The Voltron blockchain platform for digitising trade finance documents has been launched, with a view to attracting more member banks and companies.

Now live in test mode, members are set to trial it extensively for additional functionality, using real-world scenarios. Founder members made a pitch at Sibos in Sydney today for other banks to join Voltron, with the platform now being open to testing to non-member banks.

The wider project is aimed at bringing trade finance documentation onto R3’s blockchain-based Corda suite. The founder members are Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribas,  CTBC Holding, HSBC, ING, NatWest, SEB and Standard Chartered. The first live transaction involved HSBC, ING and Cargill executing a digital letter of credit for a cargo of soybeans exported from Argentina to Malaysia, enabling transaction time to be reduced from a standard five to 10 days, to 24 hours.

The next stage in transactional terms is integrating the bill of lading. Electronic bill of lading provider Bolero is involved, with its functionality included at the launch. EssDocs, another digital documentation company, has also begun working with Voltron. Other services will be added on a rolling basis, according to a release.

Members today repeated the industry line that without extensive collaboration, blockchain initiatives are unlikely to be transformative, in a bid to attract more joiners.

“Voltron needs to be simple, quick and cheap for banks to join,” Jim Bidwell, head of trade services product management at NatWest, told the event.

Samuel Mathew, head of trade digitisation at Standard Chartered, added: “The last time banks came together to solve a community problem was in 1973, when Swift was launched.”

He described blockchain projects as the “digital equivalent of containerised ships”, which radicalised global trade through uniformity in the 20th century.

GTR understands that further live transactions on Voltron are underway, with more details to be announced imminently. There will be numerous live trade finance deals by the end of the year, with the founder members now keen to broaden its scope by including more institutions. The aim is to go into production in 2019.

Alain Verschueren, head of distributed ledger technology, trade and treasury solutions at BNP Paribas, says that while the banks are working towards completing collaborative tests, it is likely that bilateral transactions will be conducted too.

“We all have several clients knocking on the door,” he said, adding that BNP Paribas is contemplating a live transaction. He urged patience on the product’s development, saying that the consortium has not yet even committed to bringing Voltron into full production, while testing is ongoing.

Voltron is one of two trade finance applications built on R3’s Corda platform. The other, Marco Polo, is a blockchain application for open account trade finance. It was built by TradeIX, R3 and a group of banks, using TradeIX’s open-source tools to test, pilot and manage open account trade finance transactions.

It was released in September after the completion of a proof of concept earlier in the year. The member banks are Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribas, Commerzbank, DNB, ING, Natixis, Natwest, OP Financial Group, SMBC and Standard Chartered