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Will Facebook’s Libra Help Bring Cryptocurrency To The Masses?

Will Facebook’s Libra Help Bring Cryptocurrency To The Masses?

When Facebook announced plans for a stablecoin called Libra, the reaction from the cryptocurrency world ranged somewhere between skeptical and cautiously optimistic.

But, regardless of any specific merits of Facebook’s version of a digital coin, the social-media giant’s move could help speed the adoption of cryptocurrency to a larger audience, says Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com), a serial entrepreneur and an expert in blockchain.

The biggest issue now is that most people are not familiar with crypto; they think it’s difficult to use, and they may not trust it,” Bensonoff says. “Facebook will put a digital wallet on many phones and computers, and sending payments with crypto will become commonplace.”

Facebook’s Libra is proposed as a stablecoin, which is a form of cryptocurrency. Using Libra, people would be able to buy things or send money to others while paying, at most, minor fees. Unlike other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, the value of stablecoins is tied to an asset such as gold, the U.S. dollar, the Euro or other currencies.

Facebook won’t have complete control of Libra. It’s just part of a bigger group of partners that’s creating the stablecoin.

What might all this mean for the future of cryptocurrencies – and for the average person who still knows little about them? Bensonoff says a few things worth knowing about Libra in particular and stablecoins in general include:

-Bringing stability to cryptocurrency. As the name implies, the idea of stablecoins is to bring more stability – and more peace of mind for wary investors – to the world of cryptocurrency. “I don’t think Facebook will bring stability immediately,” Bensonoff says. “I believe it’s going to take a lot more in terms of mass adoption, but Libra could be a step in the right direction.”

-The SEC’s view. Regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission have been eyeing stablecoins with the possibility that some of them could be classified as securities. “That could put stablecoins in the same category as stocks, subject to the registration, disclosures, and accreditation of investors that demands,” Bensonoff says.

-Will Libra replace PayPal? Maybe not, considering that PayPay is one of the founding members of Libra, Bensonoff says. “I think they will have some influence on the direction,” he says. “However, crypto in general is a threat to all existing payment processors, including PayPal. I believe PayPal is smart and will adopt and accept crypto payments, and they will figure out a way to monetize it. The downside for them is they won’t be able to charge nearly as much as they do now.”

“I believe Libra is going to have a positive impact in terms of awareness, adoption and interest in cryptocurrency from both businesses and consumers,” Bensonoff says. “But at the same time, with that could come more regulatory scrutiny.”

About Kirill Bensonoff

Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com) has over 20 years experience in entrepreneurship, technology and innovation as a founder, advisor and investor in over 30 companies. He’s the CEO of OpenLTV, which gives investors across the world access to passive income, collateralized by real estate, powered by blockchain. In the information technology and cloud services space, Kirill founded U.S. Web Hosting while still in college, was co-founder of ComputerSupport.com in 2006, and launched Unigma in 2015. All three companies had a successful exit.

As an innovator in the blockchain and DLT space, Kirill launched the crypto startup Caviar in 2017 and has worked to build the blockchain community in Boston by hosting the Boston Blockchain, Fintech and Innovation Meetup. He is also the producer and host of The Exchange with KB podcast and leads the Blockchain + AI Rising Angel.co syndicate. Kirill earned a B.S. degree from Connecticut State University, is a graduate of the EO Entrepreneurial Masters at MIT, and holds a number of technical certifications. He has been published or quoted in Inc., Hacker Noon, The Street, Forbes, Huffington Post, Bitcoin Magazine and Cointelegraph and many others.

blockchain

BLOCKCHAIN COULD REPLACE MOUNDS OF PAPER AT THE BORDER

This is the third in a three-part series by Christine McDaniel for TradeVistas on how blockchain technologies will play an increasing role in international trade.

What’s Even Better Than No Tariffs?

Smoother and faster customs procedures could boost global trade volumes and economic output even more than if governments were to eliminate the remaining tariffs throughout the world – up to six times according to an estimate by the World Bank.

Blockchain is a promising technology that, if widely adopted by shippers and customs agencies, could reduce the current mounds of paperwork and costs associated with import and export licenses, cargo and shipping documents, and customs declarations.

Below the Snazzy Surface of Trade Policy

Trade agreements work when the people who want to buy and sell across borders can use them. Engaging in international trade transactions requires diving into the rules and regulations of international customs processes. Businesses either have someone in-house to handle this or they hire companies whose business it is to manage these processes.

Moving goods through the customs process means preparing the relevant paperwork for import or export at each step in the process. The paperwork at each step must be confirmed and verified, sometimes separately by different people. These procedures — in rich and poor countries alike — can be complex, opaque and laden with inefficiencies that raise costs and cause delays at best. At worst, less automated processes can leave the door open to corruption and security breaches.

paperwork in shipping

Trade policymakers have increasingly focused on simplifying and modernizing customs procedures — a policy approach commonly known as “trade facilitation.” Nearly all modern free trade agreements have a trade facilitation chapter and the World Trade Organization has an entire Trade Facilitation Agreement devoted to eliminating red tape at national borders to streamline the global movement of goods.

Too Much Paperwork

The international shipping industry carries 90 percent of the world’s trade in goods but is surprisingly dependent on paper documentation. In a New York Times article, Danish shipping company Maersk commented that tracking containers is straightforward. It’s the “mountains of paperwork that go with each container” that slow down the process.

A shipping container can spend significant time just waiting for someone to cross the t’s and dot the i’s on the paperwork. Delays pose real costs to traders and represent a deadweight loss of resources that could have been spent elsewhere in a more productive manner. The cost of handling documentation is so high that it can be even more expensive than the cost of transporting the actual shipping containers.

