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Cryptocurrency’s Necessary and Inevitable Evolution

cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency’s Necessary and Inevitable Evolution

Cryptocurrency is at the precipice of ushering in the next era of finance. However, in order to be regarded as a commodity, traded and managed in the same way we now do with precious metals, equities, and derivatives, cryptocurrencies must become subject to similar rules, regulations, and trust mechanisms that apply to traditional assets. Such assurances are necessary for cryptocurrencies to achieve their full potential. Banks and financial institutions, as well as other industries, require security at scale and other layers of assurance, like insurance and chain of custody tracking. Adopting the means to develop a high level of trust is an absolute necessity for implementing cryptocurrency in a meaningful way. The question is, how do we get there?

Traditional asset management firms act as fiduciaries on behalf of their partners, subject to rules that ensure the safekeeping and custody of the assets they hold on behalf of their clients. Becoming a fiduciary in the world of cryptocurrency is a complex process, requiring a combination of specialized software and hardware, physical security, as well as clear policies and processes that ensure safe custody of assets. It also requires establishing the means to adopt the regulatory underpinnings for strictly digital assets, and that affords customers the kind of transparency and assurances—track record, management team, balance sheet—that ensure custodial trust is essential.

However, that does not exist in traditional cryptocurrency exchanges where the roles of broker-dealer, clearinghouse, bank and custodian are all handled by a single organization, usually an exchange. That’s too risky for large scale financial operations.

Here are a few elements that should be adopted to mitigate that level of risk and provide acceptable assurances for institutional and large-scale industrial adoption:

Adopt the SOC 2 digital security framework. SOC 2 is a set of rules developed by the American Institute of CPAs to establish a certifiable process of strict, auditable controls for building confidence, and ensuring trust and integrity, in service organizations dealing with digital assets.

Require that institutions act as fiduciaries. Fiduciaries are required to act in the best interests of their clients and must abide by a number of rules and adopt safeguards meant to establish and ensure trust. Fiduciary rules protect the client in the event of wrongdoing, error, or as a backstop to a catastrophic event such as being hacked. Safeguards associated with fiduciaries include insurance, funds in escrow, capital in reserve, security and other procedural checks, and no commingling of client coins.

State-of-the-art security. Digital assets have proven difficult to secure. Trust and security for institutional management of cryptocurrencies require the strictest, strongest technology and processes available, including multi-signature access using private keys, as well as a combination of both online (“hot”) and offline (“cold”) storage of assets to minimize risk.

If we start with these three things, we can accelerate the process of establishing necessary trust in cryptocurrencies. Even though it is counter-intuitive to the prevailing ethic, the benefits of using cryptocurrency in today’s global marketplace demand that at least the leading forms of cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, adopt rules and even submit to regulations on par with those dictating the operation of traditional financial exchanges. This high level of trust would allow organizations to take advantage of the cryptocurrency’s “frictionless” ease of use and access while providing assurance of the asset’s security.

This type of evolution has happened again and again in financial services. Over the last half-century, security in financial services has evolved from an approach focused on building imposing physical controls, to one emphasizing digital trust. Over that time, we’ve observed those changes in the construction of financial institutions. At one time banks were imposing fortresses built of granite blocks and steel bars, outfitted with armed guards, and intended to send the clear message that your wealth was safe inside. Then, after currency was taken off the gold standard and protected with insurance policies, banks became open, airy, and inviting facilities that emphasized convenience.

Today, a bank may be nothing more than an intermediary operating from a web site or smartphone application. As long as the client is content that their money is secure, there is little concern for the format. That is because security has fully transitioned from the physical to the digital and, while there remains something of the past in our concept of cash and currency, the shift is complete. Cryptocurrency is the natural, next-step in the industry’s evolution.

People have become used to the idea that money doesn’t have to be a tangible representation of wealth, and that the ease of access that comes when wealth is digitized is a part of the value of an individual’s or organization’s finances. Today, more than a decade after Bitcoin’s advent, cryptocurrency represents the next phase of finance, but to get there means taking these important steps and adopting meaningful controls in order to satisfy the demands of traditionally staid industries like financial services. The good news is that, while the market recognizes that the mainstreaming of cryptocurrency is an inevitability, we have the model for making it work. We can—and must—do so for the benefit of the global economy.

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Nick Carmi is the Head of Financial Services at BitGo

trade finance

Industry Advocacy Required to Enable Trade Finance Market Access and Growth

In a whitepaper released last year, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) urged the trade finance industry to work together to ensure that regulation does not hinder the availability of trade finance. Olivier Paul, Director, Finance for Development at ICC, explains how a fair regulatory environment across regions is key to the industry’s growth.

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007, regulation and compliance requirements have had the unintended consequence of negatively impacting trade finance provision. As banks adapt to ever greater compliance and regulatory requirements, they seek to minimize risk by reducing their number of correspondent banking relationships. This phenomenon, known as “de-risking”, especially affects small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in emerging markets that need financing the most.

Accessing adequate trade finance is already tough for SMEs, who often lack the collateral, documented history of past transactions and knowledge of the financial instruments available to them. This has led to a US$1.5 trillion gap between the demand and supply of trade finance – or gap – as SMEs find themselves most neglected by financiers.

