The GTR Leaders in Trade awards highlight excellence in the trade, commodity, supply chain and export finance, and fintech markets, recognising pioneering institutions and top performers from around the world. Judging is based on submissions sent to GTR that outline institutions’ greatest achievements throughout the course of 2021.
Best Deals signed in 2021 were referenced as further substantiation for GTR’s decisions.
Congratulations to the winners!
Best trade finance bank in East Africa:
Shortlisted nominees: Bank One, Standard Chartered, Trade and Development Bank (TDB)
Winner: Standard Chartered
Best trade finance bank in West Africa:
Shortlisted nominees: BACB, Bank One, Ecobank, FCMB Bank (UK)
Best trade finance bank in Southern Africa:
Shortlisted nominees: Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), Standard Bank, Zanaco
Best trade finance bank in the Middle East:
Shortlisted nominees: ADCB, GIB, HSBC
Best trade finance bank in North Africa:
Shortlisted nominees: BACB, Export Development Bank of Egypt
Best trade finance bank in North America:
Shortlisted nominees: Bank of America, BNY Mellon
Winner: Bank of America
Best trade finance bank in Latin America:
Shortlisted nominees: HSBC, Santander
Best trade finance bank in Asia:
Shortlisted nominees: Asian Development Bank, Mizuho Bank
Winner: Mizuho Bank
Best trade finance bank in Eastern Europe:
Shortlisted nominees: Raiffeisen Bank International, Ukrgasbank
Winner: Raiffeisen Bank International
Best trade finance bank in Western Europe:
Shortlisted nominees: Commerzbank, Crédit Agricole, ING
Winner: Crédit Agricole
Best trade finance bank in UK:
Best law firm (trade or supply chain finance):
Shortlisted nominees: Allen & Overy, Hogan Lovells International, Sullivan
Best law firm (export finance):
Shortlisted nominees: Baker McKenzie, Sullivan
Winner: Baker McKenzie
Best export credit agency:
Winner: Etihad Credit Insurance (ECI)
Best fintech in trade:
Shortlisted nominees: Contour, Demica, LiquidX, Mitigram, Tradeteq
Best fintech startup in trade:
Shortlisted nominees: Finverity, MonetaGo, TradeSun, TwinCo Capital, XDC Network
Best trade finance software provider:
Shortlisted nominees: Coriolis Technologies, LiquidX, Mitigram, Surecomp, Wave BL
Best alternative trade or supply chain finance provider:
Shortlisted nominees: GTC, London Forfaiting Company, PrimeRevenue, Raistone, Twinco Capital
Best trade credit and political risk insurance underwriter:
Shortlisted nominees: Chubb, HDI Global Specialty, The Hartford
Best trade credit insurance broker:
Shortlisted nominees: Aon, BPL Global, Marsh, WTW
Best political risk insurance broker:
Shortlisted nominees: BPL Global, Marsh, WTW
Winner: BPL Global
Best development bank:
Shortlisted nominees: Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), International Finance Corporation (IFC), Trade and Development Bank (TDB)
Winner: Trade and Development Bank (TDB)
Best bank for ESG (trade or supply chain finance):
Shortlisted nominees: Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Citi
Winner: BNP Paribas
Best bank for ESG (export finance):
Shortlisted nominees: BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank
Winner: Deutsche Bank
Best bank for digitalisation:
Shortlisted nominees: Citi, DBS, SMBC
Best supply chain finance bank:
Shortlisted nominees: Bank of America, Citi, MUFG, Santander
Best commodity trade finance bank:
Shortlisted nominees: Société Générale, SMBC
Best export finance bank:
Shortlisted nominees: Barclays, Standard Chartered
Winner: Standard Chartered
Best trade finance bank:
Shortlisted nominees: BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, HSBC
Best trade finance bank in East Africa: Standard Chartered
Standard Chartered is a pioneer in the integration of trade and cash management solutions across East Africa.
Of particular note are the bank’s activities in Kenya, where it accounts for approximately 12% of the local trade finance market share and offers various solutions.
Standard Chartered’s Kenyan entity finances trade in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, agriculture, energy and infrastructure, while the bank has grown its supply chain finance (SCF) offering to support small and medium sized enterprises.
Through two of its SCF products, distributor finance and vendor pre-pay programmes, Standard Chartered says it frequently extends finance to distributors, or suppliers, of its larger corporate or multinational clients.
“On these supply chain finance programmes/arrangements, we have over 10… in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania supporting over 50 small and medium enterprises with access to financing, reduced or no collateral,” it says in its submission.
On the sustainability front, in March last year Standard Chartered launched a set of sustainable trade finance solutions across a number of regions, including Africa, designed to help the bank’s customers meet ESG-related sustainability objectives.
The bank’s digitalisation efforts are another major achievement, with Standard Chartered supporting trade clients in East Africa transition from physical payment methods to the Straight2Bank digital platform.
According to an annual report from Standard Chartered Kenya, more than 92% of clients are now using the platform for various reasons, including collections, payments, tax, foreign exchange services and trade finance.
Best trade finance bank in West Africa: Ecobank
Ecobank’s widespread presence across West Africa together with its volume of trade finance activity made it a worthy winner.
The pan-African banking group is active in 15 West African markets, where it offers the full suite of trade banking products and services, including trade finance, structured trade and commodities finance, as well as supply chain finance.
