HONG KONG: The creators of a new industry-specific digital currency that shippers can use to book ocean shipments say so-called “cryptocurrency” could help reduce carrier overbooking and shipper no-shows, which cost the industry some $23 billion annually.
The Hong Kong-based 300 Cubits recently introduced the TEU, not the container unit but rather a digital dollar that replaces traditional currencies as the deposit for shipment bookings, providing greater visibility to the booking process and allowing users to penalize bad behaviour. Whereas other tech startups have introduced digital management platforms to achieve the same goals, 300Cubits’ founders say they’re offering something different: not a place for transaction, but a means of transaction.
The company introduced the new TEU crypto currency to the market, putting some up for sale and giving others away to container lines and shippers "who actively promote the tokens for early adoption." The TEU tokens are blockchain-based, which means they are tethered to a decentralized, distributed digital ledger used to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively.
Blockchain is a largely back-end technology, which means there’s very little change for the user, both shipper and carrier, according to Johnson Leung, a longtime shipping finance analyst formerly with Jefferies who founded 300Cubits with his partner Jonathan Lee.
The tokens were named TEU to honor, in a way, the classical unit of measurement for container shipping, said Leung.
“TEU is a kind of a classical unit for container shipping that is getting less and less used,” Leung said. “We just think that the people in the industry would appreciate the name as TEU when naming something that could be the money for the industry.”
In an era marked by the buzzword “disruption,” Leung was clear that TEU tokens are not disrupting any existing system or process in the container shipping industry. TEU tokens are like an industry-specific bitcoin, another blockchain-based cryptocurrency. Put simply, Leung said, “We play part of what the dollar does today in container shipping.”
According to a white paper prepared by the company, once TEU tokens are used to book shipment their value could be lost if a customer does not turn up with cargo or a carrier does not load cargo according to a confirmed booking.
Trust, or lack thereof, is the biggest pain point in the container shipping industry, according to 300 Cubits.
“Unlike ticket booking in airlines, customers in container shipping do not bear any consequence for not showing up for bookings. Industry people complain the lack of trust between liners and customers,” the company said in a statement. The TEU token can change that.
While it is aimed at tackling overbookings and no-shows and providing greater visibility into the container shipping industry, 300Cubits should not be confused with other tech firms attempting to accomplish the same feat through different avenues. Leung’s company only provides the means of transaction. It does not provide the actual space for where carriers and shippers can transact, like the New York Shipping Exchange, an online portal through which carrier cargo space can be booked and which also monitors whether the booking is fulfilled by shipper and carrier.
According to Leung, the container shipping industry is a $150 billion industry that has been in “constant distress” since the economic crisis of 2008. Subtle technological innovations, like digital currencies and digital marketplaces to use them, are going to be the means to ease that volatility.