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.
In keeping with the industry’s transition to a ‘new normal’ and the fact that we are living through very different – and challenging – times as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the GTR team introduced new categories for this year’s Leaders in Trade awards, open to all institutions engaged in the financing of cross-border trade:
How has your trade finance business supported sustainability (either the institution’s own efforts, or those of your client/s)?
How has your trade finance business supported digitalisation (either the institution’s own efforts, or those of your client/s)?
How has your trade finance business created, or supported, innovation?
How has your trade finance business remained resilient – or achieved success?
What necessary and/or innovative trade finance pandemic support measures have you rolled out to your client/s?
How has your trade finance business supported diversity and inclusion in the workplace (either your own, or that of your client/s)?
Judging is based on submissions sent to GTR that outline institutions’ greatest achievements throughout the course of 2020 as related to these specific categories**.
Congratulations to the winners!
*Given that, disappointingly, just two submissions across the entire global market were received for this category, the GTR editorial team decided not to award any winners.
**In some cases, where entries overlap with Best Deals signed in 2020, the GTR team also draws on those transactions.
Bank: Bank of America
With a solid performance that went beyond the ‘E’ in ESG to tackle societal and governance issues too, Bank of America was a standout choice in the sustainability category.
In 2007, Bank of America was the first of the major US banks to announce an environmental business initiative – a US$20bn commitment to address climate change through the financing of a wide range of energy efficiency, renewable energy and other low-carbon projects. This commitment was met four years ahead of schedule, and has since been renewed twice, with the bank pledging overall to deploy more than US$445bn in capital by 2030 to support low-carbon sustainable business activities.
However, Bank of America’s sustainability activities are not solely focused on the environment. Of particular note in the bank’s submission is its support for clients looking to reshape their global supply chains, including working more with suppliers who meet their standards in sustainability.
Leveraging part of the proceeds of its US$2bn Equality Progress Sustainability bond (EPSB), 2020 saw the bank deepen its sustainable supply chain finance commitment by extending the criteria to include minority-owned business enterprises in the US – marking the first time a bank has used an ESG-themed security to advance racial equality, economic opportunity and environmental sustainability.
Fintech: Pole Star
Maritime transport emits around 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually and is responsible for approximately 2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization, a UN agency responsible for regulating shipping. Without swift mitigation measures, under a business-as-usual scenario shipping emissions could increase between 50% and 250% by 2050, undermining the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Maritime technology company Pole Star’s 2020 partnership with carbon accounting solutions provider CarbonChain seeks to tackle this – and the innovative thinking involved in leveraging a sanctions screening system to track the environmental impact of shipping made this an obvious winner for this category.
The partnership brings together CarbonChain’s emissions calculation tool, which uses metrics such as fuel consumption, cargo weight and voyage distance to measure the environmental impact of over 55,000 vessels, and Pole Star’s PurpleTRAC platform, which enables users to screen and track vessels, and their associated ownership and management, creating a one-stop view of a vessel’s sanctions exposure as well as its environmental risk data.
This means that companies can easily measure their GHG emissions, and incorporate this data into their financial reporting and sustainable trade finance programmes, so that those involved in a trade transaction can now choose the most sustainable and environmentally friendly option, and be rewarded with lower costs for doing so.
Insurance sector: Marsh JLT
The sheer breadth of support provided by Marsh JLT to enable the transition to a sustainable future both for clients and the wider commercial ecosystem was what landed it this year’s award.
As banks and corporates seek to do the right thing as well as meet growing customer demand for practices that integrate environmental, social and governance considerations, a lack of standards around what represents an ESG-compliant activity is a key problem, which Marsh has been keen to solve.
Of note, Marsh worked to help shape the regulatory recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and support financial institutions in their implementation of increasing regulation around sustainability. It then delivered the first climate-linked credit analytics suite with Standard & Poor’s.
Another interesting workstream is Marsh’s ESG index. Developed in conjunction with insurers and corporates, it enables the objective and consistent measurement of sustainability at the individual asset level, supporting insurers to leverage their asset profile to enable transition.
To round this off, the firm also implemented a sustainability-linked memorandum of understanding with a number of insurers to ensure that clients who are engaged in sustainable activity are supported by similarly minded insurers.
Export credit agency: EKN
At a time when export credit agencies (ECAs) are under fire for continuing to support fossil fuel industries despite the clear environmental imperative to transition towards renewable energy, EKN’s restrictive approach to projects with a high negative climate impact makes it a clear leader in the sustainability space, and this year’s winner in this category.