Beginning in 2014, Maersk began tracking specific goods such as avocados and cut flowers to determine the true weight of compliance costs and intermediation. The company discovered that a single container moving from Africa to Europe required nearly 200 communications and the verification and approval of more than 30 organizations involved in customs, tax and health-related matters. Maersk’s office in Kenya has storage rooms filled from floor to ceiling with paper records dating back to 2014.

single container paperwork v2

Lost Opportunities

Inefficiencies in customs processes create chain reactions, extending the costs and inefficiencies throughout the transportation industry and all the way to the consumer. In just one example, as many as 1,500 trucks might be lined up on a given day on both sides of the critical border crossing between Bangladesh and India. Many trucks wait up to five days before crossing. Examples like this are not hard to find in developing countries.

Delays for perishable items are painfully costly for traders, but also for consumers. Economist Lan Liu and economist and horticultural scientist Chengyan Yue examinedlettuce and apple imports in 183 countries. They determined that reducing delays from two days to one would increase lettuce imports in those countries by around 35 percent, or an additional 504,714 tons of lettuce, increasing in world consumer welfare by $2.1 billion. The same improvement would increase apple imports by 15 percent, enabling shipment of an additional 731,937 tons and increasing consumer welfare by around $1.1 billion.

Complexity Makes Corruption Easier

Fraud constitutes a major threat to the customs process. Fraudulent behavior can involve the forgery of bills of lading and other export documentation such as certifications of origin. A fraudulent shipper could claim “lost” goods, underreport the cargo, and steal the difference. Or a shipper could misrepresent the amount or quality of shipped goods and pay less than the required amount for their imports.

Fraud can be perpetrated by a shipper, by the receiver of goods, a customs official, or an interloping third party. The greater the complexity of customs procedures and the more discretion granted to customs officials, the more likely corruption will be present at the border, creating both risk and costs for companies working to avoid corruption.

Indeed, corruption acts as a “hidden tariff” for companies and reduces legitimate customs revenue for governments. The World Customs Organization estimates the loss of revenue caused by customs-related corruption to be at least $2 billion.

Blockchain Makes Corruption Harder

Blockchain is a digital distributed ledger that is secure by design. Each transaction in the shipping process is uploaded to the chain if (and only if) it is agreed upon by the other users. It is nearly impossible to make a fraudulent claim or edit past transactions without the approval of the other users in the network.

Blockchain could discourage corruption by simplifying procedures and reducing the number of government offices and officials involved in each transaction. Each transaction can also be audited in real time, allowing users to see exactly when and where disputes arise and exactly what the discrepancies are.

This level of transparency enables participants in the network to hold each other accountable for mistakes or purposeful deception. Though blockchain does not prevent false information from being entered into the system, it does reduce opportunities for the original information to be corrupted by intermediaries involved in the shipping process. Rather than parties relying on the good faith of shippers and customs agents, blockchain greater assurance of the integrity of each transactional record.

Blockchain technology in customs and border-crossing procedures could also be used to prevent circumvention and transshipment—that is, when shippers send goods to a neighboring country before the destination country in an attempt to avoid tariffs on goods from the real country of origin. The importer ends up liable for duties and penalties. (For example, some exporters from China are now sending finished products through Vietnam to avoid new U.S. tariffs on goods from China.)

All In on Blockchain?

The use of blockchain in customs processing is still nascent. An advisory group for U.S. Customs and Border Protection is broadly exploring the role of emerging technologies like blockchain.

IBM and Maersk have partnered to demonstrate how blockchain can simplify shipping. Their plan would allow all parties involved in a container’s shipment to observe and track the container from inception to endpoint. For example, after a customs agent verifies the contents of a container, they can immediately upload information to the blockchain with a unique digital fingerprint that visible to all other users. The ease of access to information throughout the blockchain system reduces time-consuming correspondence among the parties.

For all this to work, customs agencies, shippers and suppliers will have to cooperate to integrate blockchain technology along the supply chain and across borders. By reducing time and cost, blockchain could be a boon to the majority of honest global shippers. By providing greater accuracy and transparency, blockchain would be a bust for dishonest brokers who manipulate the current inefficiencies in customs procedures to commit fraud or gain from corruption.

ChristineMcDaniel

Christine McDaniel a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

 

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

blockchain

SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED GLOBAL TRADERS ARE BANKING ON BLOCKCHAIN

This is the second in a three-part series by Christine McDaniel for TradeVistas on how blockchain technologies will play an increasing role in international trade.

Give Me Some Credit

Every business requires capital to operate. To sell products to customers overseas, many companies also need trade financing and insurance from third-party lenders. About 80 percent of all global trade is transacted through third-party lenders and cargo insurers, but the process is complex, can be costly and many banks find it too risky to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Blockchain has the potential to increase transparency, speed and accuracy in assessing risk across the trade finance process, which in turn could expand the supply of credit available for international trade transactions – good news especially for SMEs that face significant hurdles accessing credit. Here’s how.

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

Buyers who import goods from sellers in other countries generally want to pay upon receiving the merchandise so they can verify its physical integrity on arrival. Exporters, on the other hand, generally prefer to be paid as soon as they ship the goods. Trade finance can bridge this gap.

Exporters and importers engage third-party lenders and insurers who will guarantee payments on the basis of collateral and indemnify the exporter, importer and related parties in the event that the merchandise is damaged, stolen or lost while in transit. In this way, trade finance provides the credit, payment guarantee and insurance needed to facilitate an international trade transaction on terms that will satisfy all parties.

80% of trade relies on finance

Steps on the Trade Journey

Intermediaries such as freight forwarders typically manage the physical journey of merchandise, from the original producer to the border, across the border (maybe several borders), and to the final buyer.

