Today Contour, the blockchain trade finance network, announced that it acquired we.trade’s rule book and related legal documents. We.trade, the trade finance network backed by a dozen banks, entered insolvency three months ago after the banks decided not to provide additional funds.
To date, Contour has focused on Letters of Credit, a document-heavy procedure in which trade finance relies on bills of lading that prove goods have been loaded for transport. In contrast, open account trade finance is based on invoices, which was the area of we.trade’s focus.
Even before Contour was incorporated, the organization always stated that Letters of Credit was the first step and that it would expand into other trade finance offerings.
We.trade’s rule book offers multiple benefits to Contour. It is compliant with the new ICC trade finance standard URDTT (explained later). Rulebooks by definition involve significant legal legwork and a lot of negotiating with participant banks to settle on a shared ruleset. We.trade has already done the hard work, so Contour is sweeping in to buy it. Hence Contour’s statement that this acquisition will “drastically reduce the barriers to adding a new open account product.”
The URDTT or Uniform Rules for Digital Trade Transactions (URDTT) is a set of international standards first published by the International Chamber of Commerce last October. It is the product of the Digital Standards Initiative launched in March 2020.
We.trade is not unfamiliar to Contour’s team. Contour’s head of product, Josh Kroeker, was previously at HSBC in the team involved with we.trade. That said, he’s been at Contour since January 2020.
Marco Polo / Contour overlap
Meanwhile, the ICC’s Digital Standards Initiative was jointly initiated by Marco Polo, another trade finance network that uses the R3 Corda enterprise blockchain. As Contour and Marco Polo start to have more product overlap, they will be perceived as competitive.
Last week Marco Polo lost a key early executive, Daniel Cotti. On Linkedin, Cotti announced plans to work with other trade finance experts to offer Trade Consulting as a Service with a digitalization practice. Trade publication GTR portrayed this as a negative sign for Marco Polo, which it could be as it has been slow to get production traction.
On the other hand, Cotti was also the Chairman of the electronic bill of lading (eBL) firm Bolero which was sold just three months ago. The sale wasn’t a life-changing financial event for Cotti as he only held a small stake. And given Bolero’s turnover was around $7 million, the selling price would not have been massive. However, Cotti’s new venture sounds like it will have some crossover with Contour’s letter of credit business as it will explore how to “radically transform the Documentary Trade Business.”
In today’s announcement, Contour positioned its we.trade acquisition as marking “the start of consolidation in the blockchain trade finance industry, with Contour leading the charge.”