The Swedish ECA assesses sustainability risk in all transactions, measuring the impact on the environment, people and society regardless of the size of the transaction, credit period and type of guarantee.
Not only has EKN ceased to guarantee Swedish exports for new oil and gas extraction projects, but it also does not provide guarantees to the entire coal value chain – extraction, transportation and coal-fired power plants.
In 2020, the ECA rejected three applications for the export of equipment to a new liquid natural gas (LNG) extraction project due to high GHG emissions from the project and lack of transition plans. It also rejected an application regarding the export of equipment for a new oil extraction project for the same reasons.
What’s more, as of January 1 this year, EKN will no longer guarantee payment risk in transactions involving trucks, excavators and other equipment to dealers with customers whose activities include the extraction and transportation of coal.
Bank: DBS Bank
A well-established leader in digital transformation, and with a number of key investment and performance highlights in digital trade over the course of 2020, DBS Bank stood out as a clear winner in this category.
As outlined in its submission to GTR, the bank’s digital transformation programme encompasses five core elements, which it describes as: “Being digital to the core and operating like a big tech firm; embracing journey thinking; effecting cultural change by adopting a start-up mindset firm-wide; being data-driven; and driving digital value capture, in so doing being the first bank in the world to measure and capture the impact of our digital initiatives on our bottom line.”
DBS’ submission also calls attention to its significant investments in the digitalisation of its core proprietary trade channels; the development of what it says is the world’s largest corporate banking and trade API catalogue; and the formation of leading trade digital third-party partnerships – all of which have underwritten its success as a top digital bank.
In 2020, among its many highlights, DBS completed the first trade finance transaction on Singapore’s Networked Trade Platform, allowing the submission and exchange of trade documents online.
Together with Standard Chartered and Enterprise Singapore, it also took the lead on the launch of a new digital trade finance registry, a market-shaping industry effort to tackle fraud risks and tighten commodity trade finance processes. Elsewhere, the bank collaborated with Alibaba to enable trade payment services to SMEs, becoming one of the first banks on AntChain’s newly launched blockchain platform to democratise digital trade access.
Other notable achievements throughout 2020 include: launching digital letters of credit (LCs) via blockchain – facilitating numerous digital LC issuances, including the first renminbi LC and end-to-end secured LC on the Contour platform; driving supplier financing through settlement with notes, a derivative of supplier financing as part of its growing partnerships with fintechs; and deploying intelligence process automation, resulting in a material reduction of manual touchpoints involved in the processing of purchase and sales invoice financing.
The bank also continued to power digital trade solutions through its real-time API, DBS Rapid, adding more than 50 new trade APIs to connect with clients’ internal systems. It furthermore digitalised document submissions with DBS DigiDocs, allowing its clients to submit trade financing requests and upload supporting documents and regulatory forms online, connected via API and powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
“Over 2020, our responsiveness in crisis, strategic partnerships and digital leadership has led to one of our best years on record for our trade and supply chain business,” it says.
Blockchain inter-bank project Contour left beta in October last year, bringing the decentralised, digital trade finance platform into full live production.
The Singapore-based fintech aims to transform global trade by digitising trade finance solutions with distributed ledger technology (DLT) and building a network of trade banks and corporates.
Contour started life as Voltron – a prototype trade finance application built on R3’s Corda platform in mid-2017. Launched a year later at Sibos in Sydney, it then underwent an extensive period of testing by over 80 banks and corporates, with trials in 17 countries and transactions spanning commodities, petrochemicals, energy, metals, retail goods and textiles, before going into commercial beta as a standalone legal entity at the beginning of 2020.
In just 10 months, Contour progressed from beta to production, in doing so meeting its internal targets and delivery timeline.
With its digital LC now live, Contour is currently focused on optimising traditional documentary trade finance products, and in future plans to create digitally native trade solutions, thereby fundamentally transforming the way trade is conducted.
Contour has seen a rapid expansion of its member network, from eight banks in January 2020 to 27 banks and 57 corporates as of November 2020.
Over 20 live transactions have successfully been completed on the platform, including one between Rio Tinto and Baosteel – the world’s first end-to-end digital iron ore trade denominated in renminbi. Other notable transactions include facilitating the first blockchain LC in Bangladesh for Viyellatex Ltd and Viyellatex Spinning, and the first blockchain LC in Mexico for Grupo Charly and Charly HK.
