Carrier community recognises eBLs as new norm

Posted by Aline Bezerra

10 Jul 2014

By Aline Bezerra, Carrier Product Manager, Bolero International Ltd.

At our latest webinar, we asked members of the carrier community “do you believe the electronic bill of lading will replace the paper bill”. The response from every one of the 26 attendees that took part in the poll was “yes”.

What they didn’t agree on was when this would happen: 52% expected rapid adoption in the next 3-5 years while 47% more cautiously said it “wouldn’t be in the near future”.


As has been the case with the banks, demand has been a major factor in the growing use and interest in the electronic bill of lading, with 75% of respondees confirming they had received customer enquiries about eBL.

In many cases, this is motivated by the need to increase efficiency and ensure the paper bill of lading reaches the consignee at its destination before the cargo has arrived, rather than it being delayed at the bank, courier, or post.

Some of the major value in the technology also lies in reducing the risk of fraud – another key theme that emerged from the webinar feedback. Just as with the adoption of electronic payments, organisations that carried on using cheques became a bigger target for criminals looking for financial information, 41% of respondees said that if some carriers replaced paper bills of lading with eBLs, those that didn’t switch from paper would be more vulnerable to fraud.

Having worked in the shipping industry for many years, I’ve seen and read about some pretty damaging incidents. In one instance, a simple colour copy of a paper bill of lading was made and sent to the bank. Unaware, the bank endorsed and stamped it. It was only at the point where the cargo was about to be released by the carrier that someone actually realised the bill of lading was not the original.

With an HMRC senior business manager putting the cost of maritime fraud at a staggering US $31bn per year – some 60% of which involves fraudulent letters of credit or bills lading – the case for electronic shipping documents really does start to add up as both a proactive and defensive measure.