Although global trade soared in early 2022, Unctad’s Global Trade Update, published in December, predicts that the subsequent slowdown that started in late 2022 will continue to worsen this year due to higher energy prices, inflation, interest rates and repercussions of the Russia-Ukraine war.
On the plus side, overall trade volumes continued to grow in 2023, “a signal of resilient global demand.” The report also highlighted new trade agreements, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the African Continental Free Trade Area, and improved logistics as positives.
In reaction to the war in Ukraine, Europe is looking to increase industrial and defense independency. “We are seeing rising demand on large contracts for new large industrial sites and for defense contracts of NATO states,” says Marie-Laure Gastellu, head of Trade Services at Societe Generale.
She also points to an increasing need for working capital to finance strained supply chains and redundant supplies for critical goods that are difficult to source, such as chips, electronic components and medications.
In addition, the expected decision on the European Commission’s proposed changes to the Capital Requirements Regulation on banks for trade finance will impact international trade—regarding both the credit-conversion factor (CCF) for guarantees and the effective maturity of trade finance instruments. “This could be significant,” says Gastellu, “as trade instruments will require more capital.” According to the International Chamber of Commerce, an increase in the CCF for technical guarantees from 20% to 50% (the effective maturity recognition for Trade Finance) will increase the cost of Technical Guarantees by 150%—heavily impacting corporate business, especially SMEs.
The legal framework is also evolving, with the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records under review, to be adopted by the UK, France, Germany and close to 100 jurisdictions across the world. “This would definitively boost the move towards more digital trade, with electronic documents having the same legal value as paper documents—notably bills of lading, but also bills of exchange and promissory notes,” suggests Gastellu.
Legal recognition and interoperability of data are key components for achieving the digitalization of international trade. “Interoperability is key because it enables the exchange of data between platforms and end users (importers and exporters) across the entire ecosystem—driving shorter turnaround time and efficiency for all actors,” states Gastellu.
Lack of interoperability is a major impediment to digitalize the trade finance industry. “No actor in the trade industry can afford to connect to multiple platforms, and it is important that we support initiatives that can help us develop interoperability,” Gastellu says, explaining the importance of being involved in the definition of data standards that should be an accelerator to interoperability by enabling systems agnostic of the channel used. “Being platform agnostic leaves the freedom for every actor to invest in the solution that makes the most sense for their business while lowering costs of integration with trade partners and accelerating the setup of straight-through processing trade operations.”
This does not preclude the efforts of collaborative platforms that are helping to develop digitization efforts and blockchain technologies. “Collaborative platforms are essential to innovation, to bringing together various trade participants on the same standard technology and communication channel,” explains Enno-Burghard Weitzel, SVP of Strategy, Digitization and Business Development at trade finance software provider Surecomp. “On that basis, new features and tools can be brought to the market, which in turn lead to new financing opportunities and actually more business being financed/supported.”
With so many digital trade finance platforms competing with one another, there will undoubtedly be more consolidation—as was seen with Contour’s acquisition of we.trade’s rulebook and other associated legal documents following the latter’s insolvency last year. There will also be more connectivity between platforms, banks and everyone else in the trade ecosystem, as connectivity and collaboration are the best way to close the trade finance gap. Looking ahead, standardization of application programming interfaces, data sharing and the linking of digital islands will both enhance the trade financing process and improve small and midsize enterprises’ access to financing.
Global Finance editors select the winners for the Trade Finance Awards and the Supply Chain Finance Awards with input from industry analysts, corporate executives and technology experts. The editors consider entries as well as independent research, taking into account objective and subjective factors. It is not necessary to enter to win, but the additional information supplied in an entry can increase the chance of success. This year’s ratings, which cover more than 100 countries in eight regions, were based on performance during the period from the fourth quarter of 2021 through the third quarter of 2022.
Global Finance uses a proprietary algorithm with criteria—such as knowledge of customer needs, financial strength and safety, strategic relationships, capital investment and innovation. The algorithm incorporates those ratings into a single numeric score, with 100 equivalent to perfection. When more than one institution earns the same score, we favor local providers to global ones and privately-owned over government-owned.
