Trade finance typically involves short-term financing to facilitate the import and export of goods. These operations can involve payment if documentary requirements are met (e.g., letter of credit), or may instead involve payment if the original obligor defaults on the commercial terms of the transactions (e.g., guarantees or standby letters of credit). In both cases, a bank’s involvement in trade finance minimizes payment risk to importers and exporters. The nature of trade finance activities, however, requires the active involvement of multiple parties on both sides of the transaction. In addition to the basic exporter or importer relationship at the center of any particular trade activity, relationships may exist between the exporter and its suppliers and between the importer and its customers.
Both the exporter and importer may also have other banking relationships. Furthermore, many other intermediary financial and nonfinancial institutions may provide conduits and services to expedite the underlying documents and payment flows associated with trade transactions. Banks can participate in trade financing by, among other things, providing pre-export financing, helping in the collection process, confirming or issuing letters of credit, discounting drafts and acceptances, or offering fee-based services such as providing credit and country information on buyers. Although most trade financing is short-term and self-liquidating in nature, medium-term loans (one to five years) or long-term loans (more than five years) may be used to finance the import and export of capital goods such as machinery and equipment.
In transactions that are covered by letters of credit, participants can take the following roles:
As an example, in a letter of credit arrangement, a bank can serve as the Issuing Bank, allowing its customer (the buyer) to purchase goods locally or internationally, or the bank can act as an Advising Bank, enabling its customer (the exporter) to sell its goods locally or internationally. The relationship between any two banks may vary and could include any of the roles listed above.