Bolero digitizes shipping information – Catching up with Ian Kerr at Sibos

There’s a tremendous interest in digitizing shipping information and providing visibility around shipping. Any company that buys goods, particularly globally, knows there are four levels of visibility maturity: (1) where is my stuff?; (2) why isn't it moving?; (3) how can we move it better?; and (4) how can we impact network behaviors.

Service providers such as Bolero and essDocs have been involved in digitizing bills of lading and working with carriers, forwarders, customs authorities and major exporters on helping companies convert paper to electronic for international shipments. That is much more difficult than it sounds, given international trade must clear customs (usually a paper ordeal) and international transport issues are more complicated.

Ian Kerr was brought in as CEO of Bolero in May 2014. Ian used to work at Clear2Pay and led the integration of three payments focused testing organisations based in Belgium, the US and the UK.

I caught up with Ian at Sibos, the largest bank conference hosted by SWIFT. Two years ago, Azini Capital (also investors in OB10) acquired Bolero from Apax Partners. Azini Capital describes themselves as a UK based private equity firm that specializes in acquiring shareholdings in private and small-cap public technology companies from historical investors and shareholders (direct secondary transactions).

Where the story gets interesting is that Azini Capital also invested in OB10, now part of Tungsten.

As I spoke with Ian he was candid in how banks have perceived Bolero. Banks had two problems with Bolero:

First, it was perceived as an expensive club to get access for small number of transactions

Second, banks had to connect to Bolero and turn around and rekey data into their systems. Bolero solved this issue by its recent announcement of formal support for the SWIFT MT798 corporate-to-bank message set. The development is in response to requests from some of the 70-plus banks it works with to simplify back office integration for bank-to-corporate messaging.

They have signed up a "who’s who" list of major commodity traders – including Cargill, Glencore, BHP, and Rio Tinto. According to Ian, Bolero provides electronic documentation services to a growing number of BHP business units.

Bolero delivers these exporters benefits across multiple areas:

  • The No. 1 reason these companies do it is the DSO savings when shipping a commodity (e.g., iron ore) to a country, say China, and documents presented arrive clean after 2 days instead of 40 days.
  • Eliminates 90% of the letters of indemnity requirements, so importers have the documents to clear shipments.
  • Bill of lading documents are not lost since its electronic (and yes, this happens more frequently than not according to shipping executives).
  • Eliminates paper fraudulent bills of lading – especially in emerging markets.

As well as accelerating the speed at which the documents are delivered, the ability to exchange "machine readable" structured data creates further opportunities for straight-through processing in both banks and corporate enterprises. Check out Cargill's Alan Adamson and BHP Billiton's Niki Sakelaropoulos discuss their journey towards digitization of trade documentation here.

As Ian explained, what Bolero offers is really a connectivity platform for corporates to work with banks and other involved parties such as carriers for trade transactions. Right now, the question is how to broaden the solution platform beyond letters of credit documentation. There are numerous initiatives out there starting from different starting points (some from the Purchase Order, some from e-commerce transactions), and there could be some interesting future partnering options in future to tie the electronic shipping data set into these equations.

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