The Leaders in Trade awards highlight excellence in the trade, commodity, supply chain and export finance and fintech markets. The names listed under each category are based on submissions sent to GTR and, where relevant, Best Deals signed in 2017 were referenced as further substantiation.

GTR revealed the shortlist for the Leaders in Trade awards in February, and the winners were named at the GTR Charity Awards Dinner on April 26.


Regional awards

Nominees for best trade finance bank in Southern and East Africa:

Citi, Rand Merchant Bank, SMBC, Standard Bank

Winner: Rand Merchant Bank


Nominees for best trade finance bank in West Africa:

Access Bank UK, Crown Agents Bank, Ecobank Nigeria, FCMB Bank, Zenith Bank (UK)

Winner: Zenith Bank (UK)


Nominees for best trade finance bank in North America

Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citi

Winner: Citi


Nominees for best trade finance bank in Latin America:

Banorte, Santander

Winner: Santander


Nominees for best trade finance bank in East Asia and the Pacific:

HSBC, Mizuho, Standard Chartered

Winner: Mizuho


Nominees for best trade finance bank in South Asia:

Bank of Ceylon, SBI, Standard Chartered

Winner: SBI


Nominees for best trade finance bank in Nordic region:

Handelsbanken, Nordea

Winner: Nordea


Nominees for best trade finance bank in Eastern Europe:

Santander, UniCredit, VTB Bank

Winner: VTB Bank


Nominees for best trade finance bank in Western Europe:

Commerzbank, Crédit Agricole, Deutsche Bank, ING, Santander, UniCredit

Winner: Crédit Agricole


Nominees for best trade finance bank in the UK:

Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, NatWest, Santander

Winner: NatWest


Nominees for best trade finance bank in the Middle East and North Africa:

Arab Bank, Citi, FAB, Noor Bank, Standard Chartered

Winner: FAB


Global awards

Nominees for best trade credit and political risk insurance broker:

BPL Global, PIB, Texel

Winner: BPL Global


Nominees for best trade credit insurance underwriter:

Chaucer, Euler Hermes, XL Catlin

Winner: Euler Hermes


Nominees for best political risk insurance underwriter:

Chaucer, Euler Hermes, XL Catlin

Winner: Chaucer


Best development bank in trade:

Winner: Asian Development Bank


Best correspondent bank:

Winner: BNY Mellon


Nominees for financial institution that has made a significant contribution to sustainability:

Barclays, Commerzbank

Winner: Barclays


Best export credit agency:

Winner: UKEF


Nominees for best trade finance law firm:

Allen & Overy, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, Simmons & Simmons, Sullivan & Worcester

Winner: Allen & Overy


Nominees for best alternative trade finance provider:

Ebury, Falcon, LiquidX, London Forfaiting Company,

Winner: London Forfaiting Company


Nominees for best trade finance software provider:

Bolero, China Systems, CGI, GT Nexus, iGTB, PrimeRevenue, SureComp

Winner: China Systems


Nominees for best fintech disrupter:

LiquidX, TradeIX, Traydstream

Winner: TradeIX


Nominees for most innovative bank:

Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citi, Commerzbank, HSBC

Winner: HSBC


Nominees for best supply chain finance bank:
BNP Paribas, HSBC, Santander, UniCredit

Winner: BNP Paribas


Nominees for best commodity trade finance bank:

ING, Rabobank, Société Générale

Winner: ING


Nominees for best export finance bank:

BNP Paribas, SMBC, Standard Chartered

Winner: Standard Chartered


Nominees for best trade finance bank:

BNP Paribas, Citi, Crédit Agricole, HSBC, Standard Chartered

Winner: HSBC


Best trade finance bank in Southern & East Africa: Rand Merchant Bank

FirstRand Bank (operating through its Rand Merchant Bank and First National Bank divisions) is a first-time winner in this category.

The FirstRand group has an active presence in 12 African countries: South Africa (SA), Angola, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia. In the three largest markets of SA, Botswana and Namibia, the bank is either the market leader or close second by asset size and value in traditional trade instruments and throughout the region is the market acknowledged frontrunner in structured and commodity finance.

“A long history of deal and product innovation keeps the bank at the front of clients’ minds when complex trade solutions are needed and working capital provision requires credit and legal structuring,” the bank says.

Its SA base houses five trade finance operations hubs and is supported by a document checking facility in Mumbai. In 2017 the bank’s market share in SA increased by 2% in guarantees and 6% in letters of credit (LCs) – the biggest year-on-year growth of any bank in the SA market.

