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Marco Polo: Setting Out for New Worlds

No need for paper, no more wasted time: The trade finance network Marco Polo makes international trade faster and more secure.

There’s a different way to be modern. In international trade, papers are sent from one place to another, signed and sent back, often more than 100 pages, and if in doubt the forms may need to be stamped, too. This is inconvenient, frustrating and time-consuming. And luckily it will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to Marco Polo.

The trade finance network is named after the Venetian world traveler who first told the Europeans tales of exotic lands. Nowadays, long-distance contact is faster and more direct, and a lot can be done electronically. Only in trade finance has this failed to materialize so far. Here, bureaucracy has been proliferating for decades – mainly for legal reasons. Goods are not paid for until they have arrived safely and no nasty surprises are to be expected any more. None of the parties involved want to run any risks. So reams of paperwork are amassed to make doubly and triply sure. Marco Polo makes all of this redundant. The network is based on distributed ledger technology or DLT – in this case, an expanded blockchain known as Corda. It allows all participants to access a shared, decentralized database where they can edit documents.

The fast-growing network for trade finance is based on blockchain technology

Marco Polo Logo

All sorted out – within minutes

Using the Marco Polo network, companies can exchange information within minutes, agree order and delivery data, and secure the payment term by way of a payment commitment. This conditional payment commitment is handled by the buyer’s bank, which can give the commitment within minutes – rather than days, as before. After the delivery is received, the associated data is immediately available in the systems and the banks settle the payment without delay.

Banks will need hardly any paper to settle trading transactions anymore.

Matthias Heuser, Head of International Trade and Payment Solutions at LBBW

“Banks will need hardly any paper to settle trading transactions any more, thus significantly reducing the burden on companies,” says Matthias Heuser, Head of the International Trade and Payment Solutions division at LBBW. The entire flow of information and the triggering of the payment commitment take place automatically via the platform.

Kick-off in 2020

Marco Polo will get started properly in 2020, after having been tested for two years with real transactions from real companies such as Voith and KSB , as well as Daimler and Dürr . For example, the order and delivery of a balancing machine from the Dürr subsidiary Schenck to Daimler was agreed between the companies via Marco Polo and secured by way of the bank’s payment commitment. Upon delivery, the associated data was uploaded to the network and automatically compared against the data previously agreed, thus triggering the irrevocable payment obligation.

With trade finance, we are entering a new application area for distributed ledger technology that will benefit our customers enormously.

Dr. Christian Ricken, member of LBBW’s Board of Managing Directors

Following test runs like this, Marco Polo is now “fundamentally able to meet the regulatory requirements, and we are currently discussing this with our regulator,” says LBBW division manager Heuser. Together with Commerzbank, LBBW is one of the founding members of Marco Polo. Several other banks including BNP Paribas, ING, Standard Chartered, and Natwest have since joined the network. In addition, Marco Polo deliberately involves companies that are important for global trade. These include logistics specialists as well as ERP providers (SAP, Oracle), which ensure that companies can integrate the data from their ERP system in the network.

“With trade finance, we are entering a new application area for distributed ledger technology that will benefit our customers enormously,” says the responsible member of LBBW’s Board of Managing Directors, Dr. Christian Ricken. “This will make transactions faster, easier, and more secure.”

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