Etisalat Digital's new blockchain platform aims to stop trade finance losses

UAE Trade Connect says losses through duplicated invoices could be between AED500mln and 1bln annually

Image used for illustrative purpose. Customers wait inside an Etisalat store at a shopping mall in Dubai.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Customers wait inside an Etisalat store at a shopping mall in Dubai.

REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

A new blockchain technology which could prevent losses in trade finance of up to 1 billion dirhams annually has gone live in the UAE.

The new platform has the capability to prevent duplicate invoices, whether submitted through error or fraud.

UAE Trade Connect (UTC), a collaboration between Etisalat Digital, the Central Bank of the UAE as well as seven other banks and Avanza Innovations, will initially use this technology including artificial intelligence to block suspicious or dubious invoices in trade finance. Other initiatives will be launched on the platform later.

Asked about the scale of the issue being addressed by the technology, a statement from Etisalat Digital said: “Statistics are not generally available because banks’ risk mitigation processes are activated to prevent losses.

“However even if duplication and fraudulent invoices represent 1-2 percent of the financed value this would mean something between AED 500 million to AED 1 billion of potentially invalid invoices being presented to UAE banks annually.”

For now, the platform will be used to prevent the same invoice from being paid twice, whether it has been submitted through error or deliberate fraud. 

The initiative is the first of its kind in the Gulf region, although similar technology is already in use in Singapore and Hong Kong. 

The banks involved in the launch are Commercial Bank International (CBI), Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD), Emirates NBD, First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), Mashreq Bank, National Bank of Fujairah (NBF), and RAKBANK, but there are ambitions to take the scheme nationwide.

At a press conference to mark the commercial launch of the platform, Zulqarnain Javaid, CEO of UTC outlined the potential of the platform: “The system will evolve so that it can handle financial crime risk, which includes trade-based money laundering and sanction busting, and later on, we hope that we will be able to take this platform towards e-invoicing. Electronic invoicing is about digitising invoicing and we will have to work with multiple stakeholders inside and outside the banks.”

He added: “Later on, we hope to be able to develop bills of lathing on a digital basis. This will be a very big change because it involves, port authorities, customs, governments, international players, freight forwarders and logistics companies.

Atif Raza, head of sales and advisory, international and transaction banking at participating bank, CBD, said: “We were targeting to thread together all the banks operating from this part of the world with an effort to avoid double financing done through duplicate invoices.”

He added: “I think it has all the merits to become a nationwide platform for all the banks operating from this part of the world.”

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Daniel Luiz) 

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