In its report, Banking regulation and the campaign to mitigate the unintended consequences for trade finance, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) outlines how some post-crisis banking regulation has unintentionally led to the widening of this trade finance gap. The report argues that industry advocacy is necessary to ensure fairer treatment of trade finance, as several examples already demonstrate.

Unintended Consequences and Successful Advocacy

Despite well-meaning capital and liquidity requirements contributing to the resilience of the financial system, they have also limited banks’ ability to invest in cross-border relationships, leading to concerns relating to the treatment of trade finance instruments across regions.

For example, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) introduced the third installment of the Basel Accords – a set of international banking regulation recommendations – in 2010. However, the BCBS does not have the authority to enforce its recommendations, leaving national – or supranational – institutions to write the recommendations into law.

What’s more, these recommendations allow significant room for interpretation, allowing each jurisdiction to adapt them accordingly. This results in inconsistencies across jurisdictions, leaving emerging market banks subject to the resulting ambiguity.

In particular, the Net Stable Funding Ratio (NSFR) for financial instruments supporting trade finance caused concern among many industry practitioners. The European Commission and Council, as well as the European Banking Authority, recommended that NSFR have a variable rate of 5%-15% depending on the maturity of the transaction. In many jurisdictions outside the European Union, however, the NSFR rate is either flat – at a maximum level of 5% – or non-existent.

This represented a clear disadvantage, and one affecting the whole market. As such, the industry-led by ICC – advocated for a fairer treatment of NSFR ratios for trade finance. This resulted in a significant reduction in the spectrum of rates which now stand at 5% for a transaction maturity of under six months, 7.5% for a transaction maturity of under a year, and 10% for maturity of over 12 months.

Early Start

To ensure the highest success rate, it is essential that discussions between industry members and regulatory authorities take place at the earliest stages of the decision-making process. With regulatory adoption and implementation processes taking up to a decade in some cases, the industry must work together with regulators and maintain a proactive approach to promoting fair regulatory treatment of trade finance.

The document outlining the finalization of the Basel III framework was published in 2017 but will only be enforced between 2022 and 2027. Action is needed today if the industry’s voice is to be heard and acted on.

Banks have already identified several areas relating to trade finance – such as the treatment of unconditionally cancellable commitments, the minimum durations to calculate risk-weighted assets and the treatment of subsidiaries in large groups – where discussion is needed. Over the next few years, banks and industry bodies will need to engage with these topics, as national regulators translate the finalization package into national legislation.

Next steps

Some 80% of international trade flows involve the recourse to a financial instrument, according to the World Trade Organization. To encourage the use of trade finance worldwide – and ensure the widest market access especially for SMEs – harmonization of regulations will be required.

Much work has already been done to promote the fair treatment of trade finance within banking regulations. However, regulations will not adapt unless all stakeholders voice their concerns. It is up to the entire industry – and ICC, as the largest and most authoritative voice in trade finance – to be at the forefront of this work.

How Small Business Should Think About Financing

It’s no secret that over half of small businesses close their doors within the first five years. One of the critical problems that often occur has little to do with the innovation, ingenuity, or work ethic of the small business owners themselves, but rather the lack of access to sufficient capital to cover the ebbs and flows of their operation and its associated costs. 

Scaling any idea or enterprise, to me, is less often about “entrepreneurship” —and other catchy terms we can print on a business card— and more about meeting the demands of others, like payroll and customer expectations. Simply put: small business owners need capital resources— they need cash. 

Historically, small businesses have had limited options to access capital: savings, friends and family, credit cards, traditional bank loans, or the occasional SBA loan. Enter the financial crisis of 2008-2009, which ushered in a new regulatory environment that contracted these historic capital resources, thereby creating the market-driven need and demand for non-traditional banking options.

Consequently, we find ourselves operating in a new era, one in which enterprising nonbank funders have brought novel and different capital products to the small business market. This has been largely accomplished through an ambitious mix of fintech and financial innovation. These previously unavailable financing options give small businesses more resources to consider than ever before. Now their next step is to explore them and consider how their small business might decide on the best option for their specific needs. 

As we contemplate these innovations, here’s a quick list of some of the best financing options available to small businesses:

Business Term Loans: Best for businesses looking for working capital, equipment purchases, or to purchase inventory or other fixed assets. For short-term loans, it can often be matched to a specific project and repaid to coincide with the completion of that project in 6 to 12 months. For longer-term loans, the repayment can be stretched out to 3 to 10 years, but these often require higher levels of collateral coverage or a personal guaranty by the business owner. 

Pros: Great product for larger one-time investments with targeted cash loans flow that payments can be matched. 

Cons: Larger dollar amounts and a longer payback term will require increased time, energy (think: bank meetings and interviews), and documentation. 

Equipment Financing: Best for one-off purchases like restaurant equipment and machinery. 

Pros: no upfront spend; if the business owner has impaired credit the fact an asset is involved as collateral can make it easier vs. purchasing the equipment; and tax-deductible.

Cons: Overall cost is usually more expensive in the long-run; cost inclusive of fees if the lease is terminated early can be substantial; and must take into account all terms and conditions that can be complicated (who handles and addresses a break-down in the equipment? etc).

Small Business Administration (SBA) Loan: Best for business owners who need capital for a variety of longer-term business expenses. It is government guaranteed so the process can be daunting and is processed through a bank that has an SBA loan program. 

Pros: Cost and longer-term repayment; great product for owner-occupied real estate.  