As countries in the region worked to ramp up trade levels last year, following a sharp downturn in 2020, Ecobank proved itself willing and able to provide financial support for importers and exporters alike.
Ecobank Nigeria processed a little over US$1bn in letters of credit (LCs) in 2021, a rise of nearly 60% from US$617mn the year prior, while the lender’s export volumes surged by 240% year-on-year to reach US$435mn.
At the same time, the bank tells GTR the total value of LCs sent by Ecobank within West Africa grew significantly, increasing by nearly 60% year-on-year in Guinea Bissau, 18% in Sierra Leone and 20% in Cape Verde.
Ecobank’s digital efforts have grown from strength to strength. Its e-Trade and e-FSC platforms enable importers, exporters, anchors and distributors to conduct transactions remotely, and thanks to this tool, the volumes of processed transactions have boomed.
GTR also recognises Ecobank’s ongoing appetite for soft commodities transactions in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Benin, as well as its impressive SCF growth, with the lender onboarding 575 distributors in Nigeria.
Best trade finance bank in Southern Africa: Rand Merchant Bank (RMB)
Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) is a frequent winner of the award for best trade finance bank in Southern Africa, and for good reason.
Last year the trade finance industry in South Africa was buffeted by sizeable headwinds, including tight pandemic-related lockdowns and domestic currency depreciation.
Despite these challenges, RMB’s trade finance team showed a willingness to support its existing clients and drive growth through innovative lending solutions, as shown in one transaction that earned the bank a GTR Best Deal award.
In May 2021, the lender extended a pre-export finance facility to steel merchant Macsteel International as part of a multi-faceted solution that brought together secured lending and trade risk mitigation in one seamless structure.
The bank’s Best Deal submissions included a number of compelling transactions.
Elsewhere, the bank has made great strides on the digitalisation front, with clients ramping up their use of the lender’s technology platform, eTradePort, enabling them to transact, manage and report more efficiently.
RMB says it has seen “significant adoption rates” over the past 12 months, with the number of transactions shooting up by more than 100% and onboarding of clients increasing seven-fold in 2021.
“During lockdown, RMB quickly adapted its trade system by relaxing static IP requirements which enabled clients to access and transact on their trade transactions from any location,” the bank’s award submission reads.
GTR also recognises RMB’s role as a leading provider of supply chain finance in South Africa, with the bank having seen what it calls “exponential growth” in both the number and value of invoices discounted.
Best trade finance bank in the Middle East: Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB)
This award recognises Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank’s (ADCB) commitment to remaining stable and supportive to clients despite unprecedented disruption to supply chains, shipping and logistics caused by the pandemic.
The turmoil that characterised much of 2021 “created unforeseen challenges across various industries” but was met with “steady resilience” by ADCB, the bank says. Much of this resilience comes from a sense of commitment to technology at the UAE’s third-largest bank. “By exploring new avenues and leveraging on digital solutions, a new opportunity and vision to grow and transform globally was born,” ADCB says.
The bank has introduced systems enabling staff to work remotely without disruption to operations, despite historically dealing predominantly in physical documentation. Notably, ADCB introduced a remote document handling system that standardised client agreements, meaning that clients could be onboarded to its digital platform quickly and that export documentation could be handled remotely.
As a result, the bank has been able to secure major deals in the face of economic headwinds, including a US$25mn-per-month receivables finance programme that enables Global Construction Machinery to supply goods on an open account basis while bridging a gap in working capital. ADCB also agreed a letter of credit programme running into the hundreds of millions of dollars to support the supply of petroleum products to markets in Asia.
“The fact that our business in the Middle East is actively growing and clients are awarding us more business confirms that our clients understand ADCB’s strength, as well as our commitment and ability to support them during these turbulent times,” it says.
Best trade finance bank in North Africa: BACB
North Africa has long been a challenging market in the eyes of many international banks, not least due to geopolitical challenges. As the only British bank operating in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, this award recognises London-headquartered BACB’s status as a resilient and pioneering supporter of trade flows in the region.
Since the start of the pandemic, many have sought to reduce their exposure to more challenging markets or client profiles. During 2021, BACB took the opposite approach.
“Instead of exiting markets, the bank doubled down on relationships with clients across the region to ensure they have the financial support necessary in these difficult times,” it says.
For instance, BACB supported Algeria in importing US$310mn of strategic goods last year, including staple foods such as wheat and soya bean oil.
It also remains the only UK issuer of letters of credit (LCs) for corporates operating in Libya’s oil sector. Its presence in Libya has played a vital part in supporting economic rebuilding efforts, including by issuing LCs for importing supplies used to repair factories damaged by conflict. In total, the bank handled LCs worth £840mn from North Africa last year.
BACB also remains a keen supporter of intra-African trade, particularly between West and North African markets, working with more than 50 partners across the two regions.
A whitepaper published by the lender in 2021 aims to enhance regional integration further, setting out a plan for overcoming challenges around infrastructure, manufacturing and access to finance.
Best trade finance bank in North America: Bank of America
For North American corporates, 2021 was characterised by a focus on promoting a fairer and more balanced trade recovery from the pandemic, as well as a drive to boost the region’s competitiveness internationally. Bank of America’s winning submission underscored the deep inroads the bank has made into the future of trade finance, embedding both ESG improvements and digital transformation into its offering.
