The blockchain has long been seen as a method to quicken (and cheapen) cross-border payments, and now that movement — which includes a number of startups making moves privately — just got its highest profile advocate after IBM announced its own solution focused on banks.
The computing giant has teamed up with blockchain startup Stellar and payment company Kickex to launch a cross-border payment system for banks which uses the blockchain to “reduce the settlement time and lower the cost of completing global payments for businesses and consumers.”
Currently, international transactions take days, if not weeks, to be completed. Frustration with that has seen services like TransferWise rise, but, great as they are, they remain solutions for savvy consumers or small businesses rather than all.
A blockchain solution for banks addresses the root cause, and it could minimize the potential for errors thanks to the ledger-based system while also providing transparency and flexibility to banks.
In one example, IBM said its service could be used to connect a farmer in Samoa with a buyer based in Indonesia, while covering more than just the payment itself.
“The blockchain would be used to record the terms of the contract, manage trade documentation, allow the farmer to put up collateral, obtain letters of credit, and finalize transaction terms with immediate payment, conducting global trade with transparency and relative ease,” it said.
That’s the longer term objective but already the system is being used in 12 currency corridors between the Pacific Islands and Australia, New Zealand and the UK. It is tipped to handle 60 percent of cross-border payments from South Pacific’s retail industry within the next year and there are wider plans beyond that.
More than a dozen banks are part of the initial group working with the program, which has plans to expand into South America, Southeast Asia and other areas early next year.
“With the guidance of some of the world’s leading financial institutions, IBM is working to explore new ways to make payment networks more efficient and transparent so that banking can happen in real-time, even in the most remote parts of the world,” Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President of IBM Industry Platforms, said in a statement.
The system runs on the IBM Blockchain Platform, which itself is based on the open source Hyperledger Fabric that powers IBM’s “Blockchain as a service” announced earlier this year. It is also a notable example of a private blockchain (IBM) working with a public blockchain (Stellar) since Stellar handles the actual settlement of transactions, as CoinDesk noted.
IBM recently partnered with Walmart and others to use the blockchain to improve food safety through increased transparency and traceability.
Note: Post updated to correct that IBM’s blockchain is public while Stellar’s is private.