Cons: Requirements are strict; process is time-consuming (60 to 180 days); high upfront fees; and requires strong personal credit scores.


Business Line of Credit (“LoC”): Best for businesses with more volatile sales and cash flow. Flexibility to drawdown and repay based on the needs of your business.  Often secured by accounts receivable and inventory. Some LoC’s offered by FinTech operators do not require business collateral but do require a personal guaranty.  

Pros: Can access quickly (assuming facility is in place) to solve urgent issues or expenses; and great for managing working capital needs and the business’ short-term cash flow needs.  

Cons: Reporting can be much more intensive vs. other products available; upfront and ongoing fees can be expensive, especially if the LOC is rarely drawn down.


Revenue-Based Financing: This is a financing option where the repayment schedule is tied to the future revenue of the business. The genesis of the product is that the funder operates as more of a partner and is taking some level of “equity-risk”. If the revenue decreases or the business fails, the repayment is either stretched out or in the case the business fails the funder has no recourse. Small businesses can utilize this product for project financing, working capital, growth investments, or short-term needs. 

Pros: Quick access; repayment risk mirrors the revenue; no business or personal recourse except in the case of fraud.  

Cons: Products are generally 12 months or less; more expensive given level of risk with limited recourse; reporting can be intensive as changes to payment schedules requires bank and financial verification.

Invoice Factoring: The business can turn its unpaid invoices into immediate cash. The invoice factoring company collects directly from the customers and distributes capital to the business, net of its fee. 

Pros: good for managing cash flow; typically a short-term financing product (30 to 90 days).  

Cons: cost can be expensive, especially if repaid much quicker than anticipated; can be disruptive notifying customers to change their payment instructions to the factoring company; requires technology integration or higher level of reporting and the business’ customers will be dealing directly with your funder if they delay payment – not you as the business owner.  

Angel Investors/ Venture Capital: Best for small businesses who want to scale quickly. 

Pros: entrepreneurial background provides increased insights and foresight vs. dealing with alternative finance providers, banks, or the government; larger investor network to leverage for additional funds or additional business; and capital remains in the business (vs. interest costs). 

Cons: Higher rates of returns expected (typically at least 5x their investment); requires giving up equity in the business; process will be intensive; typically reserved for high visibility, disruptive companies pursuing large addressable markets on a national or global scale; and will require operating agreement additions to governance to protect their investment in the case of underperformance.

Bootstrapping: Best for businesses with principals that have savings or expendable income who want to preserve equity ownership and cash in the business. 

Pros: maintain ownership position and keeps all cash generated either in the business or available for dividends. 

Cons: Growth limited to the owner’s cash position; risk missing market opportunity because thinly capitalized; challenging if a short-term need requires more cash than available.

While the pros and cons of this list provide a guide to financing in 2019, any financing decision should ultimately come down to your assessment of the cash flows of the business (today and in the near term), demonstrated capacity to handle credit, costs versus profit opportunity (positive ROI), and repayment thresholds. 

The good news is, enabling technology allows small business owners to access various forms of capital quickly and efficiently. There is no day like today to explore options to fund entrepreneurial dreams. 

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Vincent Ney is a founder and CEO of Expansion Capital Group, a business dedicated to serving American small businesses by providing access to capital and other resources so they can grow and achieve their definition of success. Since inception, ECG has connected over 12,000 small businesses nationwide to approximately $350 million in capital 

intermediary banks

Connecting the World: The Importance of Intermediary Banks

Whether you are initiating electronic international payments through a fintech solution or buying physical currency, the chances are high that a bank will be involved. The relationship between banks, as well as the role of intermediary banks, often eludes the general public, who are content with the process as long as it works.

However, understanding how the sausage is made can provide valuable insight into the way you conduct your business. Let’s take a closer look at intermediary banks and their subsequent relationship with currency exchange.

What is an Intermediary Bank?

In layman’s terms, an intermediary bank is where funds are transferred prior to reaching their destination, the payment bank. 

To transfer money, banks must hold accounts with each other in the same way that a typical client would. However, there are too many banks for one to hold accounts with all the others, so instead, they strategically choose where to open accounts. The result is a fragmented network of financial institutions. 

When a bank needs to send money to a location where their bank does not hold an account, the bank instructs an intermediary bank to act as a “middle man” to pass on the funds on their behalf. Funds can transfer between multiple intermediaries, especially if one of the banks is not networked with many larger banks. If the payment bank is across an international border, the intermediary bank may also act as the currency exchange provider.

The Role of Currency Exchange

Currency exchange refers to the use of one currency to purchase the same value in another currency. It’s required any time one entity wishes to pay another in a currency different from their default option.

Each country has either a “fixed” or “floating” exchange rate. A “fixed” exchange rate—also known as the “gold standard”—means that all the country’s money has a physical equivalent in gold or another precious material. “Floating” exchange rates may not have a physical worth, but are influenced by the market and politics, as is currently the case with the Great British pound’s relationship with Brexit.

Breaking Down the Cost

For businesses, currency exchange is vital to a true international payment process. Some vendors may wish to be paid in their customer’s default currency, which would not warrant an exchange. U.S. businesses may experience this when working with vendors in countries like China or Japan, who often prefer payments in USD. This happens when a vendor finds it cheaper to open accounts specific to currencies other than their own in order to avoid exchange fees.