Technology remains a key pillar in FirstRand’s trade business and 2017 saw the successful launch of its new trade platform for guarantees and LCs, Finastra’s FusionBanking Trade Innovation, which the bank says is a culmination of a four-year project and its first step to digitising trade flows from client origination to final execution. The bank submitted a raft of impressive deals to underpin its submission, one of which was chosen by GTR as a Best Deal: the US$40mn end-to-end deal for India’s Afcons Infrastructure saw three RMB teams across as many countries working together to enable the financing of the Tema-Akosombo railway construction project in Ghana.


Best trade finance bank in West Africa: Zenith Bank (UK)

With a direct presence in four major countries in West Africa, namely Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, and Sierra Leone, and offices in international trade hubs, including the UK, Dubai, South Africa and China, Zenith Bank has both global reach and local market knowledge, which provides powerful leverage for its importing and exporting customers. Despite 2017 proving to be a difficult financial year for many, Zenith’s trade business remained strong with robust growth in all key areas requiring the processing of FX transactions, including letters of credit and bills for collection.

What’s more, at a time when many banks were de-risking and reducing their exposure to the region, Zenith did not see a reduction in any of its foreign credit lines. Instead, many correspondent banks enhanced their offered lines, which the bank interprets as a vote of confidence. “The volumes and value processed by the bank in 2017 gives us strong reason to believe that we hold the largest market share with regards to international trade going in and from West Africa,” the bank says.

In 2017 Zenith facilitated bespoke trade transactions in excess of US$750mn with the likes of Standard Bank, Credit Suisse, Afreximbank, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, SMBC and Standard Chartered.


Best trade finance bank in North America: Citi

Citi is among the world’s largest platform provider for trade and supply chain finance, making it a shoo in for a win in this category. Last year, the bank continued to innovate its supply chain finance offering and one of its primary developments was focused on evolving the supplier experience.

More specifically, Citi digitised and simplified the supplier onboarding process. It did so by bringing in new online tools such as the Citi supplier finance online registration and supplier resource centres. The bank tells GTR these initiatives had been part of a multi-faceted approach to not only streamline the onboarding process but to provide both clients and their suppliers with “enriched engagement and training tools to support the growth and success of their supplier finance programmes”.

According to Citi, the new tools have reduced supplier implementation time and improved the overall supplier experience. Additionally, clients now have access to an analytics dashboard allowing them to track and measure the performance of their initiatives. John Ahearn, global head of trade, Citi treasury and trade solutions, says of the win: “This recognition highlights the work we’ve done to digitise and streamline our processes.”


Best trade finance bank in Latin America: Santander

As one of the largest banks in Latin America, Santander has financed a great many trade finance deals of note – and 2017 was no exception. One of them – involving Banco Santander Mexico – was selected as a GTR Best Deal. The transaction involved Santander financing the manufacture of environmentally-friendly buses for import into Mexico City to the tune of Mex$418mn and Mex$478mn. The nine-year loan, guaranteed by UK Export Finance (UKEF), was particularly tricky to structure owing to the volatility of the Mexican peso. The deal was the first export credit agency transaction in the UK for Santander, the first cover in Mexican peso for UKEF, and a first-time ECA financing for the client, Alexander Dennis.

With over 50,000 employees in Latin America and a strong presence in the region’s economic hubs, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay, Santander has a “deep knowledge of the local regulatory and business environments, which – combined with access to international markets throughout the global Santander network – provides an unparalleled trade finance service to our clients”, the bank says.

It explains that this local/global combination is unique in Latin America as “the competition consists of local banks which don’t have a similar global network or global banks that don’t have such a strong local presence”.


Best trade finance bank in East Asia and the Pacific: Mizuho

Competition in East Asia and the Pacific is fierce: this is a highly-banked area, awash with liquidity. The low interest rate environment has challenged banks to innovate if they want to keep some skin in the game, and we recognise that Mizuho has been to the forefront of this in 2017.

The Japanese bank completed its first test blockchain transaction for trade finance in July last year. It worked with Marubeni Corporation and Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance to reduce transaction time for a trade between Japan and Australia to just two hours.

The bank is one of the most active in Asia’s commodity trade finance space. It was one of the lead banks on the innovative Trafigura securitisation last year, named as a Best Deal by GTR, and described by the trader as the first of its kind. At the time, Trafigura’s head of corporate finance, Laurent Christophe, told GTR that the work of the banks allowed Trafigura to “become a systemic issuer of notes backed by commodity inventories and seek long term financing in the asset-backed securities markets”. Mizuho acted as a mandated lead arranger in the US$1.6bn Heston PV prepayment facility for oil deliveries, with Vitol as the off-taker.