In September, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) completed its first credit guarantee transaction using DLT through its trade and supply chain finance programme, which was conducted over the Contour network and involved a US$50,000 shipment of plastics from Thailand’s SCG Plastics Co Ltd to Vietnam’s Opec Plastics Joint Stock Company. It marked the first cross-bank LC between Vietnam and Thailand completed using a blockchain platform.
Throughout 2020 Contour embarked on a number of strategic partnerships to ensure seamless integration with its members’ systems and trade processes, including with the likes of Wave BL, TradeSun, CargoX, Mphasis, essDocs, Bolero, IntellectEU, Chinsay and TradeCloud.
Topping off a successful year, the platform has grown its team. “We started with a headcount of two from January to April 2020; we’re currently 24 and expanding,” it says.
Bank: Standard Chartered
Standard Chartered’s victory in this category is based on its bespoke approach to financing cross-border trade. According to the submission from the bank’s export finance business, “not a single transaction is a plain vanilla export finance transaction”, and when structuring complex deals in challenging markets the ability to innovate is vital.
One of the main ways the bank continually innovates in its product offering is in facilitating support from export credit agencies (ECAs) and guarantee schemes. During the last year, it arranged the first World Bank-covered transaction in Turkey – a €380mn facility to Turk Eximbank backed by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – and the first ICIEC-backed Islamic finance transaction, a €144mn loan to the government of Senegal.
It also arranged the first transaction in Indonesia to benefit from the non-honouring of financial obligations scheme offered by the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. The deal involved eight lenders across five different jurisdictions.
Another example of product-related innovation is in last year’s US$1.46bn loan to the government of Tanzania.
The deal’s complex multi-ECA structure, incorporating cover from Denmark’s EKF and Sweden’s EKN, was simplified by setting up a reinsurance programme with four other European ECAs. The resulting transaction – for a major railway construction project – was Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest ever ECA-covered infrastructure deal outside the oil and gas sector.
In the maritime trade sector, 2020 proved a landmark year in terms of sanctions risk. Guidance from the US’ fearsome sanctions regulator prompted entities involved in trade – from shipping companies and charterers to banks and insurers – to move beyond straightforward transaction screening and deploy complex behavioural analytics technology to cut out illicit activity.
Windward made strides in supporting that shift, launching two innovative new products. The first, an AI-powered predictive intelligence solution, uses billions of data points and analysis models to spot sanctions evasion attempts. The second, Dark Activity Insights, helps the maritime trade industry understand vessel behaviour when location transmission systems are switched off.
Reflecting the growing threat of enforcement action, Windward has seen significant uptake of its services in the seaborne trade sector. During 2020 it partnered with BP Shipping, enabling the company to digitise its trade sanctions compliance operations, and was selected by Danske Bank to automate its global compliance processes around financial crime.
Windward also partnered with several other entities, including four major shipping companies and seven protection and indemnity (P&I) clubs, and its predictive intelligence technology was adopted by a seven-country law enforcement initiative aimed at fighting drug trafficking across the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas.
Law firm: Sullivan
Though Sullivan wins a Leaders in Trade award for the third consecutive year, this year marks its first victory in an innovation category. Already a market leader in trade finance, advising more than 50 banks, lenders and funds, during 2020 the firm showed its ability to support industry efforts to digitalise operations and streamline activities.
Sullivan has shown its readiness to innovate by embracing emerging technology. The firm worked with Satoshi Systems on an artificial intelligence programme for commodity finance documentation, and advised the International Trade and Forfaiting Association (ITFA) on the launch of its electronic payment undertaking. Geoff Wynne, head of Sullivan’s trade and export finance team, continues to pioneer advice around irrevocable payment undertakings with a view to supporting the digitalisation of trade.
At the same time, Sullivan continues to play a major role in supporting UK Export Finance (UKEF). Having previously backed the launch of UKEF’s General Export Facility, Sullivan advised the agency on three government loans for infrastructure developments in Africa during 2020. That included a £78mn loan to Ghana’s finance ministry for the construction of a new hospital in Koforidua, and a UK government loan into Zambia for a health infrastructure project – the largest ever direct loan from the UK into Africa.
Development bank: ADB
This award is a recognition of the vital work carried out by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to support access to essential goods during unprecedented disruption to trade and economic activity.
In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, ADB’s trade and supply chain finance programme acted fast to identify companies in need of assistance – some to increase output, for instance of medical goods, and some just to maintain normal operations. Having found that the vast majority of companies lacked clear oversight across their full supply chains, ADB developed a new mapping tool designed to streamline pandemic support.
