Payment for and delivery of goods in international trade can be challenging and are fraught with risks for trading partners. These risks can be minimised or mitigated by choosing the right payment and credit terms and by using payment instruments that enable exporters and importers to manage their trade risk exposures. Now risks in international banking activities are mostly related to trade payment and financing activities. It is no different in Bangladesh. In most cases, the risks concern non-compliance of regulation or guidelines. In Bangladesh, trade services products are those services that are commonly offered from the 'Trade Services Department' of a bank. In broader sense, trade services products of Bangladesh include products or services related to trade payment and trade finance.
Regulatory environment of trade services in Bangladesh: The Bangladesh Bank is the regulatory authority for regulating and supervising all trade services where ADs offer services as its agents or dealers. Banks are required to follow both a set of domestic regulations and international rules/guidelines while offering trade services as shown in the Table 1.
International trade payment and financing process followed by banks: Ideally four categories of trade payment method are in use to facilitate and receive payments in Bangladesh i.e. cash in advance, open account, documentary collection and documentary credit. A mix-up of more than one is followed in some cases. However, whatever may be the method of payment the very first step is the contract between exporter and importer. Exporters and importers need financing facilities to establish their cross-border purchase and sale. At different stages of production and payment, traders obtain financing facilities from banks. Financing pattern also vary in different methods of payment. Financing for exporters can be grouped under pre-shipment and post-shipment financing and financing for importers can be categorised into pre-import and post-import financing.
Common trade risks in banking: A variety of risks is involved in trading of goods. While some of these risks will affect domestic trade, they are generally amplified in international trade. The most common trade risks include finance-related risk, payment-related risk, documentation risk, economic risk, foreign exchange risk, interest rate and price risk, crime and money laundering risk, buyer's insolvency/credit risk, buyer's acceptance risk, knowledge inadequacy, seller's performance risk, country risk, cultural risk, legal risk, political and sovereign risk and transit risk.
Common trade risks in banks are described below:
In LC operations, late payment has been found to be a common practice by trade-service providing banks. In spite of receiving compliant documents under LCs, payments are delayed which do not only harm the institutional reputation but also the image of Bangladesh. Applicants request banks to lodge discrepancy notices to halt payment momentarily on grounds such as goods had not arrived or goods were of inferior quality. Banks also cooperate with them in some instances, inflating confirmation charges of the LCs issued from Bangladesh. This practice creates huge country risk as well as reputational risk with counterparts.
In the context of Bangladesh, there are instances where banks reject documents just for rejection and charges for discrepancies as their foreign counterparts do. These are clear departures from the UCP morals. Such practices can simply make trades costlier and burdensome to consumers, triggering economic and other associated risks.
These practices along with sudden price decrease in global market create forced loan, rescheduling and converting non-funded liability into funded liability in Bangladesh. In some circumstances, banks also delay payment to protect their interest, which is undesirable under UCP rules. This creates both credit risk/default risks and liquidity risk for banks also.
For making the payment under local back to back LCs (denominated in FC) there are two alternatives for banks i.e. Nostro Accounts (using swift MT 202) or they can use the FC Clearing Account maintained with the Bangladesh Bank. Many banks are utilising services of foreign correspondent abroad as payments are affected through the Nostro Account which is maintained with them, resulting in FC outflow in the form of charges from Bangladesh just to gain in business with the correspondent agents. This leads to higher revenue in the form of charges creating legal risk and non-compliance risk as well.
In banking industry of Bangladesh, some trade instruments like LCs or guarantees are used for fraudulent or unethical practices. The issue of accommodation bill (payment without genuine consignment) related with shipment under local LCs is related to various risks including delivery risk of the consignments.
Most of the local banks in Bangladesh, for domestically transferred and transferable LCs transfer through endorsement on the back of the master LCs, which raises the scope for fraudulent practices and forgery.
As per BB Guidelines on Foreign Exchange Transactions (GFET-2009) banks are required to obtain confidential reports for opening of an LC on foreign exporters where an amount exceeds USD 10,000 and USD 20,000 against proforma invoices and against intents issued by local agents of suppliers respectively. Banks are issuing LCs without obtaining credit reports only incorporating credit report clauses, which is a sheer violation of the GFET and obviously raises the risks for both issuing bank and importer.
To retain the clients in this competitive market, some banks (in a few instance) are sometimes undertaking undue risks even bypassing the regulatory framework, e.g. financing by the Ads to the exporters through opening back to back LCs (deferred by 180 days) upon open account trade which could be extremely risky if the foreign buyers default or do not make payment. Mentionable, as the associated ADs are endorsing the transports documents (title to goods) to the foreign buyers directly, it could prove to be very risky.
Insurance coverage is supposed to be offered by importers in Bangladesh. Banks are supposed to ensure minimum insurance coverage of 110 per cent of the importable at the time of opening LCs. But some banks open LCs ensuring only 100 per cent of the importable. Hence, breach of Bangladesh Bank rules is very apparent.
In case of import of restricted items that require permission from the appropriate authority issuing banks are suppose to incorporate the documents as well as certain conditions. In general, documents are asked for but conditions are not incorporated, exposing banks to documentation risks.
Some banks make payments as per the requirement of LCs but goods never arrive and banks are in trouble. Such instances are found where sight LCs is issued with TT reimbursement clause by a local bank.