As the bank looks to push out geographically (for instance, it was involved in the US$6.25bn ECA-backed financing for the Kuwait National Petroleum Company last year), it is also growing its business outside the commodities and export finance space. It has added countries such as Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam to the coverage on its supply chain finance platform, which it is vigorously pushing out across the region.


Best trade finance bank in South Asia: SBI

India is one of the engines of growth in the Asian economy. While much of this is down to its sheer scale, the country has for a long time been a sleeping giant in trade terms. As part of an ambitious push to grow the country’s exports, Narendra Modi’s government introduced the general sales tax (GST), a move to simplify the tax code and boost trade, and implemented a series of initiatives to streamline customs.

The onus has also shifted to the banking sector to support these moves. With its large international presence and investment in technological advancements, State Bank of India (SBI) has been at the heart of this and one of the most important trade finance partners for Modi’s Make In India project.

Last year saw SBI add desks to facilitate trade between India, Japan and South Korea. SBI was keenly involved in the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Business Council, established to address the trade-related issues between the two markets. It has opened a new branch in the Maldives, while a representative office in Myanmar became a fully-fledged branch as a means of supporting those trade links. These are added to presence already in trade hubs such as China, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia. In summary, SBI is the best networked Indian bank in Asia, while around the world it has 35 offices – the largest presence among Indian banks.

Recent months have put a cloud over India’s trade finance sector, after the Punjab National Bank fraud exposed an underinvestment in systems and poor risk management. SBI has been building its capabilities in this space in order to avoid similar scenarios. The investments include the implentation of a “robust e-trade solution” across foreign offices, a domestic system to monitor AML activity, and an Accuity screening solution for trade-based money laundering.


Best trade finance bank in Nordic region: Nordea

2017 was another exciting year for Nordea’s trade finance team as it continued to advance its digital agenda. Throughout the year Nordea focused on pushing for greater digitalisation by driving distributed ledger technology: already a member of the R3 consortium, it recently joined the consortium as a founding partner.

It has also been promoting standardisation, becoming the first Nordic bank to digitalise Swift’s MT798 messaging – first announced in late 2016 and now in full effect. Nordea was also the first to enact Swift’s FileAct initiative within trade finance across the Nordic region. “With FileAct our customers can send trade documents and images over Swift, ensuring that Nordea’s digitised trade finance documents are secure, transparent, reliable and easy to integrate,” the bank says.

The bank also continues to support and improve Trade Finance Global (TFG), its IT system for effective back-end operation and user-friendly front-end customer applications. “In late 2017 we upgraded TFG to include global handling which enables our global customers to have a single point of entry for all of their transactions. Other upgrades include the addition of automatic guarantees, improving the reporting functionality, and adding an option for two-way communication,” the bank explains. 2017 also saw the rise of the Nordea Trade Portal, a place for business owners to explore new opportunities and find vital information on expanding into international markets. Finally, the bank made a key hire early in the year, appointing Patrik Zekkar as the new global head of trade and working capital management sales.


Best trade finance bank in Eastern Europe: VTB Bank

The Russian state-owned VTB Bank is gaining ever greater significance as one of the largest banks in the region – not least in the field of trade finance. In 2017, VTB carried out more than 800 transactions in trade and export finance, involving 50 countries. The financier tells GTR that the volume of new international deals in this space exceeded R200bn (US$3.3bn) last year – more than triple that of 2016.

These cross-border trade deals are in key sectors of the economy, including oil and gas, transport, machine engineering, chemicals and metals, to name but a few. As fundamental as the bank is to Russia’s energy industry, last year VTB also took part in a truly unique deal: the debut Sace-backed financing of Boeing aircraft. Acting as the lender to Turkish airline SunExpress, VTB’s Vienna branch was able to finance the first non-US Exim agreement for Boeing in over a decade – a clear stand-out as one of GTR’s Best Deals.

Going forward, VTB sees China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a great opportunity, and is well-positioned to help with local expertise in these markets. Richard Orcel, deputy CEO of VTB Group and head of VTB International, told GTR in an exclusive interview in January how the bank has pumped greater resources into its Hong Kong and Shanghai branches in line with Russia’s “pivot to the East”. “We are the only Russian bank with a financial license to conduct banking operations in China and we are already a dominant player in the interbank ruble/Renminbi forex market and other cross-border commercial banking services.”


Best trade finance bank in Western Europe: Crédit Agricole

This Paris-headquartered bank won because of its first-rate trade finance programmes both nationally and globally.

As reported in GTR’s Q2 publication, Crédit Agricole was involved in two of the Best Deals last year: the first being a landmark arrangement for clean fuels in Kuwait. As a mandated lead arranger, Crédit Agricole enabled Kuwait National Petroleum Company to expand and upgrade two of its existing refineries. With a price tag of US$6.25bn, the package is particularly noteworthy as it is the largest ever ECA-backed corporate-level facility to date.

