HSBC develops robotics solution to ‘digitise’ global trade


HSBC has teamed with technology giant IBM to develop a robotics solution which simplifies the processing of millions of documents used daily in international commerce.

The cognitive automation technology combines optical character recognition with advanced robotics “to make global trade safer and more efficient for thousands of businesses,” the bank said.

Based off IBM’s Watson analytics technology, the document processing solution includes intelligent segmentation and text analytics, to identify, digitise, and extract key data within these documents before feeding it into the bank’s transaction processing systems. This not only serves to boost accuracy, but also frees up staff for more value-adding activities, HSBC said.

The technology is currently being used to analyse English-language import and export bills in several markets in Asia, Europe, the Americas and the MENA region. Developers are seeking to enhance the solution so it can read a wider range of documents and languages including Chinese, French and Spanish.

“The average trade transaction requires 65 data fields to be extracted from 15 different documents, with 40 pages to be reviewed,” said Natalie Blyth, HSBC’s Global Head of GTRF.

“By digitising this process we will make transactions quicker and safer for both buyers and suppliers, leading our industry forwards, and we will reduce compliance risks through an enhanced ability to manage huge volumes of data,” Blyth said.

One of the main problems for any automation solution is the ability to capture loosely structured documents with highly variable content, according to Roger Welch, Industry (Financial) Expert and Solution Architect for IBM Analytics ECM practice. Welch sees this co-developed robotics solution as a significant leap ahead for the document processing for financial services, with the potential to supplant a still predominantly analogue process.

“In our experience, no trade finance solution has come as far or done as much as this new solution,” Welch said.

HSBC’s Global Trade and Receivables Finance (GTRF) team facilitates over USD500 billion of documentary trade for customers every year. As a result, the bank must manually review and process up to 100 million pages of documents, ranging from invoices to packing lists and insurance certificates.