BEST TRADE FINANCE PROVIDER—BANK
While BNY Mellon’s proprietary online client system offers full bank-as-a-service trade finance functionality to help smaller banks benefit from the bank’s trade expertise and large geographic footprint, it also allows them to benefit from innovative technologies to reduce the risk and effort related to the processing of manual transactions. Innovations include artificial intelligence (AI) to provide sanction checks; machine learning (ML) in high-volume, repetitive payments processes; optical character recognition (OCR) technology and intelligent character recognition to enhance document verification. As a member of the Marco Polo Network, BNY Mellon can insert liquidity more efficiently into international supply chains; while further strategic partnerships with multilateral agencies help BNY Mellon promote trade in areas with restrictions or distinct liquidity requirements.
BEST TRADE FINANCE PROVIDER—NON-BANK
Raistone developed and integrated its finance-as-a-service platform with enterprise software firms such as SAP to provide financing in the platforms that small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) already use. In April 2022, Raistone partnered with Mastercard to leverage the card company’s large network, providing financial tools, via Virtual Cards, to the companies that need them most. Raistone CEO Dave Skirzenski believes such approaches are helping drive value-added approaches to business-to-business payments. “Virtual Cards represent a win-win for buyers and suppliers in the supply chain,” he says. “Suppliers who accept a Virtual Card payment from Raistone can be paid as early as the day they submit an invoice to their customer. Buyers who offer their suppliers the option of a Raistone Virtual Card payment may be eligible for a rebate in addition to enjoying float-based repayment options, which keep more cash on their balance sheet.”
MOST INNOVATIVE BANK FOR TRADE FINANCE
As the first French bank to arrange green trade guarantee issuance programs with large clients in Europe and Asia in 2020, Societe Generale has gone further by introducing a solution in 2022 for a hybrid of green and sustainability-linked trade finance. Eligible green trade finance instruments covered only renewable energy, clean transportation, waste management, sustainable water and wastewater management, and hydrogen; but sustainability-linked trade finance brings greater flexibility, as it can be adapted to most business sectors. Societe Generale also launched the Payment and Transaction Banking Accelerator—an acceleration program dedicated to startups in payment and transaction banking areas, such as trade finance, factoring, cash clearing and correspondence banking.
BEST TRADE DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT
Dominic Capolongo, chief revenue officer at LiquidX, believes the next challenge on the road to a frictionless trade ecosystem is the digitization of all the documents that define every step of the trade journey. “Even today, trade and trade finance is a document-intensive process,” he says. “Effective management of all the paper, emails and PDFs can be the key to success; while the inability to efficiently process them can be the path to failure. Our technology converts documents in whatever form to data and allows for the delivery, retention and tracking of the information by every party involved in the transaction.”
LiquidX uses natural language-processing techniques within a scalable ML pipeline to transform legacy assets, such as invoices and purchase orders, into digitized assets. Once digitized, the transformed asset is verified, linked to associated contracts and dynamically connected to automated workflows. Using AI and ML technologies, LiquidX applies forecasting and risk measurement models to identify and restrict unauthorized payments, predict cash flow by automating reconciliation, and provide key insights into operational effectiveness and financial exposure.
BEST USE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN TRADE FINANCE
Over the past few years, Intesa Sanpaolo has been working on its Automated Workflow for Trade Finance (AW4TF) project to increase trade finance and supply chain efficiencies and help sustain rising business volumes. Initially, Intesa Sanpaolo’s Trade AI platform will be integrated to allow for more-automated management of conformity checks for documentation. The second phase, which will take place in 2023, involves the integration of Trade AI with the server back end—creating a single platform for the bank’s operators. The platform uses AI and ML to analyze scanned documentation through OCR and then verify it with respect to predefined criteria, conformity, and anti-money laundering and terrorist financing checks.
While AI will help operators simplify internal processes related to the analysis of documents, Intesa Sanpaolo says AW4TF is creating solid foundations for the digitalization and dematerialization of the bank’s trade finance operations.
BEST PROVIDER OF SUSTAINABLE FINANCE SOLUTIONS IN TRADE FINANCE
According to data from Dealogic, in 2020 and 2021, BNP Paribas was No. 1 worldwide in the sustainable bonds market and first for sustainability-linked loans in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. From selection and evaluation of clients and the mapping of sustainability objectives in relation to an industry or sector, to assessing the eligibility of projects or activities and assessing the reporting or proof of sustainability, BNP Paribas views sustainable finance as a keyway to support clients as they move toward a more responsible model.