As well as rolling out new technology solutions such as supply chain finance APIs for buyers and service providers that enable clients to automate processes and get access to real-time data, the bank has also poured resources into a wider, more inclusive trade transformation strategy. Using proceeds from a US$2bn equality progress sustainability bond, Bank of America’s global transaction services unit developed an offering to support minority-owned businesses in accessing supply chain finance, bringing what is often an underserved segment into the mainstream.
At the other end of the scale, the bank achieved some big wins in 2021, including acting as sole co-ordinator and mandated lead arranger for a US$400mn US Exim-backed financing for Pemex.
Meanwhile, despite a volatile landscape for global trade, Bank of America’s trade book posted healthy growth in 2021, exceeding pre-Covid levels based on the number of transactions processed. Between January and September 2021, the bank’s supply chain finance portfolio increased by 12%, with combined new limits of US$1.8bn, while both the value and volume of supplier invoices surged by 60% and 72% respectively.
“Our priority is on transforming the client experience,” the bank says. “Together with our clients and players in the trade ecosystem, we believe we can build a new era for trade finance.”
Best trade finance bank in Latin America: Santander
Santander has a long history in trade finance in Latin America, and its deep knowledge of the local regulatory and business environment, combined with access to international markets throughout the global Santander network, enables it to provide an unparalleled trade finance service to its clients.
In 2021, the bank embarked on a transformation process, which included the creation of several new products in the trade and working capital analysis department, the appointment of several key trade finance specialists, and significant investments into technology and the development of innovative risk models.
The impact of this process helped Santander to consolidate its leadership in the main economic hubs of Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay – winning mandates for some of the most desirable deals of 2021 and cementing its position as Latin America’s best trade finance bank.
Some of its numerous achievements throughout the year included winning 23 new clients in the Andean region, while increasing its market share in Brazil by 35% in documentary trade. It executed over 6,700 supply chain finance programmes, and grew its receivables volumes by 25%. Meanwhile, in structured trade finance, Santander closed more than 120 transactions, with an increase of 60% in volumes versus 2020 amid increased liquidity requirements in the wake of the Covid crisis.
Santander has been involved in numerous ground-breaking trade finance deals across the region, and 2021 was no exception. Among stand-outs, it leveraged its local approach and global reach to close the first trade-related uncommitted, multi-borrower and multicurrency facility with Peruvian agrifood company Alicorp, covering the regional trade needs of the company and eight of its subsidiaries.
Best trade finance bank in Asia: Mizuho
One of Mizuho’s key strengths is its connections with a broad range of financial institutions and other organisations, which it leverages to support trade flows of both Japanese and non-Japanese companies in Asia. A major plank in its strategy to grow regional engagement has been an increase in cross-border collaboration through alliances with regional financial institutions that serve large local corporates.
Mizuho’s presence in the supply chain finance market continues to develop with a customised programme structure, effective implementation timing, dedicated onboarding services and flexibility in the integration of technology.
On that front, a highlight of 2021 for the bank was its support for the first live trade transactions using blockchain platform Skuchain’s distributed ledger payment commitment, facilitating a series of metals purchases by Mitsubishi’s trading arm. The transactions are designed to replace most of the functions of a letter of credit.
According to Yoshisuke Maeda, general manager at Mizuho’s global transaction banking department, the bank intends to accelerate its use of “cutting-edge technologies in trade finance”.
As part of that effort, Mizuho demonstrated its commitment to invest in new technologies and continued to explore possible collaborations in the market that can create efficiencies and savings for its clients. For example, Mizuho jointly deployed a blockchain-based supply chain finance platform in partnership with trading conglomerate Marubeni and its affiliate company in Singapore.
Best trade finance bank in Eastern Europe: Raiffeisen Bank International
Throughout last year, Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) maintained its strong position as a relationship bank for both corporate – including multinational commodity players – and financial institution clients across Central and Eastern Europe. It also took the opportunity to strengthen its status as a hub for financing trade flows with and within the CEE and CIS regions.
The bank says its leading position is evidenced by a strong trade finance market share in many CEE and CIS countries as detailed in Swift data analytics for the period Q4 2020 to Q3 2021. MT 700 messages issued by RBI Group entities during this time amounted to €8.4bn, as compared to a total market volume of €20.3bn; an increased market share of 41%. MT 700 messages received by RBI Group entities in this period amounted to €11.5bn versus a total market volume of €55bn.
In commodity finance, the bank continues to work with all major commodity houses via its dedicated desks, which handle complex and time-sensitive transactions.
Among its many highlights last year, the bank signed its first green guarantee facility with Siemens Gamesa as well as an ESG rating-linked factoring facility with S&T AG. It says several other sustainable trade finance transactions are pending.
Speaking about the context of the win in today’s challenging environment in its home region, the bank says: “Our organisation has always stood for diversity, for openness, for tolerance, and for solidarity. RBI has always built bridges. Between east and west, between financial and real economy and between different nationalities. Colleagues from over 50 nations work with us, this diversity is our greatest pride, and in these difficult times we stand together as a group.”
Best trade finance bank in Western Europe: Crédit Agricole
Crédit Agricole CIB has been the winner in this particular category since 2016 – missing out only once, in 2021, when GTR introduced a new set of pandemic-related categories reflective of the very different and challenging times of 2020/21.