Each step must be verified: when was the merchandise transported from the factory or farm to a warehouse, when was it moved from the warehouse to a container, when was the container loaded onto a ship, when did the ship get underway, when was the container unloaded from the ship at port, and when was the merchandise transported from the port to the end consumer.

Different trade finance instruments, such as lending, letters of credit, factoring and cargo insurance cover legs of the journey. A letter of credit is a guarantee from a bank that a buyer’s payment will be received and be on time or else the bank will take responsibility for the payment. Factoring is accounts receivable financing to accelerate cash flow. Cargo insurance insures the merchandise while en route.

Without Finance, Trade Would Sink

The World Trade Organization estimates that 80 percent of global trade relies on trade finance or credit insurance. The global trade finance sector (i.e., the global volume of letters of credit) is worth roughly $2.8 trillion. Demand for trade financing exceeds availability, resulting in the underutilization of existing capital. According to the Asian Development Bank, the global trade finance gap — the difference between the demand for and supply of trade finance — has reached $1.6 trillion.

SMEs Face a 50 Percent Rejection Rate

The shortfall in supply reflects the complex and risky nature of trade finance which often involves multiple parties. Before banks will issue letters of credit in trade finance, they require potential customers to present a solid credit history and a strong balance sheet, conditions that tend to favor larger institutions.

SMEs typically experience more difficulty navigating the trade finance process and dealing with the cost and complexity of banking regulations than larger companies. In 2014, SMEs had trade finance requests before financial institutions rejected at a rate of over 50 percent. In comparison, the rejection rate for multinational corporations was only seven percent.

Links in the Trade Finance Chain

According to the United Nations, there are typically eight major steps required to obtain a letter of credit, although in practice the Credit Research Foundation lists more than twenty. Each step of the process is dependent on the previous steps, and some steps involve sending the same document back and forth for verification purposes. The administrative burden is greater for SMEs than for large firms.

survey of 2,350 SMEs and 850 large firms conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission in 2010 showed that lack of access to credit is the major constraint for SME manufacturing firms seeking to export or expand into new markets and it is one of the top three constraints for SME services firms.

rate of rejection for trade finance

How Blockchain Can Help Ease Trade Finance

Requirements to authenticate each transaction in the trade finance and insurance process can engender large amounts of paperwork and cause delays at each step. Every handoff must be approved and verified.

Instead, blockchain uses digital tokens that are issued by each participant in the supply chain to authenticate the movement of goods. Every time the item changes hands, the token moves in lockstep. The real-world chain of custody is mirrored by a chain of transactions recorded in the blockchain.

The token acts as a virtual “certificate of authenticity” that is much harder to steal, forge or hack than a piece of paper, barcode or digital file. The records can be trusted and greatly improve the information available to assure supply-chain quality.

Using blockchain as a digital ledger for these handoffs would allow involved parties to instantly track and receive secure information about the traded goods. Parties can monitor the entire shipping process and verify the completion of each step in real time. This increased transparency and ease of monitoring reduces the risk that a borrower presents to a potential lender or insurer.

Banking on Blockchain

A number of financial institutions are piloting the use of blockchain-enabled trade finance platforms.

Bank of America, HSBC, and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore collaborated in 2016 to develop a trade finance application designed “to streamline the manual processing of import/export documentation, improve security by reducing errors, increase convenience for all parties through mobile interaction, and make companies’ working capital more predictable.” Using the application, each action in the workflow is captured in a distributed ledger and all parties (the exporter, the importer, and their respective banks) can visualize data in real time, offering transparency to authorized participants while ensuring confidential data is protected through encryption.

Barclays used blockchain in 2017 to issue letter of credit that reportedly guaranteed the export of $100,000 worth of agricultural products from Irish cooperative Ornua to the Seychelles Trading Company, noting the parties were able to execute a deal in four hours that would usually take up to 10 days to complete.

A group of European banks launched a trade finance blockchain platform in July 2018, initially focused on facilitating small and medium-sized businesses trading within Europe. In September 2018, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced plans to launch a trade finance blockchain platform. Twenty-one banks are participating in the platform, including large institutions such as HSBC and Standard Chartered. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority is also reportedly working with its counterpart in Singapore to develop a blockchain-based trade finance network to settle cross-border transactions.

Lessons for Trade Policymakers

As the trade finance industry begins to utilize blockchain technology, there are some potential implications worthy of policymakers’ attention.

First, the large number of intermediaries and corresponding administrative costs in trade finance tend to fall particularly hard on SMEs and the relatively higher cost of each transaction makes SME financing less attractive to banks. If blockchain can reduce the costs of trade finance, more small and medium-sized businesses could trade globally.

Second, although blockchain technology does not alter the fundamental credit risk of borrowers, the increased transparency and access to information it delivers could improve the accuracy of banks’ risk assessments. If perceived risk is greater than actual risk, a nontrivial number of loan applications may be denied even though those loans have the potential to be successful. If blockchain brings greater confidence and issuance of good loans — that is, those that are paid back — the transactions they support would bring value to the economy.

In these important ways, blockchain can increase transparency across the trade finance process and decrease risk for all parties, in turn expanding the supply of credit available for international trade transactions.

ChristineMcDaniel

 

Christine McDaniel a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

new tech

How To Introduce Employees To New Tech

New technology solutions can have a positive impact, not just your how you work, but on your office culture. Sometimes new platforms that drastically change your regular processes can intimidate and alienate workers who are used to working in traditional systems and procedures.

It’s normal for workers to at first be apprehensive to big changes when they’ve grown used to the way things have been done for years. That’s why it’s important to see things from their point of view and understand that change is tough.

Help Them See The Value

When introducing new tech solutions to your colleagues, it’s important to make them understand why you’re implementing it and what it will do for the business. Explain not just how it will benefit the business in general, but how it will benefit their specific roles and what the impact will be.

