Blockchain trade finance project Voltron has gone into full commercial production with the creation of an independent global network under a new name.
Contour, a standalone legal entity, has been established in Singapore by fintech consortium R3, along with seven of the eight founding bank members of Voltron – Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribas, CTBC, HSBC, ING, Standard Chartered and SEB. Carl Wegner, R3’s head of Asia, is taking on the CEO role at the new network, with Aaron Seabrook, R3’s director of services, joining as COO.
Also backing the company are Bain & Company, which has played a consultancy role in Voltron since its inception, as well as Hong Kong-based developer CryptoBLK. NatWest, the eighth founding bank member, has not invested in the new company.
Built on Corda, Voltron was the first trade finance prototype to be showcased by R3 in mid-2017. The platform is aimed at digitalising the letter of credit process, and has already carried out live pilots in 14 countries as well as a global trial with more than 50 banks and corporates, which reduced processing times for letters of credit by over 90%, from five to 10 days to under 24 hours.
This latest development follows the example set by 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, and was initially tipped to take place by the end of last year.
However, Joshua Kroeker, blockchain lead for global commercial banking at HSBC, told GTR at the time that the Voltron consortium was keen to get the fundamentals in place before going live. “We’ve been working with letters of credit for a long time and have been trying to digitalise them for at least 20 years or so, so this isn’t something we want to do quickly in a huge race,” he said. “It’s something that we want to do right. We want to make sure that when we go live we have a very substantial solution.”
The impetus for finally kicking the solution into production seems to have been the success of the global trial, which saw a number of participants express an interest in joining Voltron.
“When I look back at what has been achieved over the past 18 months, the collaboration that has gone on among banks that are normally competitors has been amazing,” Contour’s CEO Wegner tells GTR. “At the same time, there are always challenges, because it is run by a committee. It is a project. We were not able to have strong commercial discussions until we had an entity. With the launch, Contour is now available to provide a full commercial service to organisations looking to enhance their trade finance practices,” he says, adding that there is “a list of banks and corporates” that have said that they would like to join the rebranded network.
The Contour network will keep Voltron’s main focus on letters of credit, but Wegner hints that it will soon expand beyond this, telling GTR that the company is in “interesting conversations” with “global companies that are working in different industries”, including other – as yet unnamed – software systems and data aggregators within the trade finance space.
The plan now is for a full production launch in the second half of the year. “We will be going into beta, which means that we won’t do any more one-off pilots because we know the solution works and it works well, and customers have been asking us to do more transactions,” says Wegner. With financial backing from its shareholders, Contour now has big hiring plans over the next three months as it seeks to bring in technical and implementation talent to create the infrastructure necessary to scale up the project.