Notable examples include two sustainability-linked guarantee agreements, for €500 million (about $542 million) and €350 million, signed with Italian multinational energy group Enel; a supplier-finance program driven by environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns launched with sports brand PUMA in 2016; a green guarantee line for Engie España and a green repo with French utility firm, EDF.
BEST TRADE FINANCE SOFTWARE PROVIDER
With a centralized digital hub, Surecomp’s trade finance platform, RIVO, enables users to communicate with every trade participant for a streamlined and transparent transaction process. From vessel tracking and ESG scoring to legal-entity identifiers to validate the identity of trading partners, RIVO brings trust to all stakeholders in a trade transaction.
Enno-Burghard Weitzel, SVP of Strategy Digitzation, and Business Development at Surecomp, says with an easily accessible ESG scoring platform, smaller companies can provide transparency on their transactional footprint. “This will allow more corporates and more banks to do business with MSMEs [micro, small and midsize enterprises] and provide finance to them,” he explains. “Today, one of the biggest hurdles for MSMEs is the lack of available information about them, which prevents sophisticated corporates and banks from doing business with them in the first place.”
By bringing together an ecosystem of corporates, financial institutions and fintechs, guarantee requests can be executed more efficiently, corporates can manage credit limits and choose competitive rates across multiple financiers, while banks can mitigate the risk of duplicate financing fraud.
BEST DLT PLATFORM FOR TRADE FINANCE
Having gone live in October 2020, Contour currently has 150 members and 18 banks in its production network—spanning more than 50 countries. Interoperability with trading and shipping networks has been bolstered by strategic partnerships—for example, with Finastra to integrate Finastra’s Fusion Trade Innovation software—connecting banks’ letter-of-credit (LOC) workflows to Contour’s network of banks and corporates; while collaboration with TradeLens merges direct access to major ocean carriers through electronic bills of lading.
While Contour has focused on LOCs, the acquisition in September 2022 of we.trade’s rulebook and other associated legal documents “drastically reduce[s] the barriers to adding a new open account product,” says a company statement. Open account trade finance, which was we.trade’s main focus, is based on invoices—providing Contour with more trade finance options, such as factoring. It also represents consolidation in the blockchain trade finance industry.
BEST BANK FOR EXPORT FINANCE
According to Dealogic, Santander Corporate and Investment Banking had a market share of 14.16% in global export credit agency (ECA) financing in early 2022. This follows record figures in 2021, when export finance transaction volume, covering 22 countries, reached €4.3 billion. Over 21% of financed deals closed in 2022 were ESG-based—a sign of progress in the shift toward ECA financing of ESG-compliant projects. According to TXF Intelligence, Santander has also ranked first in Renewable Export Finance in 2022. Deals include Iberdrola’s €1 billion EKF-covered Green Shopping Line and the Dogger Bank offshore wind farm project with multi-ECA coverage. Santander was mandated lead arranger in the financing of Dogger Bank, being built off the coast of Yorkshire. It is the largest offshore wind project financing to date and is due to be the largest offshore wind farm globally.
BEST BANK FOR TRADE FINANCE IN EMERGING MARKETS
The Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank (TDB) serves 23 member states in its region, with the mandate to finance and foster trade, regional economic integration and sustainable development, through trade finance and project and infrastructure finance.
Notable projects in 2022 include the extension of a $100 million trade finance facility to Agri Commodities and Finance, a subsidiary of the Export Trading Group, one of the largest agricultural supply chain operators in Africa. The bank is supporting priority trade flows into Kenya with multiple trade finance facilities of $600 million and supporting NMB Bank’s corporate clients in export-focused sectors of the Zimbabwe economy by the extension of a three-year $10 million trade finance line of credit.
BEST BANK FOR TRADE FINANCE IN FRONTIER MARKETS
British Arab Commercial Bank
British Arab Commercial Bank (BACB) is the only British bank, and one of the few international financial institutions, to operate in all five North African nations—Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt—so it is well placed to manage risk in the region. This local knowledge and expertise helped BACB to handle over £840 million (about $1 billion) of LOCs from North Africa, of which £619 million related to confirmed transactions, in 2021. BACB’s support in the region brings so much more than monetary value. In Algeria, for example, BACB enabled the importation of $310 million of strategic goods in 2021, including staple food items such as wheat and soybean oil; while support for Libya’s National Oil Corporation is critical for that country.