If it’s a tool that’s meant to streamline a certain process, be sure to impress on them that the time saved will allow them to focus on more and grow their roles. If it’s a solution that’s meant to free up more resources, discuss with them how they now direct that saved budget and labor to more productive things. If they can see the value it will bring to them as an individual, you can make them excited to learn more about it and look forward to its implementation.

Document management solutions represent a big shift in how businesses interact with their documents, especially if you’re transitioning from a mostly paper-driven structure. However, it’s a technology that vastly improves business processes by introducing tools like automation and intelligent organization.

Make a Plan and Keep Them In The Loop

Many big tech solutions require time for implementation and onboarding. It rarely happens overnight, so having a roadmap for implementation is essential to make sure it all goes smoothly. More importantly, staying transparent with your employees on this roadmap is helpful in easing them into the new system. Letting them know what they can expect during the implementation period can give them ease and let them know that they have time to get used to the transition rather than just diving in.

Give Them Time

New technology always has a learning curve, and this is especially true for those who aren’t used to working with it as part of their job. While some are quick learners and early adopters, there is an equal number of those who have more of a struggle learning how things work. They won’t get it overnight, so it’s important to be patient and encouraging. A transitional period where they’re still allowed to get their job done the old way while learning the new way is encouraged if possible. As long as they’re willing to learn and not resistant, it’s worth it to let them grow at their own pace, all while providing the necessary support such as additional training and mentoring.

Incentivize

If some employees are more resistant than others to adopt new platforms, it doesn’t hurt to throw out some incentives to encourage them to embrace the change. Having perks such as free lunch with training will make those employees a little more enthusiastic about attending those meetings.

Get creative with tying small rewards to the use of the new tech solution as well as implying bigger forms of recognition for demonstrating proficiency and enthusiasm for the new system. Letting them know that the skills learned from training will reflect across their entire career and showcase their adaptability.

Listen to Them

Taking in feedback is an important part of any business decision, not listening to your employee’s opinions and concerns about adopting a new tech solution. Encouraging an environment where your colleagues can discuss freely their experience with the current processes and how introducing a new factor that will impact those processes will help inform how you build out your implementation roadmap and how you go about training. Being open to their ideas of how to transition and addressing their concerns will make them feel part of the process and not feel like it’s being forced upon them.

Jesse Wood is the CEO of eFileCabinet, a best-of-breed advanced document management system that improves the lives of people, small to enterprise-level businesses, and their clients. Wood has 20 years of leadership experience innovating custom technical solutions for a wide range of business applications.

 

How Amazon Leads as a Supply Chain Provider

It’s no surprise Amazon made our list of the most successful companies in the supply-chain arena. Amazon is known for implementing game-changing processes that keep competitors on their toes. An example of this is seen through the recently announced Supply Chain Connect FBA program for sellers to utilize. This new shipping platform combines the elements of a centralized portal and increased communication efficiencies. Supply Chain Connect is another way Amazon provides increased visibility from start to finish for both shippers and suppliers.

Another example of supply-chain innovations Amazon offers is the company’s managed blockchain service. This platform allows its customers to seamlessly select a framework, add members and configure member nodes while Amazon Managed Blockchain handles creating a robust blockchain network in a matter of clicks versus the dragged-out process of setting up each step. Additionally, the Amazon Managed Blockchain provides secure blockchain network certificates through the AWS Key Management Service. This service also contains an integrated voting API, giving members immediate access to add or remove other members.

“Many of our customers want to build applications where multiple parties can execute transactions without a central, trusted authority, and they also need to create a blockchain network,” says Rahul Pathak, general manager, Amazon Blockchain at AWS. “Building a scalable blockchain network with existing technologies is just too hard today, and that’s why customers pay expensive consultants to help them.”

“Amazon Managed Blockchain eliminates the muck involved in setting up a network, adding and removing members, and scaling to meet application demands. Customers can use either Ethereum or Hyperledger Fabric, the two most popular blockchain frameworks, and get a functioning blockchain network set up with just a few clicks.”

Successful implementation of a reliable blockchain network creates new advantages for companies while reducing errors that sometimes go unnoticed and lost. With this new technology opportunity for customers, Amazon again sets a new standard for all companies in the supply-chain arena. Customers rely on what works, bottom-line upfront. Even more so, customers are looking to save time to invest in maximizing their own operations.

“AWS has been a great partner in our journey to innovate in the field of blockchain, and with Amazon Managed Blockchain, we are able to more efficiently create a blockchain network and configure our member nodes in minutes,” says Jon Ruggiero, senior vice president, Workday. “AWS’ use of enhanced Hyperledger Fabric enables the blockchain network to be even more robust, scalable and easier to manage. We’re excited for what we’ll be able to accomplish with this service as the number of members and transaction volumes grow.”

Blockchain

Where Have You Been? Blockchain for Tracking Goods in Trade.

Why is it so hard to track the origin of a diamond, or take longer than we’d like to trace the source of a food safety outbreak? It turns out that we’ve been tracking the supply chain in some really antiquated ways, but that’s about to change thanks to blockchain.

Origins and Travels

The “provenance” of a good refers to its origin as well as a chronological record of its ownership, location, and other important information as it moves along a supply and distribution network.

Many companies are exploring the use of blockchain technologies to help track this information much deeper into their supply chains than previously feasible. A retailer, for example, might require detailed information about materials, components, and ingredients as would manufacturers sourcing from a variety of suppliers.

Using blockchain technologies to track the origins of raw materials and follow domestic and international supply chains can also help meet the increasing demand for consumer information about globally produced goods, providing more transparency and accuracy about a product’s long journey to the store.