Some vendors have opened multi-currency accounts, which enable vendors to accept and store more than one currency in a single account. Because this method is still gaining traction, it’s good practice to ask if vendors have multi-currency accounts before sending them money. If they don’t, and their account cannot support your currency, the payment bank will likely reject the funds.

Other hidden costs to consider when working with international payments are:

The exchange. If your origin currency is weaker than the payment currency, your money may lose some value in the trade. However, the market is continuously shifting, so the exchange will also gain value at times. The more international payments you make, the likelier that this cost will even out over time.

Intermediary bank fees. Some intermediary banks shave off a fee for their services, which is usually taken from the sum – the net amount is deposited into the vendor’s account. Not all intermediary banks will charge this fee, and it’s not immediately obvious which banks will do so.

Payment bank fees. Similar to the intermediary banks, certain payment banks also charge a fee for processing international payments. Again, not every bank charges this fee, but those that do will deduct it from the payment sum before depositing the net amount into the vendor’s account. Vendors can discuss this charge with their bank if it occurs.

Disrupting the Status Quo

With all these nuances to keep in mind, it can feel like involving a fintech will only add another cog to an already-overwhelming process. However, a fintech can determine the most efficient route through an intermediary bank, and assist in locating missing payments. If funds are returned for any reason, fintechs also act as a holding account while you decide if you want to exchange the funds back or resend them. Following a process like this ultimately saves time, money, and hassle.

If you’re on the fence about using a fintech for international payments, keep in mind that you aren’t losing out by mitigating an overly complicated bank processes. You’re merely side-stepping the complications in favor of usability.

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Alyssa Callahan is a Technical Marketing Writer at Nvoicepay. She has four years of experience in the B2B payment industry, specializing in cross-border B2B payment processes.

Want In On The Fintech Trend? 4 Options For Funding Your Startup

Fintech companies are becoming significant players in the U.S. economy, with firms such as Credit Karma, Tradeshift and Plaid enjoying extraordinary success as they use technology and innovation in an effort to transform the financial services industry.

In 2018, for example, fintech investments in the U.S. reached $11.9 billion, a new annual high, according to CB Insights.

But despite the favorable trend, fintech startups also face the same reality that all startups do – raising the capital to launch a business is no easy feat.

The good news for fintech entrepreneurs, though, is that we are well past the time when investors might have viewed fintech as a fad that would pass.

“I think that most investors have come to understand that fintech is here to stay,” says Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com), a serial entrepreneur and an expert in blockchain.

“Finance is getting more and more high tech each year.”

Still, coming up with sufficient capital to start any business – whether it’s from your own savings, a loan from a relative, or cash from an investor – can present a formidable problem.

“One lesson I’ve learned over the years is that successful entrepreneurs must be persistent,” Bensonoff says. “You will face challenges and one of those could be raising capital. Perseverance will get you through.”

Options for raising that capital include:

-Venture capital. Venture capitalists might be inclined to invest in your startup in exchange for an equity stake if they think there’s a chance they can score a big return. But they will need convincing. “The failure rate for new businesses is high, so it’s only natural for investors to be skeptical about whether you can pull it off,” Bensonoff says. “Any investment is a risk, and venture capitalists know that. But smart investors want it to be at least a calculated risk, not a roll of the dice.”

-Crowdfunding. If venture capital is not an option, crowdfunding could be the next best bet, Bensonoff says. Online crowdfunding platforms allow you to make your pitch in one spot where a myriad of different potential investors can see it. Examples of startups that used crowdfunding are Oculus and Skybell.

-Angel investors. An angel investor is an accredited investor who uses his or her own money to invest in a small business. Not just anyone can be an angel investor, though. They need to have a net worth of at least $1 million or a minimum annual income of $200,000. Bensonoff himself has served as an angel investor for some companies.

-Self-funding or “bootstrapping.” For those who want to bootstrap their fintech company, relying on their own money rather than the investments of others, there are options. Some people tap into savings or retirement accounts. Many keep their day jobs and make their startup a side business until it takes off. “Bootstrapping has always been an important approach to my life,” Bensonoff says. “I had to rely on my own money and hard work to succeed, and I had to remain frugal. When bootstrapping becomes a way of life, it opens up new opportunities.”

In Bensonoff’s view, raising capital to launch a fintech company isn’t any harder – or easier – than raising money for any other type of business.

“I think a good company in any sector gets funded,” he says. “So for entrepreneurs who want to plunge into the fintech sector, the key is to develop something that’s useful and satisfies an economic want.”

About Kirill Bensonoff

Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com) has over 20 years experience in entrepreneurship, technology and innovation as a founder, advisor and investor in over 30 companies. He’s the CEO of OpenLTV, which gives investors across the world access to passive income, collateralized by real estate, powered by blockchain. 

In the information technology and cloud services space, Kirill founded U.S. Web Hosting while still in college, was co-founder of ComputerSupport.com in 2006, and launched Unigma in 2015. All three companies had a successful exit. As an innovator in the blockchain and DLT space, Kirill launched the crypto startup Caviar in 2017 and has worked to build the blockchain community in Boston by hosting the Boston Blockchain, Fintech and Innovation Meetup.