The second Best Deal transaction was for a floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility in Mozambique – an LNG production process described by the participants in the deal as “pioneering” and a “symbol of engineering expertise”. It marked the first project financing ever arranged for a FLNG facility and was one of the largest project finance infrastructure deals closed worldwide in 2017.

Last year also saw Crédit Agricole implement a groundbreaking ‘green capital’ transaction. It involved the bank transferring the risk of US$3bn-worth of project and object finance loans to Mariner Investment Group through a green capital note – a model which aims to blend best practices from capital management with the objectives of socially responsible investing. As part of the transaction, Crédit Agricole committed to using US$2bn of the US$3bn of freed-up regulatory capital for new lending in green sectors, including renewable energy, energy efficiency loans for commercial real estate renovation, public transportation, and sustainable waste and water treatment facilities.


Best trade finance bank UK: NatWest

Despite tough competition, NatWest was the frontrunner for best trade finance bank in the UK for the second consecutive year.

In 2016, NatWest set out to help 15,000 UK businesses export and/or enter overseas markets by 2020. The bank says it is now on track to substantially exceed this target, with around 2,200 customers becoming first-time exporters every quarter.

“NatWest is committed to boosting trade not only within the UK, but also by helping our customers thrive on the international stage,” Alison Rose, CEO of commercial and private banking at NatWest, tells GTR. “Whilst our trade finance solutions are well-established, we continually innovate and focus on ensuring that UK businesses have access to the funding and support they need.” The bank continues to be a strong supporter of UK SMEs: in 2017 it managed to increase total available supply chain finance lines by 20% compared with 2016.

Since 2011, the bank has helped facilitate over £1.45bn of export contracts with UK Export Finance (UKEF). In 2017 NatWest played a notable role in UKEF’s ‘delegation authority initiative’ and ‘enhanced short-term’ schemes. These changes streamlined the application process, shortened approval timescales and extended working capital access to companies who supply exporters. NatWest also authored the accompanying operational scheme handbook on behalf of UKEF – making use of the bank’s dedicated government schemes team.

The bank demonstrated that technology is a top priority too: as a founding member of the R3 consortium, NatWest has been involved in developing blockchain-based solutions in trade finance including the Voltron and Marco Polo projects. Moreover, through its 13 national ‘entrepreneurial spark’ accelerator hubs, NatWest has instructed UK business professionals on the potential benefits of cross-border trade through presentations, roundtables and forums.


Best trade finance bank in the Middle East & North Africa: First Abu Dhabi Bank

For First Abu Dhabi Bank, 2017 was a year of significant progress in its integration journey: the merger between National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank was legally completed in April, and the group has since realised the harmonisation of the two banks’ organisational structures, operating models, policies and risk frameworks.

The merger has left FAB as a market leader in trade finance, with one of the largest global networks among Middle East banks. This, along with its commitment to continue to grow its trade finance products and technology, is what led GTR to award FAB as a leader in trade. The bank has invested more than US$20mn in trade finance technology in 2016/17, and in October it appointed its first group chief customer experience and digital officer to look after the enterprise alignment of FAB’s digital services.

With an already successful web portal for cash management and trade services as well as its supply chains finance portal (launched in 2015 and 2016 respectively), FAB is now looking at further initiatives to digitise and streamline trade finance. For example, it is building a blockchain-powered multibank trade finance platform for UAE banks, while also working on incorporating electronic bills of lading into its existing corporate banking portals.


Best trade credit and political risk insurance broker: BPL Global

2017 was a year of expansion for BPL Global: the firm formed a joint venture with its US affiliate EIA Global to open a representative office in New York, and upgraded its Dubai office to a full broking operation licensed by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DIFC). This means it can now act directly for clients on transactions as well as place business within the DIFC.

“This completes the final leg in expanding our services to every major hub in the international credit and political risk insurance (CPRI) market – all with the aim to better serve our global clients across all continents in which they operate, in conjunction with our well-established offices in London, Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore,” the broker explains. To support this growth, BPL Global made a number of hires, including CPRI expert Emma Ashworth as a director, and now has a global headcount of over 90 employees – the largest team dedicated to CPRI in the market.

In 2018, the firm celebrates 35 years in operation. With an annual premium volume of about US$400mn, a market share of close to 20% and clients that include multinational financial institutions, corporate investors, commodity traders and exporters in over 85 countries, BPL Global is a clear market leader, well deserving of this GTR accolade.