With GTR’s traditional categories now reintroduced, the bank snatched the top prize once again, thanks not only to its commitment to clients across the region, but also the range of deals it was involved in – many of which were awarded GTR Best Deals – as well as its role as a leader in green and ESG-linked finance.
“At Crédit Agricole CIB, we are committed to supporting our clients to achieve their sustainability goals through comprehensive trade finance green products, developing green documentary (letters of credit, green guarantee facilities) and financing products,” the bank says in its submission. “We are proud that the bank could accelerate environmental and social impact through its innovative trade finance solutions that suit our valuable clients’ green needs and at the same time meet our group objectives.”
In 2021, the bank confirmed its pioneering position in this space, developing a globally strong sustainable trade finance franchise. In Europe, this was evidenced in its participation in a number of deals, including an ESG-linked guarantees framework agreement with Italy’s Enel.
The bank also participates in a variety of trade digitisation platforms, including Marco Polo Network and Komgo.
Best trade finance bank in the UK: Barclays
Over the last few years, UK businesses have been faced with the combined uncertainties of Brexit and the pandemic – a confluence of factors that have wreaked havoc on supply chains and trade performance. The team at Barclays prides itself on its steadfast support throughout this period, stating in its submission to GTR that it has ensured trade finance support has been “consistently delivered”.
The Barclays trade and working capital business supports thousands of UK companies of all sizes and across all sectors, working to mitigate risk, ensure payment security and maximise working capital.
“We continue to have strong appetite for UK businesses and have the balance sheet strength to support our clients,” the bank says.
In its submission, Barclays highlights its commitment to sustainability – noting that its green and sustainability-linked trade products offer support to businesses trying to reduce their environmental impact – and to ecommerce and digital efforts.
The bank has very recently gone live with its new trade platform, which it says will provide clients with cutting-edge customer service, user-friendly interface and cloud-enabled, API-based connectivity to third-party providers.
The rollout of the new platform is the result of a two-year-long multi-million-pound investment project.
In export finance too, the bank has made significant strides, having gained a “market leadership position” in the deployment of the UK Export Finance (UKEF) general export facility aimed at small and medium enterprises.
Barclays says it has supported clients across the broadest range of UKEF solutions, from buyer credits to export development guarantees.
Best law firm (trade or supply chain finance): Sullivan
Sullivan stands out for its breadth of expertise across an array of product and client types. Its dedicated trade and export finance practice advises more than 50 major international trade finance banks and financial institutions as well as funds, corporate borrowers, export credit agencies, international organisations and the insurance market on the full range of trade, commodity and supply chain finance structuring and documentation.
The firm’s diverse scope of client work includes providing ongoing advice and documentary support to global financial institutions implementing traditional supply chain finance and receivables finance offerings, and drafting and revising electronic platform documentation utilised by fintechs seeking to provide alternative financing solutions in this area.
The firm has recently acted on a number of structures focused on innovative ways to finance receivables, including the granting of participations in payment risk for independent payment instruments and the establishment and financing of two special purpose vehicles for selling and purchasing underlying receivables. It has acted on receivables and supply chain finance transactions in jurisdictions across the globe.
The firm has been involved in important industry initiatives, such as advising ITFA on the use of digital payment obligations. It was also closely involved in drafting the ICC Uniform Rules for Digital Trade Transactions. Through its London and New York offices the firm continues to advise Baft on its Master Participation Agreements (MPAs), including the replacement of Libor in the Baft MPAs.
Sullivan also stepped up to the demand for digitalisation accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the firm advising clients and the wider market on digitalisation, including the use of fintech in trade and commodity finance.
Best law firm (export finance): Baker McKenzie
Last year was a busy one for Baker McKenzie’s export finance teams, advising a range of clients on more than 30 often large and complex transactions including restructuring and claims under export credit agency (ECA) policies. Key deals with an ESG element included a major healthcare infrastructure improvement project in Côte d’Ivoire and a landmark €1.24bn green financing for strategic railway infrastructure in Turkey.
Lenders, borrowers and export credit agencies value the firm’s global reach, reflected in its strong rankings in areas such as deep emerging markets and trade finance. The firm also boasts a wide range of specialised knowledge, including in sanctions, export controls and wider regulations. It also has strong ties with ECAs including heavyweight jurisdictions such as China, the UK and Germany. Notably, Baker McKenzie’s work on transactions in Africa grew during 2021.
The firm maintains a tradition of contribution to industry discussions.
It continued the Trade Finance Quarterly Insight newsletter, launched in 2020, which provides an insightful variety of legal, market and jurisdictional-focused articles on current topics for those operating in trade and export finance markets. Its readership expanded in 2021. The firm has also published a report on shifting patterns in infrastructure funding in Africa, which explores the state of the market and the key drivers of change in Africa.
Best export credit agency: Etihad Credit Insurance (ECI)
The UAE’s federal export credit agency, Etihad Credit Insurance (ECI), has boosted the country’s economy and acted as a cushion for local businesses caught up in a volatile global economy.
During the pandemic, ECI assisted exporters and businesses facing payment and supply chain disruptions with export credit insurance and additional funding. In addition, the agency increased payment protections, relaxed terms for policyholders and expedited approvals and claims processing. It also introduced flexibility on premium rates – despite the increase in bankruptcy risk – to continuously provide stable risk coverage.