He is also the producer and host of The Exchange with KB podcast and leads the Blockchain + AI Rising Angel.co syndicate. Kirill earned a B.S. degree from Connecticut State University, is a graduate of the EO Entrepreneurial Masters at MIT, and holds a number of technical certifications. He has been published or quoted in Inc., Hacker Noon, The Street, Forbes, Huffington Post, Bitcoin Magazine and Cointelegraph and many others.

supply chain finance

5 Companies to Consider for Supply Chain Finance

Supply chain finance is a set of technology-based business and financing processes that link the various parties in a transaction—buyer, seller and financing institution— to lower financing costs and improve business efficiency. Short-term credit that optimizes working capital for both the buyer and the seller is provided by what the hip kids refer to as SCF.

There are several SCF transactions, including an extension of buyer’s accounts payable terms, inventory finance and payables discounting. The SCF solutions differ from traditional supply chain programs to enhance working capital, such as factoring and payment discounts, by connecting financial transactions to value as it moves through the supply chain. Also, SCF encourages collaboration between the buyer and seller, rather than the competition that often pits buyer against the seller and vice versa.

Tom Roberts, senior vice president of Marketing at PrimeRevenue, warned Global Trade readers in September 2016 that a multinational bank may not be the way to go when it comes to SCF. “First, both global supply chains and multinational banks are highly susceptible to changes in the economic and geopolitical landscape,” Roberts wrote. “Supply chain finance programs that are locked into a single source of funding are held hostage to that funder’s risk tolerance. It’s a dangerous game, especially as the global coverage of multinational banks continues to be a moving target.”

No one bank—no matter how global—has the processes and systems in place to serve all currencies and jurisdictions, he also noted. “If a company needs to add a supplier that can’t be funded by their multinational bank, they have to not only source alternative funding, they have to handle the back-end systems integration required to facilitate the trading of receivables. It’s a resource-intensive approach that many companies simply can’t afford.”

The best-in-class supply chain finance programs are typically based on multi-funder platforms, rather than closed, bank-proprietary platforms, according to Roberts. “While it may seem counter-intuitive to simplify supply chain finance by adding more players, it’s not,” he wrote. “With the right processes and systems in place, a multi-funder strategy can increase program participation, secure more competitive pricing and discounts, and ultimately increase cash flow predictably and sustainably for both buyers and suppliers.”

What follows are Global Trade’s picks for places to consider for SCF.

Raistone Capital

Located on Madison Avenue in New York City, Raistone Capital started as a division of Seaport Global, a full-service, independent investment bank. Today, Raistone Capital has access to significant levels of institutional capital and the ability to deliver on customer’s needs, “whether it’s $50,000 or $300,000,000+,” according to the company. Raistone even created invoiceXcel (iX), a complementary financial solution so banks “can continue to serve clients in this ever-changing regulatory environment by providing additional capital offerings to customers—such as supply chain finance and accounts receivable finance.” 

Flexport

Headquartered in San Francisco—with global offices in several major U.S. cities as well as Hong Kong, mainland China, Germany and Holland—Flexport offers clients lines of credit ranging from $100,000 to $20 million to finance inventory, freight and duty and so that customers can accelerate product expansion and revenue growth; enable strategic decisions that reduce landed costs; and minimize supply chain disruption. Best of all, it costs nothing to connect with a Flexport Capital expert to discuss how your supplier terms, customer terms, and capital structure can be optimized to support your working capital goals and business growth. 

PrimeRevenue

Giving the expertise Tom Roberts has already shared via Global Trade, how could we in good conscience skip over his Atlanta-based company that also has offices in Hong Kong, Australia, London, Frankfurt, and Prague. Billed as “the leading provider of working capital financial technology solutions,” PrimeRevenue helps more than 30,000 clients in 70+ countries optimize their working capital to efficiently fund strategic initiatives, gain a competitive advantage and strengthen relationships throughout the supply chain. Established in 2003, PrimeRevenue boasts of now having “the largest and most diverse global funding network of more than 100 funding partners.” They support 30+ currencies on a single cloud-based, multi-lingual, cross-border network, facilitating a volume of more than $200 billion in payment transactions per year.

Trade Finance Global

London-based TFG assists companies with raising debt finance, accessing many traditional forms of finance while also specializing in alternative finance and complex funding solutions related to international trade. “We help companies to raise finance in ways that are sometimes out of reach for mainstream lenders,” according to the company, which taps into more than 250 lenders with unique focuses on different products and/or geographies. And TGF boasts of being able to “quickly get to the key decision-makers of financiers, to make sure your application gets through to the right person.” That ability is built on reputation alone, as TGF is 100 percent independent and not tied to any lenders. Instead, they find the most appropriate SCF solution for the individual customer.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Okay, much of this article details why a multinational bank may not be the best option when it comes to SCF, but Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which also has central hubs in New York City, London, Hong Kong, Minneapolis, and Toronto, does have a solid, end-to-end SCF program. Bank of America Merrill Lynch boasts of having a number of tools to help: segment suppliers and analyze rates; design an optimal marketing program; and educate suppliers on program benefits.

“Bank of America Merrill Lynch made sure that the resources needed—support staff, legal, credit and such—all worked towards achieving the efficient deployment of the program,” says Philippe Andre Marcoux, credit and treasury manager at SCF customer Uni-Select Inc., a large multiservice corporation that distributes motor vehicle replacement parts, tools equipment and accessories. “Communication between Bank of America Merrill Lynch, our suppliers and ourselves was the driving force behind the successful implementation. Tools to evaluate the benefits to our suppliers and ourselves were key in convincing our team to participate.” 

blockchain

SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED GLOBAL TRADERS ARE BANKING ON BLOCKCHAIN

This is the second in a three-part series by Christine McDaniel for TradeVistas on how blockchain technologies will play an increasing role in international trade.

