The Marco Polo blockchain platform continues to gain support from trade finance banks around the world. However, while testing is well underway, the go-live date has been postponed until later in the year.
Marco Polo is a technology project led by TradeIX and a consortium of banks to bring to market an open account trade finance platform powered by R3’s Corda framework.
The aim is to utilise blockchain to simplify and speed up the processes behind open account trade finance services throughout the trade cycle. The first products being tested on the platform are receivables finance and payments commitments, with the plan to expand to payables finance next year.
The project has been underway since its launch in September 2017, followed by the completion of a proof of concept in February 2018.
Since then, the network has been rapidly expanding and is today one of the largest in the trade finance space. It now has 17 member banks, 12 of which are so-called ‘founding members’ – banks that have contributed actively to the design and development of the network and trade modules. They include Anglo-Gulf Trade Bank, Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribas, Commerzbank, DNB, ING, LBBW, Natixis, NatWest, OP Financial Group, SMBC and Standard Chartered.
More banks are also joining as regular members, with Denmark’s Danske Bank becoming part of the network in October last year. On March 7, Russia’s Alfa Bank announced it was a member. According to Dani Cotti, who heads up the Marco Polo initiative at TradeIX, another three banks – an Italian, a French and a Brazilian bank – have already signed up (although these have not been publicly named), with three German banks in final discussions.
But while the size of the Marco Polo network is growing, questions have been raised around why the platform is not yet live. It comes as other blockchain-based trade finance platforms, including we.trade, a solution built by IBM, are now facilitating live transactions.
Marco Polo, meanwhile, is still in a test environment. Representatives from TradeIX demo-ed the first version of the solution at CordaCon London on September 13, and members have been testing it since October.
The project had originally expected to move into production by early-2019, but this date has been changed to the second half of 2019.
“The customer pilots are underway and we are getting regular feedback from the clients,” Cotti tells GTR. “We are getting more and more banks onto the platform to conduct pilots with their corporate clients.”
TradeIX did not wish to comment on why the production date is later than originally anticipated, but Cotti noted that Marco Polo will “deliver the promised flexible trade finance solutions for our bank and corporate clients” later in the year.
In the meantime, we.trade is also growing its support for its own live platform. It is based on a competing blockchain framework, but has a similar focus on open account trade finance. Targeting SME trade, the platform helps businesses initiate new trading relationships and provides them with access to financing solutions. We.trade has agreed its first licence agreements with 14 banks in Europe, and is now expanding beyond its initial European focus, the company’s COO Roberto Mancone recently told GTR.
Cotti at TradeIX, meanwhile, does not see this as a challenge for project Marco Polo, saying: “We are not concerned about other networks being in production, because we are doing something very different. We are building a global and fully connected trade finance network and are not only focused on a specific region, specific trade finance solution or client segment.”
Further commenting on we.trade and other competing trade finance networks, he notes: “You still have a lot of banks which are not fully convinced that blockchain is the best solution to support their trade finance use cases, or they don’t understand the full potential of the technology yet, so they opt for the more safer routes with a traditional centralised architecture model.”
He adds that the Marco Polo platform will have a fully distributed architecture with no central database hosting data. “All the client data are on each node of each participant on the distributed ledger. That’s the uniqueness of the Marco Polo Network compared to other trade finance networks where all members have to come to a central database and release and store their data there,” he says.
Apart from getting the solution into production, the main focus of the Marco Polo project is to add new bank members. According to Cotti, the goal is to have 25-30 banks on the platform by the end of the year.
The banks will have flexibility in how they implement the solution. A bank can deploy it either “on-premise” or as a platform as a service (PaaS). A software as a service (SaaS) model will be available for small banks at a later stage.
It is also the intention that other participants in the trade ecosystem will be invited to join at a later stage, including credit insurers, B2B networks, logistics companies, service providers and payment networks.