties as evasive tactics at sea become more sophisticated. We also home in on technology in our Americas report as we scrutinise the US’ efforts to establish itself as a leading force in the cleantech space and the response from banks as they establish their priorities in the green energy transition.

Across our coverage of the modernisation of trade finance and its stakeholders, we recognise both the opportunities and challenges that come with digital transformation. While technology holds great promise, it also demands careful consideration of cybersecurity, data privacy and regulatory frameworks, as well as the need for constructive partnerships among all involved parties to enable continued progress.