Give Me Some Credit

Every business requires capital to operate. To sell products to customers overseas, many companies also need trade financing and insurance from third-party lenders. About 80 percent of all global trade is transacted through third-party lenders and cargo insurers, but the process is complex, can be costly and many banks find it too risky to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Blockchain has the potential to increase transparency, speed and accuracy in assessing risk across the trade finance process, which in turn could expand the supply of credit available for international trade transactions – good news especially for SMEs that face significant hurdles accessing credit. Here’s how.

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

Buyers who import goods from sellers in other countries generally want to pay upon receiving the merchandise so they can verify its physical integrity on arrival. Exporters, on the other hand, generally prefer to be paid as soon as they ship the goods. Trade finance can bridge this gap.

Exporters and importers engage third-party lenders and insurers who will guarantee payments on the basis of collateral and indemnify the exporter, importer and related parties in the event that the merchandise is damaged, stolen or lost while in transit. In this way, trade finance provides the credit, payment guarantee and insurance needed to facilitate an international trade transaction on terms that will satisfy all parties.

80% of trade relies on finance

Steps on the Trade Journey

Intermediaries such as freight forwarders typically manage the physical journey of merchandise, from the original producer to the border, across the border (maybe several borders), and to the final buyer.

Each step must be verified: when was the merchandise transported from the factory or farm to a warehouse, when was it moved from the warehouse to a container, when was the container loaded onto a ship, when did the ship get underway, when was the container unloaded from the ship at port, and when was the merchandise transported from the port to the end consumer.

Different trade finance instruments, such as lending, letters of credit, factoring and cargo insurance cover legs of the journey. A letter of credit is a guarantee from a bank that a buyer’s payment will be received and be on time or else the bank will take responsibility for the payment. Factoring is accounts receivable financing to accelerate cash flow. Cargo insurance insures the merchandise while en route.

Without Finance, Trade Would Sink

The World Trade Organization estimates that 80 percent of global trade relies on trade finance or credit insurance. The global trade finance sector (i.e., the global volume of letters of credit) is worth roughly $2.8 trillion. Demand for trade financing exceeds availability, resulting in the underutilization of existing capital. According to the Asian Development Bank, the global trade finance gap — the difference between the demand for and supply of trade finance — has reached $1.6 trillion.

SMEs Face a 50 Percent Rejection Rate

The shortfall in supply reflects the complex and risky nature of trade finance which often involves multiple parties. Before banks will issue letters of credit in trade finance, they require potential customers to present a solid credit history and a strong balance sheet, conditions that tend to favor larger institutions.

SMEs typically experience more difficulty navigating the trade finance process and dealing with the cost and complexity of banking regulations than larger companies. In 2014, SMEs had trade finance requests before financial institutions rejected at a rate of over 50 percent. In comparison, the rejection rate for multinational corporations was only seven percent.

Links in the Trade Finance Chain

According to the United Nations, there are typically eight major steps required to obtain a letter of credit, although in practice the Credit Research Foundation lists more than twenty. Each step of the process is dependent on the previous steps, and some steps involve sending the same document back and forth for verification purposes. The administrative burden is greater for SMEs than for large firms.

survey of 2,350 SMEs and 850 large firms conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission in 2010 showed that lack of access to credit is the major constraint for SME manufacturing firms seeking to export or expand into new markets and it is one of the top three constraints for SME services firms.

rate of rejection for trade finance

How Blockchain Can Help Ease Trade Finance

Requirements to authenticate each transaction in the trade finance and insurance process can engender large amounts of paperwork and cause delays at each step. Every handoff must be approved and verified.

Instead, blockchain uses digital tokens that are issued by each participant in the supply chain to authenticate the movement of goods. Every time the item changes hands, the token moves in lockstep. The real-world chain of custody is mirrored by a chain of transactions recorded in the blockchain.

The token acts as a virtual “certificate of authenticity” that is much harder to steal, forge or hack than a piece of paper, barcode or digital file. The records can be trusted and greatly improve the information available to assure supply-chain quality.

Using blockchain as a digital ledger for these handoffs would allow involved parties to instantly track and receive secure information about the traded goods. Parties can monitor the entire shipping process and verify the completion of each step in real time. This increased transparency and ease of monitoring reduces the risk that a borrower presents to a potential lender or insurer.

Banking on Blockchain

A number of financial institutions are piloting the use of blockchain-enabled trade finance platforms.

Bank of America, HSBC, and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore collaborated in 2016 to develop a trade finance application designed “to streamline the manual processing of import/export documentation, improve security by reducing errors, increase convenience for all parties through mobile interaction, and make companies’ working capital more predictable.” Using the application, each action in the workflow is captured in a distributed ledger and all parties (the exporter, the importer, and their respective banks) can visualize data in real time, offering transparency to authorized participants while ensuring confidential data is protected through encryption.

Barclays used blockchain in 2017 to issue letter of credit that reportedly guaranteed the export of $100,000 worth of agricultural products from Irish cooperative Ornua to the Seychelles Trading Company, noting the parties were able to execute a deal in four hours that would usually take up to 10 days to complete.

