Infosys Finacle, a subsidiary of tech giant Infosys, has formed a blockchain-based trade network with seven Indian banks.

The network will pilot a trade finance processing solution built by the company, aimed at reducing transaction time and improving transparency.

The seven banks involved are Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, IndusInd Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, RBL Bank, South Indian Bank and Yes Bank. The solution is called Finacle Trade Connect, while the network is called India Trade Connect.

The banks have already run successful proofs of concept (POCs) with Infosys Finacle, which saw them reduce the processing time for an inland letter of credit from nine days to three days.

The POCs also discovered that this solution would reduce transactional costs, due to fewer courier fees and intermediary messaging service fees (these, the project sponsors found, made up 15% of trade finance costs).

This enabled the solution to move into the pilot phase, through which testing will continue, before moving into full production.

Among the aims of the network is to digitise processes including bill collection, letters of credit, open account for trade, purchase order financing and invoice financing.

“We believe this will enable automation, increase transparency as well as enhance efficiency across trade and supply chain operations,” says Ajay Gupta, senior general manager at ICICI, which pioneered the formation of this consortium, along with Axis Bank.

In February 2017 the two banks decided to pursue a blockchain experiment for domestic trade finance. In March 2017, they met with the other five banks, which agreed to begin testing India Trade Connect, which has been in development for four years.

One of the key questions for many through the post-2016 hype around blockchain for trade finance has been around data. Namely, in an integrated distributed ledger, who owns the data, and where is it stored?

At the crux of India Trade Connect solution is the establishment of an independent data centre, stored in the cloud.

In a paper outlining the platform’s development, Infosys writes: “The biggest tech challenge was using an independent data centre in the cloud and establishing security requirements. There were few benchmarks available on how a distributed storage and distributed computing system can be integrated with host systems in a secure way, which was compliant with the security standards at the participating banks. Infosys worked extensively with the participants to explain how an independent data centre would work, implement the security they required, and acquire third-party certification.”

The company also says the solution is technology-agnostic, and can be integrated with any of the existing blockchain technologies (Hyperledger, R3 Corda, Ethereum are the dominant grouping in trade finance).

It is now seeking to onboard other banks and other players in the value chain, such as logistics carriers and insurers.

The seven lenders are among the most prominent commercial banks in India’s trade finance sector, managing a combined US$250bn in assets. Each has spoken with optimism about the outcome of this solution, which would help digitise an industry that is fraught with fraud risk and groaning under the weight of the cumulative paper usage.

“We believe that this platform will help us take a quantum leap in digitisation and also improve the processing efficiency of trade transactions,” says Ramesh Ganesan, senior executive vice-president for transaction banking at IndusInd Bank.

“We are excited with our experience in creating a closed loop blockchain architecture for extending trade-based transactions as part of the consortium,” adds Shekhar Bhandari, head of transaction banking at Kotak Mahindra Bank.

After it seemed as though the industry’s work with blockchain had stagnated, a number of high-profile initiatives in May have led to an uptick in expectation. HSBC and ING conducted their first live transaction on Corda, R3’s blockchain platform, along with Cargill.

In the same week, R3 and Commerzbank conducted a POC which saw the integration of Corda with SAP. The organisations described this as “a milestone in enabling widespread adoption of Corda by businesses around the globe”.

Some, however, have questioned the legitimacy of the claims around R3’s solution. Much of the advances have been utilising Corda as a private network. This arguably goes against the essence of blockchain, which is ideologically an open source, universal technology.

“Corda is not blockchain – it more closely resembles an email server,” quipped one fintech CTO, who wished not to be named.