CGI’s What’s Happening in Trade podcast series covers the latest news and insights in the world of trade finance and transaction banking. This podcast is hosted by CGI trade expert Patrick DeVilbiss, who invites trade finance and banking executives to share their perspectives on the current and future state of trade.

In part one of this two-part episode, Patrick speaks with Marcel Rokach, Senior Director of Global Solutions at RBC, to gain insight into initiatives and technologies that are trending among banks today, as businesses and economies re-open and evolve post-pandemic. RBC is one of Canada's largest banks, serving 17 million clients in Canada, the U.S. and 27 other countries. It is one of North America's leading diversified financial services companies, providing personal and commercial banking, wealth management, insurance, investor services, and capital markets products and services, globally.

The pandemic’s impact on current technology investment

According to Marcel, the pandemic drove a focus on back-office technology enhancements, including the digital completion of documents and remote execution of transactions. Today, RBC is focused on increasing online customer adoption by leveraging its digital trade portal while exploring further customer solutions for remote ID verification, e-signatures, and electronic bills of lading. The pandemic also led to the emergence of new technologies in the trade space, including advanced optical character recognition, artificial intelligence, and intelligent process automation. The bank anticipates that in the near future, APIs also will have a strong influence on how customers and banks conduct trade finance transactions.

Emerging technologies that banks are leveraging to best support customers

The pandemic forced banks to quickly pivot and find a way to remotely manage transactions while ensuring customers had increased transparency across the supply chain. Marcel explains that CGI’s Trade360 solution and the RBC Global Connect portal, a cloud-based portal developed in conjunction with 15 other banks globally, enabled RBC to support its customers remotely during the pandemic and continue to deliver a positive customer experience today. Looking forward, APIs have the potential to consolidate a variety of services into one seamlessly integrated client platform.

APIs: Shaping the future of trade finance

APIs have the capability to address evolving trade finance customer demands. RBC has implemented APIs in other areas of the bank, such as cash management, but is looking to leverage them for trade finance in the future. APIs can be used to seamlessly integrate cash flow, cash management, and short- and long-term lending into a single customer view, as well as provide data insights, peer benchmarking, and regional and industry comparisons to customers. Marcel notes that there is an opportunity for industry standards in the area of APIs. These standards may help prevent having to custom build solutions for each individual client, reducing the overall industry burden of integration.

For more insights from Marcel on RBC’s trade finance initiatives, listen to the full podcast above. For questions or comments, contact Patrick

Stay tuned for part 2 of this episode to hear Marcel’s perspective on supply chain backlogs, sustainability in banking, and the future of the trade finance industry.

Read the transcript: 

Chapter 1: Introductions

Patrick DeVilbiss:

Hello everyone. And welcome to our latest episode of What's Happening in Trade. I'm Patrick DeVilbiss, Senior Offering Manager of Trade and Supply Chain Finance here at CGI. And I'm joined as always by Nancy. Amert, the Director of our Trade Innovation Lab. Hi Nancy, how are you doing?

Nancy Amert:

Very good. Thanks Pat. Great to be here.

Patrick DeVilbiss:

Yeah, absolutely. We've got a great session today. So we are going to be joined by Marcel Rokach. Who's the Senior Director of Global Solutions at Royal Bank of Canada who has a great background in the financial services side, as well as trade. So Marcel, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule. We wanted to just give you a second to introduce yourself and tell us why you're here and what you know about the world of trade.

Marcel Rokach:

Thank you, Pat and Nancy, it's certainly a pleasure to be here. Yeah. I have a trade background. I've been leading the trade product team at RBC for about 10 years now, but I would say I'm not what you would call an up through the ranks trade person. I surround myself with super intelligent, detailed trade people who understand letters of credit to a level that I probably never will. But what I do have is a sort of unusual mix where spent a lot of time in the branches, a lot of time in commercial lending, and so that I find gives me maybe a slightly unique viewpoint sometimes from what I've seen in the industry, in terms of understanding the full breadth of banking solutions as delivered to a client and how they interact. And probably also a focus, I hope, on more smaller and medium sized businesses and the needs they might have in trade. So looking forward to the discussion.

Chapter 2: How did the pandemic influence your current technology investments?

Patrick DeVilbiss:

Yeah, that's great. I think sometimes in the world of trade, we can get a little bit caught up in our subject matter area because it is so niche and lose a little bit of that broader kind of financial services sector value or interest. You've got a great background and I think you bring a very interesting eye and perspective to the discussion we want to have today. Thanks again for joining. Without further ado, let's kind of kick off and get into it. The first thing we want to talk to you about is, we definitely saw, during the pandemic, a really, really strong push on digitization initiatives across the board.

I think the minute folks got sent home from their normal workplace and especially in the world of trade where there's so much physical documentation, there was a real drive towards how do we digitize this business end to end much more effectively. And I guess the question is, are we still seeing that investment as we start to come out of the pandemic? Are we still seeing the same level of enthusiasm and investment that we do today, and if so, what sort of market-ready technologies are you seeing have an impact in that space?