A group of European banks launched a trade finance blockchain platform in July 2018, initially focused on facilitating small and medium-sized businesses trading within Europe. In September 2018, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced plans to launch a trade finance blockchain platform. Twenty-one banks are participating in the platform, including large institutions such as HSBC and Standard Chartered. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority is also reportedly working with its counterpart in Singapore to develop a blockchain-based trade finance network to settle cross-border transactions.

Lessons for Trade Policymakers

As the trade finance industry begins to utilize blockchain technology, there are some potential implications worthy of policymakers’ attention.

First, the large number of intermediaries and corresponding administrative costs in trade finance tend to fall particularly hard on SMEs and the relatively higher cost of each transaction makes SME financing less attractive to banks. If blockchain can reduce the costs of trade finance, more small and medium-sized businesses could trade globally.

Second, although blockchain technology does not alter the fundamental credit risk of borrowers, the increased transparency and access to information it delivers could improve the accuracy of banks’ risk assessments. If perceived risk is greater than actual risk, a nontrivial number of loan applications may be denied even though those loans have the potential to be successful. If blockchain brings greater confidence and issuance of good loans — that is, those that are paid back — the transactions they support would bring value to the economy.

In these important ways, blockchain can increase transparency across the trade finance process and decrease risk for all parties, in turn expanding the supply of credit available for international trade transactions.

ChristineMcDaniel

 

Christine McDaniel a former senior economist with the White House Council of Economic Advisers and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

ROSS APPOINTS 21 MEMBERS TO TRADE FINANCE ADVISORY COUNCIL

On March 7, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the appointment of 21 members to the Trade Finance Advisory Council (TFAC), which is his principal advisory body on matters relating to access to trade finance for U.S. exporters.

“The ready availability of trade finance is a crucial ingredient to the success of U.S. exporters across virtually every economic sector,” Ross says in the announcement. “The TFAC provides industry stakeholders a critical voice in government, allowing the department to better assist American exporters.”

During its first two-year term, the TFAC provided detailed policy and technical recommendations to enhance private and official financing options for U.S. companies. The first meeting of the TFAC’s second charter term was on March 27 in Washington, D.C.

The appointees for the TFAC’s second two-year term are:

  • Alan Beard, managing director, Interlink Capital Strategies, Arlington, VA
  • Alisa DiCaprio, head of Trade and Supply Chain, R3, New York, NY
  • Anurag Bajaj, regional head of Transaction Banking and global head of Correspondent Banking, Standard Chartered, New York, NY
  • Chapin Flynn, vice president of Enterprise Partnerships, Mastercard, Wayne, PA
  • Craig Moore, founder of Mooring Tech Inc. and co-owner/founder of Old Fourth Distillery, Atlanta, GA
  • Craig Weeks, independent consultant, Weaverville, NC
  • Daniel Pische, senior vice president of Trade Finance, First American Bank, Chicago, IL
  • David Herer, CEO, ABC-Amega Inc., Buffalo, NY
  • David Shogren, president, U.S. International Foods LLC., St. Louis, MO
  • Dominic Capolongo, executive vice president and global head of Funding, PrimeRevenue, Inc., Atlanta, GA
  • Gary Mendell, president, Meridian Finance Group, Santa Monica, CA
  • Ken Rosenberg, senior vice president and manager for International Banking, Bridge Bank, San Jose, CA
  • Kenneth Wengrod, co-founder/president, FTC Commercial Corp., Los Angeles, CA
  • Kevin Klowden, executive director, Center for Regional Economics, Milken Institute, Santa Monica, CA
  • Madison Spach Jr., partner, Spach, Capaldi and Waggaman, LLP, Newport Beach, CA
  • Michael Finkelstein, CEO and founder, The Credit Junction, New York, NY
  • Qingyuan Zhang, director of Global Trade Finance, John Deere Financial Services, Johnston, IA
  • Richard Brent, CEO, Louroe Electronics, Van Nuys, CA
  • Stephen Simchak, vice president and chief international counsel, American Property Casualty Insurance Assn., Washington, D.C.
  • Steven Bash, senior vice president and International Banking Group manager, City National Bank, Los Angeles, CA
  • William Glassford, senior vice president, Zions Bancorporation, Salt Lake City, UT

To learn more about the TFAC, visit www.trade.gov/TFAC.

SURVEY SAYS …

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Banking Commission’s 10th annual Global Survey on Trade Finance reveals that digitalization of the sector is increasing, although obstacles remain in the path toward efficient and paperless trade finance.

The survey, which gathered insights from 251 respondents in 91 countries, indicates that a key barrier to digitalization is the lack of standardization throughout the sector.

This indicates work is still needed to drive forward the digital agenda, although progress to date has been positive.

Download the full ICC Global Survey on Trade Finance at: http://www.iccwbo.org/global-survey-report.

The move toward paperless trade finance has been a long-standing objective for many in the industry. And, as our 10th annual survey indicates, digitalization is beginning to gain significant traction. Some 45 percent of respondents to this year’s survey indicated they intend to prioritize digital trade and the development and deployment of platforms over the next one to three years.