Best trade credit insurance underwriter: Euler Hermes

The sheer size of Euler Hermes’ credit insurance business made it an obvious contender for a GTR Leaders in Trade award: the company has global exposures of more than €883bn, is present in more than 50 countries and employs 5,800 industry experts worldwide. And in the case of trade credit insurance, scale enhances quality: Euler Hermes’ database tracks and monitors companies from SMEs to multinationals across the world, converting this information into valuable risk intelligence that gives it the confidence to increase capacity throughout the world. It also transforms this wealth of data into an easy-to-use “traffic light report” for its customers, where more risky buyers are highlighted in red and less risky buyers are represented in green.

To ensure the quality of the data collected, Euler Hermes has allocated the responsibility of managing debtors’ information to individual business units in each country. Each unit makes credit decisions and carries out risk monitoring on behalf of all the insured parties throughout the group, and this also applies to the recovery of unpaid trade receivables in their countries. Last year, the insurer responded to corporate feedback that found trade credit insurance too complicated and administratively heavy by launching a corporate advantage product designed for “straightforward” and “optimised management”, with a clear policy structure and wording.

Euler Hermes has also been at the forefront of the digitisation of the sector, with the launch of the Euler Hermes Digital Agency (EHDA), which recently introduced Credable, a fully digital insurance platform for SMEs, making it a true market innovator.


Best political risk insurance underwriter: Chaucer

Last year, Chaucer showed the strength of its expertise by responding to emerging political risks with a number of new ventures. First, it partnered with security expert Northcott Global Solutions (NGS) to support clients in emergency situations abroad. “NGS provides unparalleled expertise and knowledge to help companies understand and respond to the risks involved in doing business abroad,” explains Chaucer.

Additionally, it launched a Dublin-based insurance company to offer clients a choice between Dublin and London paper for their business, helping them curtail Brexit-related risks. 2017 also saw the opening of a representative office in Dubai, bringing Chaucer’s political risk solutions to brokers in the Middle East and North Africa. Additionally, the firm enhanced its partnership with AXA in Africa, providing clients with a one-stop shop that combines Chaucer’s expertise and knowledge with the AXA ASR brand presence and distribution.

“Our aim is to be one of the foremost political risk teams in the London market, with a willing appetite, an ability to provide commercial and competitive solutions to client problems, robust wordings, and to settle claims fairly and efficiently. Integral to our service are our claims experts who, working in partnership with our underwriters, continued to lead diligent negotiation and settlement. Always on the front foot for clients, our claims experts ensure a first-class claims service from initial advice, through negotiation and settlement to recovery actions,” says Chaucer.


Best development bank in trade: Asian Development Bank

Almost 60% of the world’s people live in Asia. By virtue of its huge population, but also the entrepreneurial spirit present in many of the nations (not to mention the amount of natural resources), it is easily the world’s most dynamic trading region. Yet, 40% of the world’s trade finance gap also comes from developing Asia.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) each year updates us on the funding gap, but also perennially impresses with the work it does to help fill it. It is continually increasing its scope geographically (2017 saw it provide the first trade loan, along with the first forex and structured export finance transactions for Samoa).

It is also frequently broadening its coverage. Conceived as an infrastructure bank when it first launched in the ‘60s, the ADB has morphed into a hybrid model and an important financier of trade. Its trade finance programme supported deals last year valued at US$4.5bn, a rise of 43% on 2016. However, with the ADB acknowledging that this is making but a minor dent in the trade finance gap, the lender launched a supply chain finance programme, which it is now looking to expand to the likes of Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Recent news that the ADB is experimenting with blockchain and machine learning as a means of improving its supply chain offering shows that despite being well-established, it is a bank that moves with the times, and one which is embracing the innovation available to meet the challenges the industry faces.


Best correspondent bank: BNY Mellon

For years now, correspondent banking relationships have borne the brunt of the increased regulatory costs plaguing the financial sector’s global expansion. In this context, BNY Mellon’s continued global reach is a great achievement. The bank saw substantial growth in Asia in 2017 – particularly in trade finance and traditional export-driven services – as well as in Latin America, with trans-Pacific flows growing strongly. But the bank deepened relationships across all regions by leveraging its technological solutions to support trade. In fact, in 2017, it launched its Trade360 platform, a data analytics programme that extracts and harnesses trade data and trends from internal BNY Mellon systems to quickly and effectively identify opportunities that could add value to clients.

In order to reduce risk and costs, the bank also uses robotic process automation (RPA), a tool that can quickly and accurately scan documents, making document processing more efficient. “Humans take approximately five to 10 minutes to reconcile a failed trade; it takes an RPA bot 0.25 seconds. RPA has subsequently resulted in an average 88% improvement in processing time,” explains the bank in a recent report on innovation.

