The shipping industry is becoming increasingly futuristic – so why is trade finance still stuck in the past?

Posted by Gemma Kimber

05 Mar 2014

News that Rolls Royce engineers have pioneered a prototype for crewless ships points to an increasingly hi-tech shipping industry in the not too distant future. According to the firm, these drone ships would be “safer, cheaper and less polluting for the $375 billion shipping industry, which carries 90 per cent of world trade.”


All of this makes for fascinating reading. However, it also begs the following question: if the technology exists to automate supply chain vessels, why are we still using paper-based processes to check the cargo on and off?

Frankly, if it’s possible to send an unmanned ship halfway around the world, it seems ludicrous that trade finance paperwork is still so antiquated that you effectively need someone waiting at the dock with a stamp to confirm the contents of a consignment.

With no fees or charges for carriers or agents, electronic bills of lading (eBLs) offer a far more contemporary and indeed logical alternative for exporters and their trading partners. This is particularly evident in their ability to overcome procedural inefficiencies and speed up the slow-moving chain, in turn helping firms to conclude transactions faster and, ultimately, enabling them to get paid with few or no delays.

With capacity currently outstripping demand in many areas, the ability to offer an eBL capability also has value in differentiating organisations from less agile competitors, while simultaneously satisfying what is increasingly becoming a requirement in many sectors of the carrier community.

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Topics: Carriers, Electronic Bill of Lading, Shipping