How Blockchain Can Help

Blockchain works to track the provenance of a good thanks to digital tokens that are issued by each participant in the supply chain to authenticate its movement. Every time the item changes hands, the token moves in lockstep. The real-world chain of custody is mirrored by a chain of transactions recorded in the blockchain.

The token acts as a virtual “certificate of authenticity” that is much harder to steal, forge or hack than a piece of paper, barcode or digital file. The records can be trusted and greatly improve the information available to assure supply-chain quality.

Blockchain technology can also make the audit process more efficient. The ledger distributes responsibility to the owners of pieces of information while ensuring verification along the way. The transactions are transparent to parties on a permission basis.

Consumers Want to Know

Surveys show that consumers in the United States and around the world are becoming more aware and interested in the origins of the merchandise they buy and the food they consume. Many also want to know how production processes of the goods they consume impact the environment and society.

The Pew Research Center found that 75 percent of Americans are “particularly concerned” for the environment, and 83 percent make an effort at least some of the time to live in ways that protect the environment. Nearly three out of four Millennials surveyed by Nielsen say they would pay extra for “sustainable” products and brands with a reputation for environmental stewardship. When it comes to food products, 71 percent of people surveyed by Label Insight said they want access to a comprehensive list of ingredients when deciding what food to buy.

Sustainable Coffee, Genuine Brand Purses and Conflict Diamonds

Retailers are concerned that brand loyalty is on the decline. But with some products, high consumer demand for product information is associated with higher expenditures, meaning people might pay more for a product they believe is ethically or sustainably sourced or manufactured. Blockchain can be used by companies to verify the claims their customers care about.

Take Starbucks, for example. Since 2004, the company has worked to support farmer livelihoods through its Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) program. In 2015, they announced that 99 percent of their coffee was “ethically sourced,” complying with a set of principles and practices at each step of the supply chain from farm to cup. Last year, they took traceability to the next level by piloting the use of blockchain to create a transparent and direct connections with tens of thousands of coffee farmers. Customers can now see up close a supplier’s sustainability practices.

Worried your designer handbag isn’t the real deal? The luxury goods industry is seeking to use blockchain to verify the authenticity of its product. Brand name shoes, dresses or purses would have specific codes that retailers and consumers could use to track changes in ownership. Given the decentralized blockchain platform and multiple authentication processes to update the ledgers, fraudulent entries will be nearly impossible. The auditable and tamper-proof records produced through blockchain technology could help combat trade in counterfeit goods, which is a $1.77 trillion problem for manufacturers according to the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition.

Blockchain is a promising development for the diamond industry, which struggles to prevent so-called “conflict diamonds” from entering their value chains. A United Nations panel reportedly found that 140,000 carats of diamonds were still being smuggled out of the Central African Republic between 2013 and 2015 and traded illicitly to finance armed conflict despite an export ban. De Beers, which controls 37 percent of the global diamond market, reported earlier this year that it was able to track 100 high-value diamonds from mine to retailer using blockchain technology.

Food Safety and Quick Recalls

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year roughly one in six Americans, or 48 million people, becomes ill as the result of a foodborne pathogen (e.g., salmonella, listeria, or E. coli). Blockchain technology will not necessarily prevent outbreaks but could be used to track their source more quickly and prevent outbreaks from becoming epidemics. Retailers and regulators could use the distributed ledger technology for accurate and rapid information about potentially contaminated food.

Walmart is pioneering the use of blockchain to maintain easily accessible records of food provenance. In a simulated recall, The company was able to trace the origin of a bag of sliced mangoes in 2.2 seconds compared with the 6 days, 18 hours, and 26 minutes it would take using a standard approach of working with suppliers.

Australian exporter InterAgri is experimenting with using blockchain to track the production and global delivery of its Black Angus Aussie Beef. Teaming up with JD.com, a major e-commerce site in China, InterAgri aims to detect and eliminate food fraud such as counterfeit Aussie beef illegally marketed in China. By some cost estimates, food fraud affects approximately 10 percent of all commercially sold food products, creating food safety concerns for the consumer and liability issues for producers.

Coming to a Shelf Near You

In principle, blockchain could be applied to tracking provenance information for virtually any good, from agricultural commodities to luxury goods. Although blockchain technology is still not prevalent or the industry standard, more producers and retailers are exploring ways to track their own supply chains to increase quality assurance and their ability to communicate information about their products to consumers.

It will take trial and error and significant work with suppliers to ensure interoperability and efficiencies, but such experimentation will be essential if the U.S. and global economies are to realize the benefits of blockchain in international trade.

This is the first in a three-part series by Christine McDaniel for TradeVistas on how blockchain technologies will play an increasing role in international trade.

ChristineMcDaniel

Christine McDaniel a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Used with permission.

4 Challenges Blockchain Must Overcome To Achieve Mass Appeal

When most people think about blockchain, they likely associate it with Bitcoin or other types of cryptocurrency.

But the blockchain technology introduced a decade ago to serve as a secure database for transactions in the cryptocurrency world has plenty of uses beyond that – and potential for even more. Around the world, blockchain can be or already has been used in such areas as energy, tourism and financial services.

Yet, plenty of people still have little knowledge of this technological breakthrough that could transform how they do business and live their lives. That raises a couple of questions: Is blockchain ready for the masses? And are the masses ready for blockchain?

“Despite renewed investor interest, blockchain technology still needs to evolve to overcome some challenges before adoption reaches people who are not early adopters or who are not very tech savvy,” says Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com), a serial entrepreneur and an expert in blockchain.