Presence in 20 countries in Africa and key financial centers (London, New York, Beijing and Dubai) gives Standard Bank a unique understanding of diverse transactional needs of its clients in different environments. A relationship with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China links Standard Bank into renminbi; and the bank recently launched its Africa-China Agent Proposition, which connects African importers and Chinese exporters, facilitating trade financing as well as payments and collections, to support Africa-China trade flow in South Africa.
DBS leverages its strong credit rating, network and deep understanding of the insurance industry to provide instruments that protect policyholders against default by insurers and reinsurers. This includes de-risking clients’ portfolios via purchase of accounts receivable and issuing standby letters of credit (LOC) to safeguard against losses if an applicant defaults on its obligations. An ongoing trade-transformation project aimed at automating and digitizing 100% of trade finance processing has seen cash-backed LOC and bank guarantees reduced from two days to half a day through process streamlining, while automated checks save up to 50% of processing time for an invoice-financing transaction.
Caribbean Development Bank
The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) helps to expand the export capacity of the Caribbean. This includes supporting effective trade policy and planning, helping governments overcome technical barriers, simplifying and harmonizing export procedures, supporting customs departments and other border agencies, and supporting regional trade agreements. Total approved investments include $43 million for the Bahamas, $45 million for Haiti and $46 million for a port in Montserrat. In December, CDB approved $17 million in financing for a geothermal energy development project in Nevis, to reduce electricity costs and carbon emissions while boosting energy security. In November, speaking at conference, Ian Durant, CDB director of economics, spelled out the need for new financing solutions to combat climate change impacts.
CENTRAL & EASTERN EUROPE
ING has enjoyed strong growth in the enrollment of buyer subsidiaries and suppliers across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Slovakia. With a dedicated hub in CEE, ING’s structuring teams are fully supported. ING also employs emerging technologies, such as robotics to support an efficient and seamless processing of open account trade solutions. Investment in sustainable trade products, meanwhile, helps clients in achieving their working capital goals while rewarding their suppliers for acting responsibly.
BBVA is a leading trade finance bank in Latin America, covering Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela through six subsidiaries and two representative offices. BBVA’s global platforms Pivot Net and Pivot Connect offer clients the same services in each of the countries without leaving the platform. Comext Online, BBVA’s digital trade finance platform, includes offerings concerned with environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues to help clients transition to become more-sustainable companies. A sustainability agreement between BBVA Mexico and Gerdau Corsa on an overdraft facility for commercial loans to import scrap as raw material, for an amount of $60 million in 90-day terms, was the first import LOC and the largest of its kind made in BBVA Mexico’s transactional banking.
With a strong presence in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bank ABC is in a strong position to facilitate trade finance in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The merger of BLOM Bank Egypt with Bank ABC Egypt is set to transform the trade finance and banking landscape in this important MENA market. In the GCC, Bank ABC is seeing strong growth in open account financing, by duplicating values handled for some of its strategic large receivables finance programs serving some of the prime GCC sovereign institutions covered from Bank ABC’s regional hub in Bahrain. In documentary trade, Bank ABC completed a key digital milestone in June 2022, with the launch of the first module of the customer front-end channel, covering the imports LOC journey.
Thanks to BNY Mellon’s banking-as-a-service (BaaS) trade outsourcing capabilities, small and midsize banks can leverage BNY Mellon’s customizable trade portal and benefit from its extensive global network, trade expertise and contingency planning infrastructure. Online BaaS trade services include LOC initiation, trade reporting to track trade activities, export (by generating cover letters, flexible tracers, automatic payment matching and comprehensive reporting), and import (to review document images and approve payments online), collections and electronic document delivery of scanned LOC document images.
Anchored in its core markets of Italy, Germany and Austria, UniCredit also has a strong presence across France, the UK and Spain. UniCredit continued to roll out its digital trade platform, Trade Finance Gate (TFG), with more than 24% of customers onboarded in 2022. TFG will help UniCredit to standardize its platform across geographies. Users can log on to the platform with a single sign-on function, granting them access to the bank’s full suite of trade finance products, including incoming and outgoing guarantees as well as import and export LOC. It also enables time-stamped messaging in real time, while the bank’s optical character recognition (OCR) tool scans trade documents during the handling process to increase transparency and mitigate the risk of fraud. It includes enhanced compliance checks and a vessel-tracking service.