In a related development, interest in supply chain finance (SCF) is also gathering momentum. SCF, which usually involves financing through an online platform, is providing a growing number of banks with a strong alternative to traditional trade finance. What’s more, some 56 percent of bank respondents that offer SCF stated they had already developed their own proprietary systems rather than rely on an outsourced platform.

Nonetheless, the benefits of implementing technology solutions in trade finance processes have not been felt by all banks, with only 9 percent of respondents agreeing digitalization had improved efficiency to date. Divergent standards are cited as a key reason for the lack of improvement. This is apparent within SCF platforms and their lack of common standards for exchanging data.

As a result, some 32 percent of respondents with proprietary systems reported issues due to the lack of interoperability. Nevertheless, over 60 percent of banks said they were moving toward further digitalization, while just 7 percent indicated they had no plans to implement technology solutions in their trade finance offerings.

Enduring Problem: The Trade Finance Gap

Certainly, digitalization of the trade-finance sector is aimed at improving efficiency and processes, which should allow for greater trade finance capacity. And that should help relieve one of the greatest concerns for trade finance: the trade finance gap.

The difference between the demand and supply of trade finance currently stands at US$1.5 trillion, according to figures from the Asian Development Bank. What is more, some 22 percent of respondents expect the unmet demand to increase in the next 12 months.

Nonetheless, the survey indicates a positive outlook on the current and future provision of trade finance. Two thirds of respondents declared the amount of traditional trade finance they provided in 2017 was higher than the previous year. SCF provision is also increasing, with 43 percent of respondents indicating their SCF business grew in the past year.

In total, respondents to the survey provided over US$4.6 trillion in traditional trade finance and US$813 billion in supply chain finance last year. Over the next one to three years, some 41 percent of respondents expect the trade-finance gap to shrink.

Regulation: Key Barrier to Provision

Unfortunately, regulation remains one of the major barriers preventing the bridging of the trade-finance gap. The survey revealed that regulatory compliance requirements are still inhibiting banks’ ability to provide trade finance.

Some 90 percent of respondents highlighted regulatory compliance as a major obstacle to growth. Know Your Customer and Know Your Customer’s Customer (KYC/KYCC) obligations remain an issue for trade finance providers, with 18 percent of respondents to the survey citing compliance with KYC/KYCC regulations as the reason for a decrease in their provision of trade finance. What’s more, some 40 percent of respondents revealed the requirements were already a persistent challenge for SCF delivery.

The survey also outlines regulation to counter the financing of terrorism (CFT) as a key concern. Some 56 percent of respondents have serious concerns about the impact of CFT regulations on their ability to provide adequate trade finance in support of cross-border trade.

While practitioners recognize the need for adequate compliance measures, the lack of clarity surrounding regulatory expectations has led to overly stringent, self-imposed industry measures. Fulfilling all these regulatory requirements consequently represents an unnecessarily resource and time-heavy burden for banks.

Looking Ahead: What to Expect?

Despite these issues, the survey revealed a generally positive outlook on the future of the trade-finance sector.

Some 73 percent of respondents to the survey expect trade financing to grow over the next 12 months. Banks, especially, see the potential for SCF, with 91 percent of bank respondents expecting revenue growth from SCF in the next one to three years.

Regarding the potential for future digitalization, respondents agree that continued investment is necessary, with 46 percent believing the long-term focus should be on implementing and leveraging the opportunities from new technologies.

Importantly, the implementation of common standards is necessary to increase efficiency and market capacity, while enabling cost-effective due diligence.

Olivier Paul is head of Policy at the International Chamber of Commerce.

 

HSBC Boosts International Loan Program to $5B

New York, NYHSBC Bank USA is adding $3 billion more to its international loan program, raising the program’s total funding to $5 billion, as “the demand by US small and medium size businesses looking to export or expand internationally continues to rise.”

The funding increase is the third in 15 months and will “satisfy the demand by companies who want financing to grow and compete,” said Steve Bottomley, group general manager, senior executive vice president and head of Commercial Banking for HSBC in North America.

In 2013, US exports hit an all-time record of $2.3 trillion and supported 11.3 million US jobs, directly and indirectly, according to data supplied by the US International Trade Administration.

The latest HSBC Global Connections Trade report shows that developing economies, such as China and India, present the best US trade prospects, with US export growth to average nine percent a year to each country through 2030.

Additionally, global trade is expected to grow annually by eight percent beginning in 2016 from 2.5 percent in 2013, as businesses capitalize on the rise of the emerging market consumer and developing markets stabilize their productivity levels for the future.

“US small- and medium-size businesses are key contributors to US exports and domestic job growth,” said Derrick Ragland, HSBC executive vice president and head of US Middle Market Corporate Banking.

HSBC launched its international loan program for US small and medium size businesses seeking to export or expand internationally in July 2013with $1 billion in funding.

It doubled the program to $2 billion at the start of 2014, and today’s addition of $3 billion more raises the program’s total funding to $5 billion.

The international loan program is available to businesses with at least $3 million to $500 million in annual revenue, and who are focused on cross border trading or global expansion.

Only applications for new business loans will be accepted and all of HSBC’s usual credit and lending criteria apply. The program runs through December 2015.

International trade and financing, said Bottomley, “is critical not only for U.S. companies who want to excel, but also for the wider US economy.”

Since launching the program last year, “We’ve been impressed by the pace with which businesses around the country and across industries have taken advantage of the program to capture international growth market opportunities.”

10/09/2014