Marcel Rokach:

Yeah, that's a good way to start. I mean, I think I would say overall investment is gaining traction, but within the banks or certainly RBC from what I've seen, is there's still a pressing need to be sensible with budgets, so the focus is on leveraging the existing capabilities we have across the enterprise and potentially integrating those and leveraging those. But that's of course not always possible so we focus on ready capabilities and what's out there in the market. As you know, we work closely with CGI on keeping our ear to the ground on what's bubbling up the most. I think during the pandemic, a lot of the back-office technology enhancements sort of surged forward ahead of some of the other capabilities that were getting attention perhaps prior to the pandemic, so anything related to digital completion of documents, remote execution of transactions , those sorts of things got a big boost.

What we're focusing on, I would say three things, is a further increase in our online adoption. We have a great trade portal. We haven't been at it that long, but we are pretty proud of our hockey stick curve in terms of digital portal adoption and including for small and medium businesses, as well as the larger corporates. That's one effort we've had and we've also kind of turned our gaze towards remote ID verification, e-signature digital documents, and bills of lading , not all of those immediately ready to go. Some of them, yes. But what I would also say is we found that we did some things in a hurry to react to the pandemic. We called it a client treatment plan, so eager to do the right thing for our clients, and a lot of things opened up for us.

You can do this, you can do that, but then later it becomes it's only for now. And so now we have to go back and dot our Is and cross our Ts with compliance and legal and make sure we continue to offer some of these capabilities. I think the final thing I would say, and there may be more opportunity to talk about this later is we see optical character recognition, artificial intelligence, basic intelligent process automation capability as being right there at the front. I would say APIs and the capability they bring probably next in line in terms of trade finance at Royal Bank, and supply chain, of course always attracting attention and pretty much a lot of ready capability out there to leverage.

Chapter 3: What emerging technologies are best supporting corporate customers?

Patrick DeVilbiss:

Yeah, that's really good. I certainly think that we saw an emphasis during the kind of midst of the pandemic on, what can you do today? What's very real? What's very impactful to the business because I think there were a lot of efficiency challenges and, frankly, difficulties with people working remote, just full stop. There were a lot of processes that had to be revamped, retooled, and reconsidered in the light of what we were going through during the pandemic. That's really good insight there, Marcel, I appreciate it.

So kind of taking it down a slightly different path, but pivoting a little, in terms of your corporate customers, right? Your end users at the end of the day, what sort of technologies or application of any emerging technologies that are out there, do you see as really best supporting or enabling their business as they start to look towards the future and kind of in what ways are you seeing those corporate customers getting impacted? I would broad strip that. When I talk corporate customers, your clients, your end clients, whoever they may be, small, medium size enterprises, large corporate customers, et cetera, who whomever they are at the end of the day.

Marcel Rokach:

Yeah. I think we've had a lot going through the pandemic, but I think it's fair to start out with what we already had and were able to provide that maybe we didn't realize how valuable it was to begin with, which is the Trade360 system front end, and backend, and the data. That when the pandemic hit, and I had a conversation about halfway through with our head of trade operations, who said they could not possibly have reacted the way they did without having this capability to manage transactions remotely and effectively, and manage the workflow with the really, the vast majority of our staff being at home, being safe, and working remotely. In many ways, that's already there and we're leveraging it, and we've found new ways to leverage it, so we're proud of that. As I look at what we're offering our corporates, a lot of it is things that are there in the marketplace, like cloud-based technology, as I mentioned, CGI is a cloud-based capability.

So I think that's one thing. We introduced because of the supply chain disruptions, I shouldn't say introduced, but we leveraged something we had recently introduced, which is called RBC Global Connect. RBC Global Connect is a portal that we developed in conjunction with 15 other banks globally to enable buyers and suppliers globally to get a rich set of information , but also to join a trade club. What they're able to do there is connect with each other and even make tender offers and that sort of thing, to find new avenues to build resilient supply chains. It's also a cloud-based technology. I don't know that it was leveraging anything that would make anybody fall off their chair, who works in a technology department, but something that I think made a difference for our clients. That's one thing. I think data, right? We've grown up in the data world.

It was always true. It was always something that was happening, but also one of those things that were accelerated by the pandemic, a greater transparency across the supply chain for our clients, knowing when they need working capital, the timing of it, and the effectiveness of how we deliver it became more pronounced and more clear and also pricing solutions. I don't know if you recall, there was the whole LIBOR migration was a big deal and just the discovery there as we migrated away, kind of the underpinning data and capability that provided us, gave us an ability to be flexible with our clients in a way that I think they've appreciated. If we look a little further ahead in places where we see opportunity, and I think, you're probably more a technology person than I am, I would say is interoperability. That's the next horizon.

So much capability out there with APIs being able to potentially bring in services, microservices all into one forward looking client platform. We know the fintechs that are out there. We know the consortiums that are out there, Taulia, PrimeRevenue, Demica, and then you look on the blockchain side, Marco Polo, Congo, others in the intelligent process automation area, and each of those could be brought to bear directly to the client through APIs or a way to provide a single gateway for our clients. Through the pandemic, I think we've settled on the notion that's where we're aiming so I don’t want to indicate that we're there yet, but certainly where we're aiming.