Alongside commercial banks and fintechs, ECI has launched a trade finance gateway platform, aimed at easing the access of UAE exporters and re-exporters to financing, as well as supporting the growth of SMEs. Trade credit and financial solutions will be provided by commercial banks and other financial institutions, and the solution will leverage the technology of the Monimove fintech platform.
ECI is also collaborating with banks in the UAE to encourage smooth collaboration between all parties in an end-to-end digitised process with standardised mechanisms for counterparties to monetise their receivables.
In another fintech collaboration on digitisation, ECI partnered with fintech rating agency modefinance to develop the first-ever AI credit rating model in the region. The agency can now use AI to assess creditworthiness of its counterparties, paving the way for almost entirely paperless transitions, faster response times and more reliable information to inform decision-making. This state-of-the-art financial technology also enhances the underwriting process of the policyholders, focuses on the buyers’ creditworthiness analysis, and allows for the personalisation of their credit limit.
Best fintech in trade: Contour
Since transitioning to a live production environment at the end of 2020, Contour has successfully established itself as a leading fintech player in the industry. Its accelerated growth and the trust it has built among corporates and banks – as well as several notable transactions – made it worthy of the best fintech in trade award.
In 2021, Contour saw its network grow rapidly as clients increasingly recognised the urgent need to digitise their trade finance processes. Over the course of the year, Contour onboarded over 100 members to its network, which includes its 16 member banks, spanning over 51 countries. It also expanded its reach by joining forces with 15 strategic partners – from electronic bill of lading providers to system integrators, shipping and mining networks, and trade workflow providers. These global partnerships are establishing Contour as a network of networks, giving corporate clients a seamless end-to-end experience from execution to delivery.
Contour’s central offering is the digital letter of credit, for which the network has managed to reduce processing time by as much as 90% during testing, from an average of 10 days to under 24 hours end-to-end. During 2021, Contour facilitated many significant transactions for market leaders, such as the steel industry’s first blockchain-based transaction with HSBC and Tata Steel. Meanwhile, SMBC became the first Japanese bank to complete a commercial trade transaction on Contour while PermataBank conducted Indonesia’s first blockchain-enabled transaction. Standard Chartered also completed the first blockchain transaction between India and Bangladesh.
In each of these deals, processing time was significantly reduced while Contour’s technology enabled greater transparency, with all parties able to receive real-time status updates at each stage of the transaction.
Best fintech startup in trade: MonetaGo
Financial technology solutions provider MonetaGo chalked up a series of solid achievements in 2021, making it the obvious choice for the best fintech startup in trade award.
The company’s Secure Financing service, a duplicate financing risk mitigation solution for trade finance, has been in live production since 2018. On the platform, lenders register select document information, prior to disbursement, to the network. Key information from each document is hashed to create digital fingerprints that guarantee privacy. These fingerprints are then pushed to the network, which acts as a secure unified data repository shared across all participants. If the same document is submitted to the network by multiple lenders, the system will reject or flag all duplicates after the first unique instance is marked as financed on the system.
One notable achievement for MonetaGo in 2021 was its technological migration. Secure Financing was originally built on Hyperledger Fabric, but soon outgrew the scalability limits of what Fabric could do for its use case. In 2021, the solution was completely ported to Corda, marking the first time an in-production system has been successfully migrated from one blockchain platform to another.
Arguably the biggest win for the company was its partnership with Swift, which came on the heels of a strongly worded missive from the UK’s banking regulators to CEOs across the trade finance sector warning that more needed to be done to identify fraud and assess credit risk. In September last year, MonetaGo connected its technology to Swift’s API-enabled infrastructure in a global pilot, paving the way for over 11,000 Swift-connected institutions to be given easy and secure access to its finance validation service in a trusted and globally standardised way.
Best trade finance software provider: LiquidX
2021 was a strong year for New York-based LiquidX, with a growing number of participants, transactions and products. The world of trade finance digitisation is a crowded field, but the fintech still manages to stand out.
LiquidX added an asset distribution tool to its trade finance platform late last year, tackling what the company says is the predominantly manual distribution of US$400-500bn of bank-intermediated trade finance each year. Its solution aims to digitise this by allowing banks and asset managers to initiate single-click trading with their investor networks under existing agreements, or to the LiquidX network of over 50 funders.
This enables banks and asset managers to increase their trade finance volumes while eliminating manual processes that are a source of delay, inefficiency, fraud risk, and error.
Off the back of the launch of the asset distribution tool, the fintech carried out a securitisation facility on its platform for the first time, sourcing and facilitating a US$125mn accounts receivable finance programme for a media and telecoms company, in partnership with German bank Nord/LB. The transaction “improves our client’s liquidity position and advances our vision of building the most complete digital solution for trade financing”, Jim Toffey, LiquidX CEO, said at the time.
LiquidX also scored wins on innovation in the trade credit insurance market, launching a new tool that uses blockchain, AI and machine learning to overcome inefficiencies and risk in the management of insurance policies. The company was granted an insurance brokerage licence from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, increasing its footprint in one of the world’s key trade finance markets. Shortly after it scored Coface’s Singapore branch as the first in the region to join its platform.