Those challenges include:

Interaction with other systems. Blockchain’s growth depends on the technology’s ability to scale and interact with other systems and networks, Bensonoff says. “Right now, blockchain as a service is limited in performance because of slowed transaction processing times and the inability to have various blockchain platforms interact with each other,” he says. Just one way this challenge is being addressed is by developers creating consensus mechanisms, Bensonoff says. Consensus mechanisms refer to how participants in a blockchain network agree that the transactions recorded in the digital ledger are valid. “This mechanism creates a trust and validity in the transaction between participants who aren’t familiar with each other,” he says.

Cost and usability.  The cost of creating and implementing blockchain networks remains a significant barrier, Bensonoff says. One possible solution could be the introduction of cloud-based blockchain technology from tech giants such as IBM, Microsoft and others. “These companies have made cost reduction and scaling the crux of their business offerings,” he says. For blockchain to evolve, the average user experience also needs improvement, Bensonoff says. “The good news is that developers and blockchain companies are catching on, and working to create a more welcoming look and feel for consumers,” he says.

Regulation. If there’s a grey area in the blockchain world, regulation is it, although some states, such as Wyoming, and countries such as Malta, Estonia and Switzerland, are attempting to change that. “In the meantime, this regulatory limbo is affecting adoption, with many waiting for some finality in legislation before they implement their own blockchain solution,” Bensonoff says. As some states pass blockchain bills, hopes are high that others will follow suit, he says.

Privacy. Blockchain’s transparency is one of its strengths – and a weakness. Bensonoff points out that blockchain acts as a public ledger, which is necessary for the technology to provide trust and to verify transactions. But that can make use of blockchain troublesome for some industries, such as healthcare, which needs to protect the privacy of much of its data. Some solutions on the horizon, Bensonoff says, include making use of new developments like stealth addresses, ring-confidential transactions and state channels.

“Blockchain is definitely going to become more useful and more popular,” Kirill says. “But it must overcome these hurdles to get where it needs to be.”

About Kirill Bensonoff

Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com) has over 20 years experience in entrepreneurship, technology and innovation as an advisor and investor in over 20 companies. In the information technology and cloud services space, Kirill founded US Web Hosting while still in college, was co-founder of ComputerSupport.com in 2006, and launched Unigma in 2015. As an innovator in the distributed ledger technology (DLT) space, Kirill launched the crypto startup Caviar in 2017 and has worked to build the blockchain community in Boston by hosting the Boston Crypto Meetup. He also is the founder of the Boston Blockchain Angels, producer and host of The Exchange with KB podcast and leads the Blockchain + AI Rising Angel.co syndicate. Kirill earned a B.S. degree from Connecticut State University, is a graduate of the EO Entrepreneurial Masters at MIT, and holds a number of technical certifications. He has been published or quoted in such national business, blockchain and technology media as Inc., Hacker Noon, Huffington Post, Bitcoin Magazine and CoinTelegraph.


Strategies for Success in an Unpredictable Trade Environment

In terms of global trade, industry players tend to default to expressing concerns over the unpredictable trade tariffs under the Donald Trump administration. It goes without saying 2018 saw its ups and downs, sparking controversial Twitter wars and leaving business operations between a rock and a hard place, particularly in regards to China’s involvement and what the future holds. Global trade has to keep moving, but the question of how to proceed in an evergreen market continues to be the intricate question. What many don’t realize is the longevity of the issues with China, affirming the issues are not going to be solved with an all-in-one solution.

“Obviously, the U.S. has some concerns about Chinese policy and practice. The world has to deal with that and the U.S. in particular has decided – and not just in the Trump administration, it goes back to Obama administration – that we have to be more aggressive in responding to and even in deterring some of the practices in China that are affecting the rest of the world and affecting the U.S.,” explains Hughes Hubbard’s International Trade partner Dean A. Pinkert. “It’s a long-term trend and I think that the problems aren’t going to be solved overnight.”

Pinkert’s perspective thus highlights the importance of staying the course regardless of the uncertainty, through strategic approaches and utilizing the tools at hand. A successful business won’t allow the current issues in global trade to distract from their vision. Instead, smart companies will use them to their advantage and leverage the opportunity to prevent potential issues through a holistic evaluation of current operations and compliance within the supply chain. Management strategies and technology integration solutions, such as the use of blockchain technology, are recommended by Pinkert to help successfully navigate supply chain management while avoiding issues in compliance and visibility.

“I encourage people to look at blockchain as a possible way of increasing their ability to manage the supply chain and to have the knowledge and information about the various links within the supply chain. Blockchain is a tool they can use to get more control over the supply chain, it doesn’t solve all the problems, but it certainly has a very positive impact on the flow of information and that could be useful to companies trying to figure out, for example, whether there’s a vulnerability to government action,” Pinkert comments.

Additionally, industry players need to understand that government controls with imports are not the only area needing attention, but export controls hold equal importance. Without a thorough understanding of what governments are looking for, supply chain management can become easily complex and create more issues than solutions.

“When governments are looking at controlling the activities along the supply chain, it’s important for companies to know exactly what they’re dealing with – and that’s what blockchain can do,” Pinkert said. “Look into blockchain as a source of information flow and see whether it can be used to increase flexibility for dealing with a rapidly evolving policy environment. And the policy environment we are talking about is not just import controls, it’s also export controls. There are lots of things going on in the supply chain, and if companies know what they’re dealing with and take action to increase their flexibility, depending on circumstances within the industry, it can be very positive for them.”

The implications are far-reaching. When implementing new strategies, companies should focus on the fine details as well as the big picture, considering each product’s needs, and the best way to maximize positive impacts on the supply chain.  Additionally, the theme of flexibility cannot be stressed enough. In an ever-changing industry, all parties involved with global trade – from manufacturers and shippers, to logistics companies and ocean ports – need to consider flexibility as a key factor that may make the difference between progression and stagnation. Consider regional opportunities as well and don’t restrict suppliers to a specific region just because it’s worked in the past. And if your company does decide to outsource to a new supplier, take plenty of time to consider how the switch will impact operations and customers on a short-term and long-term scale.