As an industry leader, BNY Mellon has also been at the forefront of conversations regarding the distribution of trade assets – a solution that would help curtail the decline in correspondent banking relationships. It foresees potential partnerships with fintech companies in coming years.


FI that has made a significant contribution to sustainability: Barclays

While the world’s financial institutions are increasingly focusing on sustainability, there is still a long way to go before green finance becomes mainstream. Barclays’ submission this year thus stood out for bringing its green ambitions into tangible actions in 2017. In November, it became the first bank in the UK to issue a green bond, raising €500mn to fund domestic assets. This was followed by the launch of green finance products to help its clients pursue more sustainable projects across the world.

The efforts look to be continuing in 2018: in early May, Barclays extended its green offering with a ‘green trade’ working capital product, specifically aimed at supporting companies involved in cross-border sustainable trade, either through direct financing or in the form of green supply chain finance. The new product will fund projects that promote energy efficiency, eco-friendly transport, waste management, renewable energy, sustainable food, agriculture and forestry, and sustainable water management.

But that’s not all. Barclays has also taken on an active role in providing other types of support to the businesses behind these efforts. Last year the bank brought to life its ‘unreasonable impact’ initiative, driven by a partnership with the Unreasonable Group, which involves hosting accelerators that help scale entrepreneurial solutions which tackle environmental and social challenges – be it unemployment, healthcare, energy emissions, waste management or sustainable agriculture – while creating jobs.

The project has already supported the creation of more than 6,500 jobs in Asia, according to Barclays, with many more programmes set to continue around the world in 2018.


Best export credit agency: UKEF

With Brexit on the horizon, no export credit agency (ECA) has had a taller order than UK Export Finance (UKEF).

Following the creation of a UK cabinet-level post responsible for trade in 2017, trade has continued to dominate the UK’s national agenda. UKEF is now fully integrated into the government’s trade promotion strategy and operations of the department for international trade, resulting in a growing national profile and impact. 2017 was a pivotal year for the UK’s export credit agency: amongst its many achievements it doubled its market limit for more than 100 countries and it expanded its range of pre-approved local currencies in which it is able to provide support, bringing the total to 62.

As part of this expanded offering, UKEF provided a guarantee for a Mex$1bn loan from Santander to Mexico City’s Metrobus – the first time it has provided cover in the Mexican peso. Selected as a GTR Best Deal, this guarantee backed the export of 90 red double-decker buses manufactured by Scotland-based Alexander Dennis. Additionally, the ECA provided its largest-ever loan to an African government under its direct lending facility: the €270mn facility for the Ugandan government will help finance construction of an international airport, to be undertaken by the UK arm of infrastructure firm Colas.

Amid Brexit negotiations, UKEF also continued to forge pathways for smaller UK exporters: the agency rolled out its new distribution model for trade finance products, partnering with five major banks to allow them to provide UKEF support of up to £2mn directly to borrowers.


Best trade finance law firm: Allen & Overy

The Allen & Overy trade and commodity finance (TCF) team has been engaged in some of the most-talked about deals in the market – not to mention a large portion of GTR’s Best Deals signed in 2017.

In the current challenging geopolitical context, and faced with increased regulatory burden, Allen & Overy’s TCF team says that it has seen a continuing trend of flight to quality from its top-tier banking clients, which are approaching the firm for deals entering complex restructuring or for advice in areas where they would traditionally use in-house legal teams or mid-tier law firms. “We have continued to act on a number of restructurings and litigations in the trade and commodity finance space this year,” the firm says. “We are sought after to act on the most complex TCF distress situations due to our in-depth product and sector expertise combined with our world-class restructuring and litigation practice.”

The team’s practice covers all aspects of TCF, from bilateral trade and receivables financings, advice on UCP in relation to letters of credit, through to the most complex trade financing restructurings seen in the market.

It is also extremely active in supply chain financing and trade risk distribution, currently the key growth area in the TCF sphere. Highlights in 2017 include being mandated by a leading bank to set up its debut trade risk distribution programme and developing innovative new investor product solutions for an existing player in the market.


Best alternative trade finance provider: London Forfaiting Company

Since its inception in 1984, London Forfaiting Company (LFC) has been influential in the development of the forfaiting market, committing significant resources to the development, structuring and introduction of both primary and secondary market transactions.

During 2017, LFC continued to expand its products, geographies and resources to maintain its position as a market leader in the trade finance industry. “Whilst 2017 created challenges for business growth, due to margin compression and high levels of secondary market liquidity, we further developed our country coverage and risk framework to ensure that we were able to effectively meet our clients financing requirements and to provide them with competitive pricing,” says CEO Simon Lay.

He names LFC’s highlights over the last year as being: the addition of loan credit default swaps and football-related financing to its product suite; further development of UK Export Finance capabilities, and supporting clients in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2017, LFC purchased transactions for its asset portfolio totalling almost US$500mn, this incorporated approximately 40 different countries, primarily in emerging market risks.


Best trade finance software provider: China Systems

Among all the fintech talk and good intentions, the best trade finance software provider is awarded to a player that – over the decades – has shown an ability to expand and deliver on its commitments.

This continued in 2017, a year in which China Systems’ products, Eximbills Enterprise and Customer Enterprise, secured major wins. Eximbills Enterprise, the firm’s flagship product, is an integrated system that automates and audits the complete cycle of trade finance, open account and payment transactions. Throughout the year the vendor attracted a range of new customers, many of them in the Middle East, including Gulf International Bank, Riyad Bank, Burgan Bank of Kuwait and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank.

It also expanded its reach in South Africa, helping Nedbank build its new global enterprise portal and back-end system to deliver operational efficiencies, enhance risk management controls and improve customer experience. Nedbank was able to go live on import and export trade finance products in just five months, which China Systems has referred to as “record implementation time”.

Other new business included Mizuho, Bank Mandiri Indonesia, Intesa Sanpaolo and Persia Bank UK, bringing China Systems’ full customer base to more than 150 banks in 75 countries worldwide. This number includes some of the biggest players in the trade finance space, including Bank of China, State Bank of India, Al Rajhi, Standard Bank, Emirates NBD, Ecobank and Svenska Handelsbanken.


Best fintech disrupter: TradeIX

2017 saw the emergence of countless new blockchain companies, but one stood out for its dedication to the specific needs of the trade finance industry. Early in the year, TradeIX launched TIX, the world’s first trade finance-specific open-source blockchain platform, which allows financial institutions to develop their own trade finance applications with open APIs.

The launch was followed by a number of partnerships that the fintech firm embarked on to help industry players bring the technology to real life application. This included TradeIX completing its first successful invoice finance transaction, powered by its platform, together with insurer AIG, Standard Chartered and DHL.

Of particular significance, TradeIX also partnered with software firm R3 to launch one of the largest trade finance consortia to date. Under the name Marco Polo, the initiative focuses on open account trade, aiming to enable real-time connectivity between trade participants, improve visibility into trade flows and simplify access to credit and risk mitigation services throughout the trade lifecycle.

For this, TradeIX delivered the proof of concept in less than 90 days, enabling the consortium to kick off pilots in February this year. The project now includes 10 banks, including the likes of ING, Commerzbank, BNP Paribas, RBS, Natixis, Standard Chartered and SMBC, which are currently working with corporates and other trade finance players on an initial roll-out of the system into production.


Most innovative bank: HSBC

It’s an exciting time for the trade finance industry when the world’s largest banks are throwing their hat in the ring to be the most innovative of the lot. One bank stood out for taking the lead in implementing technology partnerships in particular.

If you have followed GTR’s fintech reporting over the last year, you will have noticed it has been a busy time for HSBC’s innovation teams. In August, for example, the bank entered a partnership with IBM to develop a cognitive intelligence solution, combining optical character recognition and advanced robotics to automate and digitise trade finance documentation. The solution is already in use in Hong Kong and the UAE.

This was following by HSBC’s introduction of a matched electronic purchase order financing solution, developed by Bolero, to help improve working capital management for its clients. The bank also teamed up with technology-driven commerce platforms like GT Nexus and Tradeshift, which have seen the firms integrate supply chain financing capabilities into their platforms.

Finally, HSBC has immersed itself in the age of blockchain, engaging with both R3 and IBM to explore and implement this technology. In early 2017, the bank entered what is today known as the consortium, which is set to be made available to SME clients in the summer of 2018.

Meanwhile, HSBC is also part of R3’s Voltron project to develop a blockchain-powered solution for the processing of sight letters of credit, which led to the bank conducting its first live, commercial trade finance transaction on blockchain in May this year. We are looking forward to seeing what new partnerships, initiatives and further innovations the bank will bring in 2018.


Best supply chain finance bank: BNP Paribas

BNP Paribas has been a leader in supply chain management (SCM) for years, with a wide range of innovative solutions to increase liquidity, manage risk and optimise working capital management.

The bank has supply chain experts in Emea, the Americas and Asia, as well as dedicated team members in its 100 trade centres in over 60 countries. It has made significant investments to its Connexis platform – a 24/7 system designed to be multi-language, multi-currency, user-friendly and flexible with no need for software installation – since 2010, and seen consistent growth in its SCM volume over time. It now works with over 40,000 corporates across all industries worldwide, having developed enough expertise to customise strategies and solutions to optimise working capital.