Best alternative trade or supply chain finance provider: PrimeRevenue
PrimeRevenue boasts a year of firsts in 2021. In the face of inefficient business-to-business payment systems, sustained supply chain disruptions and limited access to working capital facilities, the US-headquartered fintech was able to launch its new SurePay Platform, a first-of-its-kind solution that ensures all suppliers are paid on time, every time, across different jurisdictions, currencies and early payment programmes. The platform already hosts more than 45,000 suppliers across 90 countries.
The company also became the first supply chain finance provider to support an alternative benchmark rate ahead of the transition away from Libor, a move taken to support buyers with global supply chains. PrimeRevenue also debuted technology aimed at removing barriers to participation in selective receivables finance programmes, including compliance risk arising out of human error, fluctuating payment terms and cumbersome reconciliation processes.
“Combined with PrimeRevenue’s reporting, this provides 100% transparency into the invoice lifecycle from time of transfer under the receivables purchase facility to payment by the obligor,” it says.
In March 2021, the company responded to reports of supply chain disruptions by deploying supply chain finance programmes in as little as two weeks, handing a lifeline to suppliers experiencing delay in receiving early payment.
“With a diverse network of more than 100 bank and financial institution funding partners, PrimeRevenue had access to approximately US$43bn in liquidity that was ready for immediate use,” it says.
This award recognises PrimeRevenue’s use of technology and commitment to deploying supply chain finance programmes swiftly, in areas where they are most needed.
Best trade credit and political risk insurance underwriter: Chubb
The pandemic has created a challenging environment for trade credit insurance, with difficulties experienced by several trading houses and lenders leading to claims, disputes and changes in cover. It was against that backdrop that Chubb experienced a “record year” in 2021, bucking the trend by achieving growth of over 20% in each of its five global hubs. The UK and the US have “led the charge”, the company says.
Chubb has endeavoured to ensure cover remains robust despite a challenging economic environment.
The insurer says it made no changes to its commitment to non-cancellable policies or limits during 2021, meaning its clients benefited from certainty of coverage with no credit, country or policy limit cancellations or reductions.
Switzerland-headquartered Chubb has also sought to expand its distribution channels by developing relationships with specialist brokers, particularly in the US.
The insurer also emphasises that it did not participate in any government support scheme, instead focusing on providing one-to-one service and working in partnership with its clients. It describes this strategic decision as a “key differentiator”, and this award recognises the company’s vital role in providing a lifeline to businesses during unprecedented disruption to trade flows
Best trade credit insurance broker: Willis Towers Watson (WTW)
As the trade credit insurance industry works to shift towards net-zero underwriting in the years ahead, brokers will have a key role to play. Willis Towers Watson (WTW) was at
the forefront of efforts to drive change across the trade credit sector last year, helping underwriters and managing general agents (MGAs) grow their exposure to greener lines of business.
WTW partnered with one such MGA, Tierra, and German bank Nord/LB to conclude an insurance policy that helped finance a new solar project in Australia, a facility that is set to power over 200,000 homes in Queensland.
“Working with Tierra – a new MGA entirely focused on climate-friendly and renewables products, areas where some insurers lack specific expertise – showcases our market knowledge on renewables, plus our agility around innovative solutions,” the broker says.
WTW also took steps to support larger underwriters, teaming up with Nord/LB and Allianz Trade to close the first Green2Green single risk credit insurance policy in the Asia Pacific region.
The product, launched by Allianz Trade in November 2020, insures green transactions and invests 100% of the premium in certified green bonds.
In May 2021, WTW also established its own accreditation framework, the Climate Transition Pathways initiative, which provides insurers and banks with a way to identify entities that have robust transition plans.
The broker helped drive market change in other areas, working with ITFA to launch harmonised trade credit policy wording. “The market can now benefit from a Basel III policy form which elevates policy wordings and enhances efficiency by cutting down the time spent in protracted and potentially costly negotiations over wordings,” it says.
Best political risk insurance broker: BPL Global
BPL Global was a worthy winner in this category, having shown a willingness to adopt digital solutions and grow support for greener areas of business, all the while expanding capacity in new markets.
In July, the broker launched a portfolio management tool, a platform known as BPL Sphere, that provides customers with full and immediate visibility of their credit and political risk insurance (CPRI) portfolio, as well as exposures across their operations globally.
In the months that followed, BPL Global and Allianz Trade unveiled a new approach for proposing and receiving CPRI requests, described by the pair as a “digital first” for the sector.
By using an application programming interface (API), BPL Global showed it could place a cover request to Allianz Trade, with the underwriter’s system receiving it without either having to use a third-party platform.
With sustainability becoming an increasing area of concern across the insurance industry, BPL Global also helped promote new products and initiatives designed to grow the sector’s exposure to renewable projects and green transactions.
BPL Global contributed to the development of a political risk insurance framework for the Green Guarantee Company, an initiative aiming to provide risk transfer solutions for green financing innovation in emerging markets.
The CPRI broker also helped roll out Allianz Trade’s new Green2Green single risk policy. Both Andritz and Société Générale sourced cover through BPL.
More broadly, BPL Global demonstrated an appetite to expand into new markets globally, establishing a binding authority with Lloyd’s Japan Inc, dedicated solely to covering credit risks from Japan.