Chapter 4: How are APIs shaping the future of trade finance?

Patrick DeVilbiss:

Yeah, definitely. Some of this is a process and I think you touched on something that's a really interesting point there. The global connect platform that you referenced. You said it wouldn't necessarily blow the socks off of someone from a technology perspective, but it offered a solution to customers. I think that's something that we particularly, and I'll say we in the technology space sometimes lose focus on, because we like new, and innovative, and fascinating, and interesting ideas, but at the end of the day, you're serving a customer. I think if your solution doesn't meet the end needs of a customer, it doesn't address them in some way, you're probably off the mark to begin with. It's interesting hearing that, you came up with a solution, across multiple different banks that maybe isn't a huge technology piece. It's not something as forward looking as say a blockchain platform, but it's really meeting a customer need.

That's a great example of how we can deploy solutions for customers that meet their needs. Very interesting. Just going back to what you talked about there at the end, Marcel, and you referenced it earlier on the API side and utilizing APIs to pull together multiple different networks, data sources, et cetera. How are you seeing APIs shape the future of trade and potentially our industry's ecosystems just generally? Do you have insights or thoughts around that?

Marcel Rokach:

I do, for sure, and it's something we talk about regularly. I always, in this situation, feel compelled to give some preparatory remarks in the sense that we have not yet in trade finance, delivered functioning API, just yet. I've seen them delivered. I've worked with people in the cash management area and other areas and work and talk to people in the industry who are really showing the capability that this technology brings. That's why it's getting the attention and I think it deserves the attention that it's getting. When you're a product manager the way I am, and the way our team looks at things, it's about use cases. Hey, that's a bit of a technical term slightly, but it's about how is the client going to use this so that it's meaningful immediately if we implement it.

The things we have looking to get into queue for the next development cycle, or as soon as possible in the development cycle, would be something I mentioned previously, which is developing a consolidated set of services and being able to design it in such a way that you can add things. We have a program internally, which I won't name because, at this point, it has a convoluted name, because it's internal, it's not launched to clients, but it's really the forward edge full platform for our clients. Like right now it's called RBC express. All banks are working on the next iteration of their front-end portal for lending for the whole shooting match, including trade finance.

If you can seamlessly integrate a single view of cash flow for trade finance, along with your cash management, along with your short term and long term lending in one place and offer data insights to those clients, for example, one of the things we thought of is bench benchmarking them against similar peers in common industries and common business models, let's say, and comparing it against the province or the region and so forth that clients would like to see that kind of information. That's one sort of place where APIs could definitely be valuable .

I would also say in the backend system, right? So if our backend capability could have applications showing on the portal, or on a public website, and we have thousands upon thousands of clients who use small guarantees. In Canada, a small client might want to have a lottery gaming terminal in their restaurant for their clients. The government says, I need a guarantee for that. Right. And it's small. But if we were to have a public facing capability to say, hey, come on in, fill out the form, we'll look at the rest for you, and that will feed into our back end that something like that for would have the benefit of scale in a way we haven't seen yet and so we think things like that could provide excellent use cases. There are of course, many, many more. Another one that comes to mind is funding.

We have had discussions, as I'm sure every bank has, with some of these funders like Taulia, PrimeRevenue, Demica, and on and on. There are others, many others, and they show you their client list and you say, "Oh, I know those guys. I know those guys." And so potentially the ability to work, to sort of share those clients and be able to provide them funding through other capabilities that exist, could extend our reach and do more for our clients I think as well. That's just a few examples. We could talk about this for a long time.

Patrick DeVilbiss:

I think that this in and of itself can be an entire deep discussion, but you definitely provided some interesting insights there and perspective, and I'll layer on one piece too, that I've been thinking about more and more from an industry perspective. We've seen that API side roll out and there are certain banks that are leading a little bit more on this and certain industry providers that are leading more on it. I think there's also a push to say how do we, as an industry, come around on standards. Those sorts of things, which become really critical because what you've also got to be careful about is you roll out API solutions is that you don't want to be custom building everything for each individual corporate customer you might be working with, or each individual platform provider you might be working with, and where and when we, as an industry, can come together and say, API's absolutely critical for us to move forward globally.

How do we in the disparate world of trade finance come together around standards so that our corporate customers aren't losing their minds, I think is a really, really important point. I know that there are a lot of really deep technical and intellectually knowledgeable folks that are really focused on that topic so it's going to be one that we see evolve over time, for sure.

Marcel Rokach:

One API to rule them all.

Patrick DeVilbiss:

There you go. That'll be part of the goal. Thanks for tuning in to part one of our discussion with Marcel Rokach, from RBC. Join us for part two, where we'll get his perspective on supply chain backlogs, sustainability in banking, and the future of the trade finance industry.


Marcel Rokach, Senior Director of Global Solutions, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)

In his current role at RBC, Marcel oversees the bank’s trade finance and global banking products offered to RBC’s business clients. He has been with RBC for more than 25 years and has previously held various leadership roles in product ...

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