But what really made it stand out in the annual GTR Leaders in Trade awards was its commitment to sustainability and innovation. BNP Paribas’ sustainable supplier financing programme, which provides clear incentives and concrete financial means for suppliers to invest in responsible and environmentally-friendly production practices, is a groundbreaking tool on the way to a more sustainable global trade sector.

The bank is also an active member of the R3 consortium, which aims to develop the use of distributed ledger technology in banking – technology that is expected to revolutionise supply chain finance. Last year, BNP also teamed up with Tungsten Network to offer receivables purchase and supply chain finance to large corporates in the US and Canada through its e-invoicing platform.


Best commodity finance bank: ING

With a client portfolio which includes the world’s largest commodity traders – think Vitol, Glencore, Gunvor and many others – ING is a clear frontrunner in the commodity sector. But it was its 2017 deals that were particularly attention-grabbing.

Last year the bank arranged a number of outstanding transactions, including a US$120mn facility to fund the acquisition of a Macedonian zinc and lead mine by copper producer Central Asia Metals, which required extensive structuring due to complex Kazakh laws and a simultaneous equity issue.

“The unique transaction allowed ING to show its commitment to the sector as well as its true lead lending capabilities by having structured as well as seamlessly executed a highly complex transaction across multiple locations and different jurisdictions,” the bank says.

ING’s broad range of commodity services include pre-export finance, transactional finance, borrowing base financing, structured inventory products, revolving credit facilities and term loans for companies engaged in the production, sourcing, processing, trading, distribution and logistical handling of commodities. And while the bank established its commodity finance business in the 1980s, it continues to strive to improve its services and the state of the sector overall.

Another reason ING stood out last year was its participation in the blockchain-enabled Easy Trading Connect prototype as a founding member. The consortium is developing a real-time blockchain-based digital platform to manage physical energy transactions from trade to final settlement, a much-needed innovation in the commodity sector.


Best export finance bank: Standard Chartered

The list of Standard Chartered’s export finance-related achievements in 2017 is a long one. Among other successes, the bank was involved in two of the largest export credit agency (ECA)-backed transactions in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, winning a GTR Best Deal award for the US$6.25bn facility for the Kuwait National Petroleum Company’s clean fuels project. It also closed the largest direct lending facility provided to date by UK Export Finance and led the first Export Development Canada-backed financing for the government of Cameroon. It worked particularly closely with Miga, helping it arrange numerous project finance loans in the Bangladesh power sector as well as the first Miga-supported cross-currency swap in South Africa.

In another outstanding transaction, the bank signed a US$700mn IBRD-backed deal with the Pakistan ministry of finance for the import of commodities and capital goods, which is in the process of being partially converted into a murabaha structure – becoming the first World Bank/IBRD sharia-compliant loan.

For years, Standard Chartered has nurtured its relationships with all major OECD and Asian ECAs, multilateral agencies and development finance institutions, assigning a point person for each agency in its core deal team. This allows it to consistently arrange complex and innovative transactions for its clients across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Over the past three years, the bank has delivered over US$10bn of agency-supported financings.


Best global trade finance bank: HSBC

As the world’s largest trade bank, HSBC provides unrivalled coverage to its clients. The bank processed US$500bn in trade last year, providing access to 90% of global trade flows, through the 6,000 trade experts it employs. A survey of more than 1,000 CFOs and corporate treasurers by East & Partners shows that HSBC, in what is considered its home market, Asia Pacific, leads the field in both primary trade finance market share and wallet share. The bank is synonymous with trade finance and continues to be dominant in the market.

As the old adage about size goes, however, it’s what you do with it that counts. You can read elsewhere in this issue about HSBC’s adventures with blockchain and dalliances with machine learning: the bank is to the forefront of the industry’s fintech revolution. But as arguably the most influential player in the sector, it is great to see the bank also shoulder some responsibility on sustainability.

In April, it announced that it would stop financing coal-fired power stations, as well as oil sands and Arctic offshore drilling projects. It will phase out coal funding for Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam within five years. Furthermore, it was among the lenders on Asia’s first sustainability-linked club loan, a US$500mn revolving credit facility for agri trading house Olam.

Demonstrating further its sustainable chops, HSBC is the first and only bank participating in the establishment of the Apparel Impact Institute – an industry collaboration with a mission to work with apparel industry participants to fund sustainability improvement projects. Access to the outputs will allow HSBC to embed sustainability metrics into supply chain financing solutions.