CGI’s Frank Tezzi, vice-president, trade and supply chain solutions, Patrick DeVilbiss, head of product, trade and supply chain solutions, and Colin Zeglen, product manager for trade and supply chain solutions, discuss the impact of end-to-end digitisation in the current world of trade.


Digitisation is a trend which continues to impact all industries and organisations because of the benefits it delivers – increased efficiency, reduced costs, reduced manual activity and enhanced visibility, to name a few. Traditionally, trade finance has been a disparate, highly manual, paper-driven industry, making the push for global digitisation even greater.

As a result, there is increasing pressure on banks and global networks to digitise transactions among corporates, banks and transaction participants. With trade participants using a wide range of platforms, a unified solution is impossible to achieve across all entities. While there have been attempts to fill this gap, there is currently no ‘Facebook of trade’, though there have been several attempts to achieve this via innovative solutions like distributed ledger technology. Over the last year, several DLT-based technology initiatives like, Marco Polo Network and TradeLens have failed for a variety of reasons, including technology scaling, business model challenges and an inability to develop a network effect.

So, if there is no ‘Uber-solution’ or ‘magic bullet’ in terms of addressing trade digitisation, what is the industry doing to accelerate digitisation? What steps can banks take today to modernise?

Industry response to digitisation

From an industry perspective, there are efforts to establish guidelines around digitisation. This includes looking to create digital standards and adopting solutions that address digitisation concerns and emphasise digital rules.

Several organisations are creating standards that address modern digitisation challenges and attempt to connect currently disjointed processes. Some examples of these organisations include the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and their Digital Standards Initiative (DSI), the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift) and the Digital Container Shipping Agency. Given trade is an industry with global participants, government regulation is a difficult area to address, and having independent organisations kickstart the establishment of standards is crucial for this quickly evolving space. It is also laudable that initiatives like the DSI have not simply created new standards, but also looked to identify and promote existing standards, keeping the industry from creating more confusion with overlapping standards.

Most recently Swift and the ICC released the first set of trade application programming interfaces (APIs) related to guarantees and standbys. These types of industry standards will pave the way for further interoperability and simplification of integration between corporates, banks, third-party platforms and government entities.

There is also a large focus on encouraging the adoption of the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR) and on lobbying governments to address digitisation concerns. MLETR was created by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law to accelerate digital trade by creating a template for local legislations to consider when implementing their own laws. This framework and the continued adoption will provide the certainty of law that banks will need to drive adoption of truly end-to-end digital solutions, particularly where negotiable instruments are involved.

Banks still need to modernise

While it would be ideal to modernise with prescriptive trade digitisation guidance in mind, banks have to keep evolving to meet customer and market needs. By incorporating the right technology with strategic partners, banks can begin realising benefits today while taking incremental steps to achieve complete end-to-end digitisation.

One of the most fundamental ways that banks can see benefits is by modernising their core capabilities around front-end, back-office and trade platforms to include API services.

APIs deliver a standardised real-time mechanism to pass transactions and data between internal systems, third-party platforms and a bank’s core trade processing platform. It is also possible to deliver a seamless and controlled customer experience, blending many different systems and products together for a corporate front-end utilising API technology. The future of the trade ecosystem will be dependent on development of API capabilities for integration to multiple platforms – this connectedness will form the core of how banks deliver future end-to-end digital services. Responding to market trends and client needs, the CGI Trade360 platform now utilises a new API framework that drives efficiency and insights. The API architecture of CGI Trade360 enables faster implementations and provides a scalable solution for global trade banks.

Don’t look for a one-size-fits-all, end-to-end solution

Banks should focus on incorporating technology that meets immediate needs today in order to progress towards their ultimate goal of end-to-end.

One of the most impactful adjustments that a bank can make is automating traditionally manual, repetitive processes by implementing intelligent process automation layered with artificial intelligence (AI) and optical character recognition (OCR).

IPA leverages AI to convert documents into meaningful data that banks can use for better, quicker decision-making. Today this efficiency does not mean removal of workers engaged on reviewing trade documents, but it does augment their capabilities to handle larger volumes with the support of their AI platform.

It also benefits from creating a codified set of rules and processes for handling trade documents at a bank; information which is otherwise only available in the heads of subject matters experts in trade.

The importance of partnerships

Banks should review current partnerships, explore new partners and consider adopting an ecosystem approach. Collaborating with third-party servicers, like fintechs, can help banks implement transformative technology without having to build it in-house. Fintech engagements, especially in the form of supply chain finance (SCF), traditional trade multi-bank networks and digital document platforms are examples of solutions that deliver digitisation benefits to banks.

Where possible, a standardised approach to integration should be taken for these partnerships as maintenance of multiple integrations can quickly become cumbersome and expensive. Banks may wish to utilise technology partners to drive these integrations. This is an approach CGI has taken with its community of banks on the CGI Trade360 platform.

In addition to fintech partners, banks should look for consultative strategic partnerships that help address their business challenges. At CGI, our business and IT consultants partner with executives to think boldly and act pragmatically around the areas of business strategy, organisation and change management, core operations and technology consulting for trade finance.

Key takeaways

The concept of end-to-end trade digitisation is easier said than done in today’s world because of the lack of interoperable platforms, the development of new legal frameworks, the number of transaction participants and varying levels of technology implementation. The trade industry as a whole is still trying to establish guidelines and standards that address digitisation concerns on a global level.

Instead, banks should anticipate a world that is far more diverse in nature rather than one that sees a single solution facilitating trade transactions for all banks. It is absolutely critical for banks to update their platforms to be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Banks should be thinking long-term about digitisation, using automation and retooling existing applications today in preparation for the future. Reviewing existing partnerships and picking the best players in the market for your bank can also better equip banks for an ever-changing market.

To learn more about CGI’s trade finance and consulting capabilities or to connect with an expert, visit: