Visa Inc. on Tuesday furthered its ambitions to expand beyond card payments with the commercial launch of a cross-border network that leverages blockchain technology to help manage business-to-business transfers.
The network, called Visa B2B Connect, starts out with coverage of more than 30 so-called global trade corridors and plans to enable as many as 90 by year’s end. The project, which Visa originally announced in 2016, aims to accelerate business transfers by routing them directly from the originating bank to the beneficiary bank. The distributed ledger technology, developed by Hyperledger Fabric, carries associated data. The network also tokenizes a business’s banking details, such as account numbers, to speed and secure transactions.
Visa officials didn’t mince words Tuesday about the network’s value. “This lays the foundation for a service with the potential to transform cross-border payments,” said Sam Hamilton, senior vice president for data product development at Visa, in a statement. Also participating in the service are Fidelity National Information Services Inc. and Bottomline Technologies, which are bringing the network to banking clients, and IBM Corp, which works with the Linux Foundation, sponsor of the open-source Hyperledger technology.
“By creating a solution that facilitates direct, bank-to-bank transactions, we are eliminating friction associated with key industry pain points. With Visa B2B Connect, we are making payments quicker and simpler, while enhancing transparency and consistency of data,” said Kevin Phalen, senior vice president and global head of Visa Business Solutions, in a statement.
Observers see the new network gaining clients if it lives up to its promise of faster, less complicated cross-border remittances. “Their sole focus are cross-border transfers, which are expensive and cumbersome, so if they’re able to contain the operational impact, they should get some traction with their existing client base,” says Patricia Hewitt, principal at Savannah, Ga.-based payments consultancy PG Research & Advisory Services, in an email message.
The initiative also further positions Visa to compete for payments outside of its traditional card market, an ambition the company has pursued in common with its main rival, Mastercard Inc. Earlier this year, Visa won a hotly contested bidding war with Mastercard to acquire business-to-business payments provider Earthport plc. And in 2017, Mastercard bought Vocalink Holdings Ltd., gaining access to that developer’s real-time payments technology.
Visa chief executive Alfred Kelly told attendees at an investor conference last month that a big part of the significance of the $320.4 million Earthport deal is that it will allow Visa to “move money to people we don’t have a card relationship with.”