“When it comes to supply chain management, it’s going to vary from product to product. In some cases, there will be an ability to source more from U.S. suppliers, and in some cases there will be an ability to source from alternative foreign suppliers,” Pinkert said. “In many industries you can’t make a quick switch to the extent that the trade policy is moving more quickly than the ability to switch suppliers, which makes it very difficult for companies to manage their supply chains. We don’t know from week to week or month to month what’s going to happen, particularly when we talk about this China issue. For companies that are trying to make decisions based on how policy is going to evolve, I think my best advice is to try to maximize their flexibility.”

As Pinkert emphasizes, solutions vary from industry to industry. What works for one company isn’t guaranteed to work for another. Consequently, instead of looking for a fixed algorithm, identify how your company can improve visibility while increasing operational flexibility, and the rest will follow. The reality is, there’s no such thing as a quick fix. Unpredictable changes with global trade tariffs are inevitable. Consider the fact that competitors are in the same position and analyze how you can leverage your company strategies to gain competitive advantage. Beyond strategic solutions, companies should consider integrating predictive planning into the mix as well as vetting opportunities with partners that can add value to operations and customer relations. Stay focused on both the customer and the changing policy environment. In doing so, companies protect valuable relationships and maintain a reliable, positive reputation.

Pinkert concludes:

“Is there a possibility or probability that there is going to be a reduction of some of the tensions? I think so. The process of actually getting China to look into intellectual property issues differently and look at the role of the state in the economy differently, that is a long process and it’s not going to be resolved this or next week.”

Dean A. Pinkert is a partner in Hughes Hubbard’s International Trade practice. He is a former Commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission. Dean was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2007, and was designated Vice Chairman by President Obama in 2014. Before his appointment, Dean was a senior attorney in the Office of Chief Counsel for Import Administration at the Commerce Department.

Brazil’s Banco Bradesco Confirms Blockchain Integration

Bradesco Bank – the second largest private bank in Brazil, released information confirming the integration of the Marco Polo Network. The global trade finance network combines R3’s Corda blockchain technology and the TradeIX distributed trade finance platform to create a unique, paced process for financial institutions to utilize.

Marco Polo’s Network gives banks and other financial institutions the advantage of learning and exploring opportunities in blockchain technology prior to implementing strategic trade finance initiatives with the platform.

“Facilitating financial inclusion and supporting economic growth is one of our key priorities. Following the successful digitalization of our retail services, we’re now focused on leveraging the best technology to develop new trade finance solutions for our corporate banking customers,” said Roberto Medeiros, Bradesco’s Head of International and Trade Finance in the announcement.

“Our Research & Innovation Department carefully assessed the options available to implement blockchain solutions and APIs. The expertise of the Marco Polo Network, the forward-looking vision and the end user-focused approach convinced us that we had found the optimum place to succeed,” he added.

With a focus on improving trade finance by increasing transparency, connectivity, and optionality, the joint finance initiative provides solutions and efficiencies to minimize financial roadblocks while maximizing client and partner relationships.

“As Marco Polo’s global network continues to grow momentum, it is clear that it is bringing tremendous value to the trade finance and working capital sector. Institutions which get ahead of the curve by engaging actively with blockchain technology now through use-cases and pilots will be ahead of the curve and gain a significant competitive advantage. Banco Bradesco is joining a network leading the way in exploring how blockchain can improve the entire trade finance lifecycle,” said David E. Rutter, CEO of R3.

Source: Marco Polo

Optimization Software Helping Air Cargo Carriers Address Challenges, Improve Performance, and Maximize Growth Opportunities

For air cargo carriers, there are many factors converging to introduce new challenges to their logistical planning and operations. Changing customer expectations, new partnership definitions, and emerging competitors are all conspiring and requiring air cargo carriers to adapt to these new market dynamics. Mastering the so-called “disruptors” will require optimized strategies and processes both of which gain a significant boost from leading-edge optimization solutions. Understanding the disruptors and how best to address them will be the key for today’s air cargo carriers’ continued growth and ability to successfully compete.

Challenges and Performance Improvement Goals

There is no question that despite positive growth projections by leading airline industry groups, including the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air cargo carriers have hurdles to overcome. IATA’s prediction of a rise in cargo in 2018 came true with 62.5 million tons of cargo carried in 2018, a 4.5% increase over figures in 2017 leading to an 8.6% increase in cargo revenues at $59.2 billion. This growth boosts confidence, but air cargo carriers are not celebrating just yet. Still, air cargo carriers are not celebrating just yet. They realize that to achieve growth and profitability, they need to improve their value proposition by optimizing their processes and overall performance. This will require they get ahead of new challenges, while embracing new tools that facilitate better performance.

Among the key challenges air cargo carriers must address are:

-Those relating to the delivery of different cargo in accordance with the Service Level Agreement (SLA) for each cargo product, and recording time-stamps required for the audit trail;

-Optimal management of staff and equipment resources on the apron and in the cargo warehouse; and

-Maintaining optimum situational awareness and management by exception even in the most complex and confusing situations.

In addition to helping address these challenges, air cargo carriers also need solutions that will help them improve their performance of various tasks such as:

-Transporting of cargo between the aircraft and cargo center, as well as transports between different locations within the cargo center;

-On-time dolly availability at aircraft stands and holding areas;

-Preparation of dolly and trailer trains at aircraft and at outbound docks;

-Cargo build-up and breakdown in the warehouse;

-Loading/unloading of aircraft; and

-Loading/unloading of road feeder services.

