A host of new names have joined the Voltron blockchain project for trade finance, concluding a major trial that simulated digital letter of credit transactions across 27 countries and six continents.

The six-week trial included no less than 50 banks and corporate participants, who are now to decide if they wish to formally join project Voltron.

Voltron is an initiative to build a blockchain application for digital letters of credit. It is built by CryptoBLK on R3’s Corda framework and run by a consortium of eight founding members: Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribas, CTBC Holding, HSBC, ING, NatWest, SEB and Standard Chartered.

Since May last year, the members have completed five live, commercial pilots in different industries and geographies, involving HSBC, INGBNP Paribas and Bangkok Bank. The application has so far demonstrated significant improvement in transaction speed, reducing the time it takes to execute the entire process of a paper-based letter of credit from five to 10 days, to under 24 hours.

While previous pilots have been mostly about proving the technology and exploring different markets, the new trial is predominantly about scale, explains Simone Blair, strategic business development manager at R3.

She tells GTR that the trial’s purpose was to “allow a much wider group of institutions and corporates to familiarise themselves with the Voltron platform”.

“This trial shows the global interest in the Voltron project,” she says. “Now that institutions have had the chance to use the technology and see how it can fit into their existing letters of credit business, we’re able to lay the groundwork for widescale adoption of the Voltron application.”

Leading trade finance banks and corporates that took part in the trial include: ABN Amro, Alfa Bank, Banco de Crédito del Perú, Banorte, Bci, China Everbright Bank, CIB, Commerzbank, Commercial Bank of Qatar, Ekman & Co, LH Trading, MUFG, Natixis, National Bank of Egypt, RBI, SABB, Scylla, Standard Bank, Société Générale and the Saudi British Bank. This was in addition to Standard Chartered and ING as two of the Voltron founding members.

According to R3, 96% of participants in the trial said Voltron will accelerate their letters of credit process, improve efficiencies and reduce cost.

On this occasion, however, the pilots were not live: the trial only simulated letter of credit transactions, giving participants a chance to test the application in a “safe, controlled environment”, Blair says.

“Trade finance is a vital function for banks and corporates. Billions of dollars rest on the smooth running of this function. It is therefore only right that, when looking at making significant new technological changes, banks and corporates proceed carefully and do all the appropriate due diligence for themselves,” she says.

She adds that project Voltron is now ready to roll out the platform more broadly and is inviting other organisations to trial or live test the application.

As for the banks and firms that took part in the trial, it is now up to them to determine the next steps based on the results of the trial, Blair says. “However, a number of banks in the trial have already expressed interest in formally joining the project.”

The consortium is also looking to establish an independent legal entity by the end of the year that can bring Voltron into production. This is a similar approach to other blockchain consortia, such as we.trade and komgo, which are run by independent companies created by bank shareholders to own and operate the platforms.

“A couple of things need to happen before we launch Voltron as a commercial solution,” Joshua Kroeker, blockchain lead for global commercial banking at HSBC, told GTR last month. “The first is the creation of a new company – a neutral entity that will own and operate the platform on behalf of its users. And then also deciding what is going to be our commercial launch strategy.”

The Voltron tests have covered a range of sectors, including soybeans, plastic derivatives, metals and wool. More live pilots are expected to follow throughout 2019 to identify and evaluate potential go-live markets, Kroeker said.

The consortium also recently announced it will soon be piloting a new electronic bill of lading capability together with essDocs. It is the second e-bill of lading provider that Voltron is collaborating with, following a number of pilots with Bolero.