Best development bank in trade: Trade and Development Bank (TDB)
The Trade and Development Bank (TDB) wins this award for providing vital liquidity to member countries across eastern and southern Africa – funding that helped nations weather the ongoing economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the global and regional economy still strained throughout 2021, the development bank increased cash disbursements to US$910.7mn in the first half of 2021, a 72.5% uptick from the previous year.
Letter of credit (LC) volumes leapt by 15% to US$480mn over the same period, and the bank more than doubled its exposure to financial services, with levels rising from US$422mn to US$887mn.
TDB’s overall trade finance portfolio swelled to US$3.6bn in H1 last year, a jump of US$500mn from the first half of 2020.
TDB says several landmark transactions involving financial institutions, agribusiness, energy and commodity finance were key to its performance last year.
In Ethiopia, the bank extended multiple short-term structured trade finance facilities enabling the importation of fuel and agricultural input commodities – in turn helping bolster food and energy security.
Other notable agreements saw TDB confirm and discount over US$200mn in LCs in Zambia via private banks enabling the importation of fertilisers, while in South Sudan, it provided a US$100mn revolving crude oil-backed pre-payment financing to facilitate the export of crude oil, the proceeds of which were deployed towards infrastructure development.
The bank says its success is underpinned by extensive reforms across its governance structure in recent years, as well as improvements to its risk management as well as treasury and loan origination processes.
Best bank for ESG (trade or supply chain finance): BNP Paribas
BNP Paribas is renowned for being at the forefront of sustainability efforts in trade finance.
The bank has developed an industry-leading practice centred on designing and delivering sustainable trade finance and working capital solutions aimed at supporting clients in their journey towards more sustainable business models.
In its submission to GTR, the bank highlights as many as six case studies outlining its support for ESG-linked transactions.
Among its 2021 sustainability highpoints was a pilot programme the bank launched with France’s EDF in March. BNP Paribas is helping the energy company transition its existing reverse factoring programme to a sustainability linked one, working with business sustainability rating provider EcoVadis, which is undertaking sustainability assessments of the suppliers.
“We are gaining very useful insight from this large-scale pilot, and believe this sort of transition will be a significant trend going forward,” Viktor Ivanov, head of sustainability for transaction banking Emea at BNP Paribas, told GTR last year.
BNP Paribas is also seeing – and meeting – an increased demand for financing related to companies’ energy transitions, where its support is sought for the underlying project or activity.
This is evidenced in another highlight from 2021, which saw the bank roll out a pioneering green facility to Engie España.
The facility is being used for the issuance of trade-related guarantees linked to projects that will provide environmental benefits.
“Companies are looking to expand the breadth of their sustainable finance solutions and the ways in which they leverage bank support to realise their ESG strategies,” says Ivanov.
BNP Paribas has signalled its commitment to helping companies achieve these objectives.
Best bank for ESG (export finance): Deutsche Bank
Whether it’s for a contractor working on a new wind turbine or solar plant, or a government financing its next hospital or rail network, Deutsche Bank stands out for its ability to harness export credit agency (ECA) support to make environmental, social and governance (ESG) deals happen.
Throughout 2021, Deutsche Bank’s structured trade and export finance team backed a number of transformational projects that draw on the bank’s comprehensive suite of powerful risk management advisory and risk hedging instruments, as well as innovative tailored short, medium and long-term trade finance solutions.
From providing renewable energy to thousands of homes in Australia and the Dominican Republic, to supporting tangible social change in Ghana – for which Deutsche Bank earned two GTR Best Deals awards in 2021 – the bank has consistently provided its clients with the ECA-backed financing support they need.
“The energy transition and the rapidly growing need for social infrastructure such as healthcare and education will require substantial investments and export finance will continue to play a key role in providing efficient financing solutions,” says Werner Schmidt, Deutsche Bank’s global head of structured trade and export finance. “We are fully committed to deploy resources and balance sheet to support the transition which will have a positive impact on societies.”
Deutsche Bank is targeting an ambitious total of more than €200bn in sustainable financing by 2023. The corporate bank – within which the export finance team operates – has a crucial role to play, and is aiming to make €30bn of sustainable finance available to clients by the end of next year.
Best bank for digitalisation: Citi
Citi secures this award not only for its pursuit of digitalisation at a proprietary level and its own product offerings, but also through its willingness to work with a gamut of partners.
The bank is an active participant in three trade finance digitisation consortia – Komgo, Contour and the Trade Information Network (TIN).
Citi notes in its submission that by eliminating paper and improving trust and transparency, end-to-end processing has been reduced from around 10 to four days, thereby improving operational efficiency by over 60%.
Citi has helped to enable execution of contracts and agreements with digital signatures for clients across more than 45 countries. Over 5,000 agreements have been executed using digital signatures via DocuSign, AdobeSign and local digital signature providers, helping clients keep their businesses running throughout the pandemic.
Updates to its electronic banking platform, CitiDirect, have added features such as free format messages, trade advance import request and upload capabilities.
These enhancements provide the bank’s clients with electronic alternatives to previously manual requests.
In India, Citi has integrated with regulatory platforms for customs and trade monitoring to help automate clients’ regulatory reporting.
As outlined in its submission, the bank is also seeking to add new functionality to its receivables finance and trade loans portals, including a new, intuitive client dashboard – a platform for facility monitoring, and client access to self-service reports and local data.
Citi’s clients will gain quicker insights for managing working capital and have the ability to act swiftly on emerging trends based on data analytics.
