Bolero revives with new applications

After a bumpy start, the paperless-trade advocate is busy promoting two new products to get Asian traders on the road to automation.

Bolero's new online applications help to unlock the financial supply chain, says the entity's senior vice president of global operations, Claire Buchanan, who was in Asia last week.

Buchanan and other Bolero executives are spending more time in the region promoting new products which give exporters a unified view of their outstanding letters of credit.

Bolero launched with a flurry in 1999 with the support of several large trade finance banks. The group claimed they would revolutionize the way global trade is done by developing a comprehensive set of standards that would remove the barriers to cross-border business.

But take up of the proposition was slow. Bolero found it hard to gain mass acceptance of its platform, discovering that while the electronic trade message was powerful, not enough people were committed to the revolution.

In 2003, Arthur Vonchek took over as chief executive officer and the group went underground for a period to rethink its strategy. The outcome of this rethink is the launch of two new applications - BoleroAdvise and BoleroApply.

Buchanan says the new products help Bolero to achieve its ultimate goal of changing the way people think about and process their global trade transactions. "Now we have something to offer that gets them on the road to automation," says Buchanan. "Rather than just setting the standard and asking people to create their own applications, we have created the applications for them."

BoleroAdvise simplifies the process of tracking advices on letters of credit. It is web-based and multi-bank meaning that traders need only go to one location to check all outstanding LCs.

"Exporters can get all the information they need about their export credits through BoleroAdvise," says Buchanan. "The application translates MT700 messages from the SWIFT network into our own software and makes them consistent and easy for people to read. This information is then delivered through the banking system." She says about 20 banks and 50 customers have signed up to the system. A handful of these customers are based in Asia.

She says Bolero expects more uptake in Asia. "We spoke to a large prospective customer in China that has a finance department based in Beijing, factories in the western provinces and a logistics operation in Shanghai. LC information is now passed between these offices using faxes or couriered documents which is time consuming and unreliable," says Buchanan. "The finance director told us it would take him two days to work out how many LCs were outstanding and to clarify their status."

Gaining mass acceptance for these new applications will be key to Bolero's second stab at converting the trade community. To bring the service to the attention of corporate clients and their bankers, Bolero is enlisting the help of local partners in key markets.

In January, Bolero signed such a partnership agreement with Tradelink in Hong Kong. Tradelink, a joint venture between the government and other private sector shareholders that promotes the HKSAR as a trade centre, is making BoleroAdvise available to its 54,000-plus members. Korea Exchange Bank was the first partner bank to support the Bolero solution on Tradelink.