The Fintech Issue – now an annual feature on the GTR editorial calendar – gives us the chance to take a closer look at trade finance digitalisation efforts as being undertaken by stakeholders across the market, including banks, regulators and financial technology companies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has fast-tracked digitalisation initiatives as well as decision-making processes to ensure that trade deals get signed and financed, and there has been some remarkable progress made in pockets of the industry over the course of the last few months. The digital transformation that we’ve witnessed in such a short timeframe is not one that we would have anticipated this time last year.

Fintech companies have always been – and will continue to be – important innovators in the trade space. With expectations high and levels of patience low for the continued acceleration of digitisation and for projects to be delivered, pressure is mounting for these firms, as their claims are increasingly being put to the test.

In this publication, our coverage includes a report on fraud, money laundering and cybercrime, which investigates how the virus is changing the ways criminals seek to move illicit goods and funds across international borders and how banks can mitigate that growing risk; a feature that explores the use of maritime analytics technology as a useful solution for sanctions compliance; and key takeaways from a recent ‘virtual roundtable’ on digitalisation opportunities and threats that we hosted with a few representatives from our new Advisory Board (see facing page). Elsewhere, in our regional sections, we investigate how cyberattacks on critical infrastructure are escalating in the Middle East, and how the United States-Mexica-Canada Agreement, the replacement for Nafta, is bringing international trade rules into the digital age. This issue also includes the full write-ups of our annual Leaders in Trade winners, which this year includes two new fintech categories for ‘best fintech startup’ and ‘best technology collaboration’.

One of the themes across many of our stories is the concern that the increased push towards digitalisation in trade comes with its own risks, and could result in some unintended consequences, such as IT security and fraud threats.

There is also a growing sense of worry that many of the quick fixes that have been introduced over the last few months still face the uphill battle of being converted into structural solutions, and so there is the risk that they may not ultimately be maintained. Although, as one head of trade innovation at a bank told me recently: “Quick fixes can sometimes become business as usual but, in some cases, that had better not be the case.”

As this publication goes to press, OECD statistics on international trade have just come in for April, showing that trade in digitisable services, such as telecoms, computer and business services, demonstrated resilience despite the broader downturn, which partially offset the widespread collapse in overall services trade. In Asia, for example, digital services exports for Japan, Korea and China notched up a year-on-year increase of 80%, 13% and 12% respectively during the January to April period.

In terms of goods trade, the OECD says that provisional data for May suggest that “the bottom may be in sight”, with moderate growth in some economies and a slowdown in the pace of contraction in others.

It’s too early to call, and there are many factors at play, but we can only hope that a transition back to business as usual (or thereabouts) is on the horizon.