The Disruptors

Competitors

When Amazon announced plans to launch its own delivery service, more than one carrier took note and stock of the implications. While its plans are to start accumulating a fleet of branded trucks, what is to say that the Amazon logo won’t soon appear on its own fleet of air cargo carriers? And, will Alibaba be far behind?

Blockchain

When a group of Japanese businesses operating in global trade announced their pilot program to evaluate the application of blockchain technology to streamline and improve cross-border trade operations, there was interest by air transporters as well as those in other modes of transportation. This group is not alone in exploring ways to leverage this digital database that uses linked blocks secured by cryptography to improve transactions and logistics. UPS, for one, has expressed interest in utilizing blockchain technology in its operations.

Big Data

Big Data is also causing a stir within the air cargo industry. Carriers realize that by harnessing the power of real time data, along with more flexible management of workforce and other resources, they can increase their overall efficiency. This is particularly true when it comes to better determining the number of planes needed for cargo transport during specific periods; efficiently scaling up or down accordingly.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Like Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also getting a closer look by air cargo carriers. While some don’t expect AI to immediately impact the industry, there is a generally accepted viewpoint that it will ultimately help the carriers better forecast their facilities’ needs, improve cargo tracking, enhance revenue management, and optimize processes such as load planning, route planning, workforce management, and customer service. Among the top five air cargo carriers, at least two, FedEx and UPS, are known to be researching the implementation of AI.  Consolidation services are also being looked upon by air cargo carriers as a way to mitigate challenges faced by organizations with lean supply chains and/or those that need to provide a Just in Time (JIT) service even for the smaller quantities.

All of these “disruptors” have changed customer expectations; the operative words here are faster, more flexible, more transparent, and lower prices. These expectations lead us to optimization software. It is already helping air cargo carriers optimize their processes so that they can effectively address challenges, best leverage the new technologies like AI and position themselves for the changing marketplace.

Optimization Software Helping Carriers Retain Their Competitive Edge

Regardless of the challenges, air cargo carriers still have a distinct advantage over other modes of transport; specifically, they are faster and more reliable. Cargo IQ data indicates that air cargo shipments, on average, take 140 hours to go from shipper to the consignee. The reliability of air cargo carriers is another notable differentiator. That is, however, not to say that air cargo carriers don’t benefit from improved processes. Optimization software is intended to take their operations to a whole new level and enable them to retain their competitive edge.

There are advanced solutions that optimize a wide range of carrier processes, from ground handling and airport operations to turnaround management and aircraft maintenance. These solutions have demonstrated a direct impact on the carriers’ productivity, costs of operation, performance levels, communications, and resource management. They enable an air cargo carrier to achieve best practices and process transparency which help them perform with the consistent speed and reliability they tout over other modes of transportation. Let us look at how some of the challenges faced by air cargo carriers are being effectively addressed by applying optimization software.

A key operational challenge faced by air cargo carriers is that different cargo products have different Service Level Agreement (SLA) limits relating to when the cargo must be delivered to the aircraft. This requires carriers to establish and allocate the necessary resources (e.g., dolly trains) in an optimized manner and in adherence to the SLA. There also is another requirement for time-stamps to be recorded as proof and for subsequent auditing purposes. Optimization software addresses this challenge by automatically taking SLA limits into consideration when allocating tasks to resources. Additionally, each action is connected to a time-stamp so that a detailed recording of activities performed can be guaranteed.

Air cargo carriers are further challenged by today’s highly competitive industry and the demand for optimal management of staff and equipment. By applying state-of-the-art algorithms to automatically allocate tasks to staff and equipment in accordance with various parameters (e.g., availability, functional requirements, legal considerations, etc.), optimization software helps carriers achieve optimal asset management and remain competitive.

Given the many operational complexities and typical infrastructure limitations air cargo carriers must contend with, maintaining sharp situational awareness, even under the most stressful and/or chaotic conditions, is vital. Built-in optimizers in today’s most advanced software solutions alleviate much of the confusion enabling staff to fully focus on critical tasks, thereby facilitating management-by-exception.

Real Benefits Derived

Optimization software is delivering real benefits to carriers. INFORM’s GroundStar optimization software suite has made a significant difference on behalf of various cargo customers. For example, by applying the software to allocate and manage its employees, one customer is now able to turn around 350,000 express freight shipments, on average, per night. Having to cater to an estimated 65 cargo flights per night within a short window of just four hours, situational awareness and pro-active decision-making is crucial. The GroundStar solution elevates situational awareness to the highest level to facilitate optimum decision-making. On a typical day, approximately 250 loading staff and drivers are allocated in parallel for efficient workforce management. During the peak holiday season, the strength of the implemented solution is especially evident as more than 500,000 parcels must be efficiently handled per night.

INFORM’s GroundStar also is helping air cargo carriers meet the demands posed by the 5% annual increase in the number of express shipments. It is enabling these carriers to effectively manage expansion by supporting them with advanced automation and optimized and focused decision-making which, in turn, is helping them increase productivity without adding staff.

Another example of how INFORM software is benefiting its cargo customers relates to their estimated 20% increase in dolly train utilization. Prior to their application of GroundStar, the carriers’ loading and cargo transport supervisors were not always able to utilize the full capacity of a tug and its dollies to meet SLAs and other timelines. After the implementation of GroundStar, the information regarding a tug’s status (i.e., whether a tug driver has enough time to wait for another unit load device (ULD) to be collected or to leave the stand with only three ULDs instead of four) is a strategic decision automatically handled by the INFORM software.

The Way Forward

The future for air cargo carriers and their continued process optimization will include further leverage of data – small and Big Data – to extract new insights and empower all staff levels from management to technicians. In turn, air cargo carriers will be able to gain even greater clarity to support their optimum decisions on matters ranging from dynamic disruption management and efficient aircraft turnaround, to aircraft maintenance, workforce management, and supply chain management.