The tool, which went live in May and is available free of charge, started by mapping out the supply chains for key items, such as ventilators and masks, before growing to support the sourcing of 25 different Covid-19-related items, including vaccines. ADB says the tool has been used by banks, investors and governments to eliminate bottlenecks and ensure financial support remains resilient.
Its pandemic support programmes have not stopped ADB innovating elsewhere, however. During 2020 it became the first multilateral development bank to take part in a pilot trade finance transaction using distributed ledger technology, which took place on the Contour network in September.
Citi is the worthy winner of this award, having proved its resilience during a turbulent year for trade.
In 2020, Citi successfully restructured its global trade finance business to bring flexibility to its clients and processes – the bank operates in almost 100 countries.
It also ensured the resiliency of its clients: alongside the International Finance Corporation, the bank established an US$800mn trade finance facility to support the flow of essential commodities to countries struggling to cope with the liquidity crunch caused by the pandemic.
“When markets dried up, we offered trade loans, often linked to export credit agency guarantees, to support immediate financing needs. In Brazil, as the government’s only global relationship bank, we stepped up by approving a bank guarantee for the supply of ventilators within less than two hours,” states Citi.
Impressively, the bank has also expanded its offering across all trade products and services at a time when others have been hesitant to do so.
As a software provider, CGI played a leading role in helping financial institutions transition to remote-working last year.
“Throughout the challenges brought on by the pandemic, CGI demonstrated that having the right partner was key in keeping our clients’ business moving forward,” states the company.
CGI continues to be innovative in its technology, which has helped its clients to be resilient. As part of its platform, the firm developed an eSignature solution for trade finance workflows and integrated a digital document tool that leverages blockchain technology. This was especially
useful when borders shut last year because of virus containment measures and the transport of paper trade finance documents slowed, meaning that virtual signatures and digital documents became essential for maintaining trade flows.
Law firm: Norton Rose Fulbright
Norton Rose Fulbright wins this award for showing resilience in helping its clients to navigate the legal ramifications of trading and closing deals during a pandemic.
In 2020, the law firm advised suppliers, traders, banks and buyers on contractual disputes from Covid-19-related incidents and disruptions, including force majeure and frustration claims.
At the same time, Norton Rose Fulbright alerted several financial institutions about their letter of credit (LC) operation processes as well as providing clarity about drawing under LCs.
The law firm was also involved in key commodity deals, including advising its bank, trader and oil and gas producer clients on structured commodity prepayment financings totalling €7bn, as well as advising on a sharia-compliant murabaha trade for the financing of metals imports in the Mena region.
Additionally, Norton Rose Fulbright continued to expand its supply chain finance practice, onboarding new bank and fintech clients.
Insurance sector: BPL Global
As a political risk and credit insurance (CPRI) broker, BPL Global faced challenges in remaining resilient amid the pandemic. But the company has shown strength in its current operations, finding ways to grow and innovate to the benefit of its clients.
The broker partnered with Canadian risk management and insurance brokerage firm EQUA Specialty Risk Partners Corporation, enhancing its presence in North America and allowing it to better navigate Canadian policy wordings for its clients. BPL Global also signed a deal with Trade Credit Solutions, an Israel-based CPRI broker that focuses on exporter and bank clients, to further support its Middle Eastern customers.
Furthermore, the company has pinpointed new avenues of growth that have emerged as a result of current market conditions.
“In December 2020, we placed one of the first policies under the new Green2Green Single Risk insurance product from Euler Hermes on behalf of one of our banking clients,” states the broker. “Spearheading the use of this new product represents an important foray for the CPRI industry into the rapidly growing area of renewables.”
Development bank: TDB
While supporting emerging economies is part and parcel of the role of a development bank, the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank (TDB) has exceeded expectation in its work.
Amid the pandemic, the bank launched its Covid-19 Emergency Response Programme to fund the procurement of vital healthcare and sanitation supplies for its member states, allocating a grant of US$2mn to the programme.
TDB also expanded its use of blockchain technology to finance agricultural commodity imports into Africa. Using blockchain has sped up deals, reducing transactions times to under 10 minutes from three weeks or more.
Overall, TDB has consistently found new ways to support trade: in Madagascar, the bank extended a US$10.6mn revolving pre-export commodity finance facility to a local woman-owned vanilla business; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, TDB provided a US$20mn facility to financial institutions to support their SME clients impacted by the pandemic; and the bank issued a US$500mn confirmation and discounting facility that enabled Ethiopia to import refined fuel products with an extended credit period of one year, allowing the country to better manage its foreign exchange liquidity.
