Risk management is always a priority in global trade. Trade credit insurance is one protection that many companies, particularly small business exporters, rely on to reduce their commercial and political risk when selling internationally, by allowing customers to buy on open account. While a letter of credit is preferable when exporting goods to a buyer abroad, it is not always attainable as this guarantee of payment can be expensive. With open account terms, buyers can accept shipments and pay for them later. To alleviate the risk of such an arrangement, trade credit insurance guarantees compensation of (typically) 90%-100% of the amount owed. The first instances of trade credit insurance use date back to the 1800s, but the practice rose to prominence in Western Europe during the 1920s and 1930s, not coincidentally an era of substantial political upheaval. Europe remains the hub of the trade credit insurance market, but industry consolidation over the decades has resulted in just three companies now controlling more than 80% of the global market: Euler Hermes, Atradius and Coface, which is part of the Natixis group. Trade credit insurance has been a beneficiary to global trade, but these days it is also used in domestic trade practices, where it provides the same coverage and protections. This has allowed companies to broaden their customer base by making open account terms more widely available. And because a company’s accounts receivable from exports are insured, these accounts can also be used as collateral for businesses seeking bank loans or credit lines. Variations in policy types are available, including coverage that can be canceled at the insurer’s discretion, or that cannot be canceled during the policy period.
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