Risks also prevail in banks in the area of non-realisation of export proceeds. Banks are expected to behave responsibly and report to the BB within the stipulated time. But there are instances where ADs of banks do not report to the BB. Thus banks cooperate with the exporters in fraudulent activities.
As per the directives of the BB, banks are absolutely prohibited from engaging themselves in transactions with speculative motives in respect of FX market but some treasuries of banks hedge the risks of the clients through options and so not report to evade the possible difficulties. Transactions on option require case-to-case approval from the central bank. Earning profit and collection of charges are the main objectives behind these malpractices to the neglect of risks involved.
Sometimes banks in Bangladesh do not renew the guarantee requirement for continuing with inward remittance services. Some banks have undue practices in mobilising inward remittance through exchange houses, for which the BB can duly penalise them. In maintaining FX accounts, some irregularities are there mainly due to the knowledge gap of the bankers.
Four techniques of Trade-Based Money Laundering (TBML) i.e. over and under invoicing of goods and services; over and under shipment of goods and services; multiple invoicing; and falsely described goods and services. In Bangladesh over and under invoicing of goods and services, and falsely described goods and services are common in use for money laundering. To hide or for profitable use of the proceeds of crime through illicit outflows of funds from Bangladesh, criminals use overpricing in imports, generally low duty item like capital machineries, raw materials and spare parts and underpricing of export. For gaining government benefit like cash incentives, subsidies there are tendencies of overpricing of exported items wherein collected wage earners' remittance is used to fill the rest of the export proceeds.
Sanction clause is commonly found in the LCs received from abroad. Now-a-days the local have also started inserting sanction clause in their LCs issued from Bangladesh, which do not match with the expectation of the approach of ICC. These types of clauses may offer negative perception in transactions.
Mitigating trade risks in banks: International trade exposes exporters and importers to substantial risks. To mitigate these risks, firms can buy special trade finance products from banks. Major ways to mitigate trade risk in banks are described below:
Minimising risks through precautionary measures: Importers and exporters can take precautionary measures to avoid or minimise some trade risks wherein banks can play a pivotal role. For example, in order to avoid quality issues before they arise, importers should research the quality of the products and verify the general reputation of sellers before placement of orders.
Negotiating the right type of payment and credit terms: The question of when and how a payment is made will determine how the counterparty risk is distributed between exporter and importer. In this sense negotiation of favourable payment and credit terms or the use of risk mitigating payment instruments is an important element of management of counterparty risks in trade.
Introduction of modern communication and service rendering devices in foreign exchange department: At various facets of import financing, modern IT devices should be introduced for increasing overall efficiency of service. Communication of letter of credit to the negotiating banks, negotiation regarding LC conditions, conformation of letter of credit and payment of import bills are the areas where modern IT devices should be employed specially in those banks where there exists room for improvement.
Developing hearty banking relationship with foreign banks in important parts of business world: For handling import trade systematically and effectively, there is a need for developing sound relationship with foreign banks which can operate as negotiating banks for a bank issuing letter of credit. This relationship building can facilitate prompt handling of import operations including payment aspects.
Strict adherence to Bangladesh Bank guidelines in processing import financing: The foreign exchange department of the bank must follow the BB guidelines strictly to avoid any future problem in the management of import financing. Bank officials dealing in foreign exchange must be thoroughly conversant with these rules and in evaluating application for letter of credit. All points must be examined with utmost care and prudence. This may also help protect national interest.
Strengthening advisory services by the bank for new and inexperienced import firms: New and inexperienced import firms experience problems in handling various aspects of import financing. These firms need sound advisory services from banks to handle all technical aspects precisely. Bank officials in the foreign exchange department can work as helping hand to assist these firms. For this purpose, a technically sound team must work in the advisory cell of the foreign exchange department.
Credit insurance: Credit insurance is an alternative to letters of credit, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Credit insurance protects an exporter from the risk of default by an importer. Credit insurance can cover specific circumstances such as importer's bankruptcy, refusal to pay or country risks such as political upheaval. It is possible to insure all of a supplier's clients or simply specific customers or transactions.
Factoring: Factoring is limited to a mitigation instrument for trade risks in Bangladesh. Factoring firms that offer international factoring and if non-recourse factoring is employed, factor takes on the credit risk of all trade receivables which can be initiated in the banking industry here.
Forfeiting: Forfeiting is carried out on a non-recourse basis because the instrument sold is an obligation of the customer which also enables exporters to trade in higher risk countries although the higher risk will be reflected in the cost. Forfeiting can be expensive to arrange as the company will have to pay for the financing arrangement and guarantee, henceforth proper care should be adopted before taking this strategy.
Supplier finance: Supplier finance, also known as reverse factoring, is initiated by the buyer (not the seller), typically to extend payment terms without damaging the supplier relationship or the ability of the supplier to deliver in time. In supplier finance, a bank in Bangladesh can pay an exporter as soon as the importer has confirmed the invoice. The bank will be repaid later by the buyer. Supplier finance can be offered on a non-recourse basis, which means that the exporter is not liable for non-payment by the importer.
Hence, the banks in Bangladesh can play an advisory role in expanding trade literacy among traders, which will ultimately benefit them in handling trade business. In addition, a company's specific situation with regard to financing needs and customer relationships must be taken into account. In most cases not all trade risks can be mitigated and it may be necessary to combine some of the risk management techniques.
The writer is a Certified Expert in Risk Management (CERM)
from Frankfurt School
of Finance, Germany.