Bank: Deutsche Bank
Among a flurry of entries in what is the first – and will hopefully be the last – award category to showcase support in the midst of a pandemic, two banks stood out for different reasons.
Deutsche scoops joint top spot for its efforts in its home market, helping state development bank KfW provide emergency funding to German companies as they worked to stave off the dire effects of the pandemic.
Deutsche Bank was a key player in helping KfW roll out thousands of loans, conducting creditworthiness checks for transactions of up to €3mn, and streamlining requirements on loan applications worth between €3mn and €10mn.
According to the bank’s submission to GTR, it assisted in providing loans to smaller and new companies, and “led the way as the number one provider in responding to the syndicated loan demand to the tune of more than half the applications received”.
Bank: BNP Paribas
GTR decided to also award a win to BNP Paribas for its efforts in the global export finance space.
BNP Paribas’ submission says that, according to statistics from the financial markets platform Dealogic, the bank was the top provider for export credit agency (ECA)-guaranteed loans in 2020. In doing so, it helped extend vital support to boost liquidity needs across the globe.
In one notable deal, BNP Paribas acted as mandated lead arranger in a £2bn UK Export Finance Export Development Guarantee facility to Rolls-Royce, which supported the company’s working capital requirements.
Meanwhile, in a facility backed by Italian ECA Sace, BNP Paribas served as bookrunner and sole structuring bank on a €1.15bn senior term loan facility to shipbuilding company Fincantieri.
Elsewhere, BNP Paribas says it allowed clients to “catch their breath” last year, by contributing extensively to the design and roll out of the debt holiday programme in the cruise sector, for instance.
Law firm: Allen & Overy
Law firm Allen & Overy wins this award for its efforts to swiftly adapt to the business environment brought about by the pandemic and help companies in various sectors secure trade finance and other forms of funding amid the disruption.
In the early days of the pandemic, the firm quickly transitioned to virtual operations after temporarily closing down its London office, helping clients secure multi-billion dollar deals despite registries closing and original documentation becoming unavailable.
Throughout the pandemic, the firm has continued to advise companies in a range of different sectors – from aviation to manufacturing – on a broad array of trade finance and supply chain finance products.
In one notable transaction, Allen & Overy advised Apollo Global Management on a US$4.8bn borrowing base and receivables financing package for its acquisition of Tech Data Corp.
In the UK, the firm worked to support hard-hit high street retailers, using trade finance techniques to support corporates in the sector. “Most notably, we advised on a new recapitalisation plan for New Look Retail Holdings Limited,” it says.
Insurance sector: AIG
Trade credit and political risk insurance providers were forced to swiftly revaluate their business appetite, structures and pricing in the face of Covid-19.
AIG scoops the pandemic support award for its efforts to complete sizeable transactions and expand working capital assistance to businesses despite the challenging circumstances.
The firm says its global trade finance team saw a 16% increase in the number of requests for cover up until November 2020, when compared with the whole of 2019. It adds that every “enquiry was answered in a timely manner and we continued to quote at similar rates to pre-lockdown for sweet spot enquiries”.
AIG further states in its award submission that it stood by its non-cancellable ethos despite the challenging environment.
It also says its Trade Credit (TC) Bridge product “came into its own” during the pandemic as working capital liquidity become acutely critical for corporates.
“We executed, expanded and renewed a number of TC Bridges during the pandemic, allowing our corporate customers to convert their trade credit policies into structures that can get capital relief from banks through a simple TC Bridge endorsement, plus the bank’s own wordings. One TC Bridge that was implemented in June has been expanded a number of times since as it is so effective for the corporate.”
Development bank: Afreximbank
The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) claims this award for the swiftness and sheer size of the Covid-19 support it provided to member countries across the continent last year.
As governments around the world and in Africa began to introduce national lockdowns in the early months of 2020, Afreximbank moved quickly to launch its US$3.5bn Pandemic Trade Impact Mitigation Facility (Patimfa). The package has worked to help countries battle the detrimental economic and health effects of the pandemic, giving them funding for the procurement of healthcare goods, food and agricultural inputs. To date, Patimfa has disbursed more than US$3.5bn.
Elsewhere, Afreximbank also helped set up the US$1.5bn Collaborative Covid-19 Pandemic Response Facility (Coprefa) alongside the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation and the Arab Bank for Economic Development.
Established in November, this facility aims to provide rapid financial assistance to African countries for the import of medical supplies, as well as agricultural equipment and fertilisers.