Best supply chain finance bank: Santander
When supporting large corporates with complex international supply chains, providers of working capital facilities have to combine a global approach – including technology scalable enough to handle huge volumes of invoices – with specialist local knowledge. At the same time, these offerings face growing pressure to embed environmental, social and governance (ESG) controls within supply chain finance programmes. This award for Santander recognises both its “strategic hybrid model”, which can be adapted to various kinds of corporates and currently settles around 60,000 invoices per day, and its steadfast commitment to ESG.
One programme that illustrates this combination is Santander Corporate & Investment Banking’s partnership with Tesco. A US$500mn facility agreed in 2021 saw Tesco become the first UK retailer to offer sustainability-linked supply chain finance to its supplier base, tracking suppliers’ progress in making positive changes to their business and providing incentives to those that do so. The programme has since been extended to 10 new buying entities with over €40bn annual spend, the bank says.
“Thanks to our ESG solutions team, our dedicated experts can assess and guide clients through the processes of ensuring the ESG angle is embedded across the whole value proposition,” it adds.
The award also recognises Santander’s commitment to digitisation. Santander’s digital platform allows automated reconciliation and host-to-host connections, and the bank has invested in big data and machine learning technology while also collaborating with fintechs to meet changing client demands. The bank says it attributes its “double-digit growth” in 2021 to these technological developments, adding that its buyer and supplier onboarding process is “one of the simplest and fastest in the industry”.
Best commodity trade finance bank: SMBC
During a period in which trade and commodity finance faced major upheaval, including the scaling back or refocusing of several influential lenders, this award recognises SMBC’s willingness to continue facilitating trade in commodities, from mid-sized specialist trading firms to globally-integrated trading houses. The bank also continues to support regional and global producers, as well as consumers of commodities.
During 2021, SMBC grew the size of its teams in every regional hub, and expanded its core functions, products and appetite for lending. The bank says it has also further widened the spectrum of sectors it supports, including within the energy, agri commodities and metals markets.
In part, this expansion has been bolstered by SMBC’s commitment to digitisation, including through collaboration with partners such as Marco Polo Network, Komgo and Contour. “Significant transaction volumes are being processed through these channels,” the bank says. In July 2021, SMBC became the first Japanese bank to join Contour’s beta network, and has also become a shareholder in Komgo.
At the same time, SMBC has prioritised sustainability in its commodity finance offering, taking on a sustainability coordinator role in core facilities for several clients.
For instance, the bank was a mandated lead arranger in a US$2.4bn sustainability-linked revolving credit facility and term loan for Trafigura, as well as a US$1.14bn LNG borrowing base facility for Gunvor that incorporates scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions data.
Best export finance bank: Standard Chartered
Standard Chartered has long been a pioneer in export finance in the complex markets of its unique footprint across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and 2021 was no exception.
Over the course of the year, the bank arranged over 27 export credit agency, multilateral and development finance institution supported transactions, amounting to a total of US$4.3bn. However, Standard Chartered’s winning performance was not just driven by the number of deals or the amount of the transactions, but the difference it made with the projects it financed.
A major industry development in 2021 was the May publication of the global loan market associations’ social loan principles (SLP) – a set of guidelines for lending that mitigates social issues and challenges or achieves positive social outcomes.
In response, Standard Chartered closed a number of transactions that were specifically structured to comply with the new guidance.
These included a €280mn Allianz Trade (formerly Euler Hermes)-backed finance agreement with the Ghanaian government to support the development of a highway corridor project, marking the first time a social loan had been structured not only in Ghana, but on the wider African continent.
The bank also carried out several deals that directly contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), including a US$1.1bn World Bank and Bpifrance Assurance Export-backed financing to improve access for over 2 million residents in the Angolan capital of Luanda to potable water service. The transaction, which was also selected as a GTR Best Deal, was a stand-out due to the sheer breadth of collaboration across a diverse mix of financing institutions, as well as being directly aligned with UN SDG 6, which relates to access to clean water.
Best trade finance bank: HSBC
HSBC continues to stand out from its trade finance competitors on a global scale. With thousands of trade experts across 56 markets, its local presence and global footprint enables it to facilitate an annual US$790bn of trade.
In 2021, through significant investment and collaboration with a broad stakeholder base of fintechs, other banks, industry specialists, regulators and governments, HSBC played a key role in the transformation of trade, simplifying the client journey and driving adoption of digitalisation.
But it is not just technology that makes HSBC a leader in its field.
It is also among industry frontrunners to incorporate sustainability in the entire range of trade solutions. Some examples include its revamp of the ground-breaking sustainable supply chain finance programme with Walmart to include science-based emissions reduction targets, the first social guarantee to support an affordable housing project in Bahrain, and a guarantee to support the electrification of Poland’s railway network.
Also deserving of a mention is the bank’s work to support the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out. In April last year, HSBC became the first bank to join the Asian Development Bank’s trade and supply chain finance programme’s US$500mn vaccine import facility, extending a 2020 US$1.2bn risk-sharing agreement to support PPE suppliers.
By injecting a further US$300mn into the vaccine ecosystem –from sourcing and manufacturing through to distribution – the bank supported the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines and related equipment.
These efforts helped supply chains in Asia scale up to deliver vaccines at the volume and pace necessary to put an end to the pandemic.