These are heady days for the trade finance industry. An area of business that has gone largely unchanged for centuries, new technologies and market participants are now altering the face of trade finance – posing fresh challenges but also opening up a range of opportunities for corporates. Eleanor Hill, Editor, TMI, speaks with Bruno Francois, Deputy Global Head of Trade Finance at BNP Paribas, to find out more.
Eleanor Hill (EH): Which macroeconomic factors are having the most significant impact on trade finance today?
Bruno Francois (BF): The prospect of a trade war is having a significant influence on global trade dynamics. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, trade finance is performing decently as many companies have started to take action to mitigate risks when the economic environment is becoming more complex. Some changes in behaviour have been seen in the ways companies are sourcing with a trend to bring part of its sourcing and manufacturing closer to their home markets. As such, we are seeing a significant rise in intra-European trade, which is positive for the continent and the industry.
The uncertain macroeconomic environment is also creating a variety of risks for companies. When you have more risk, you look for solutions to mitigate those risks, which is good for the trade finance business. For the first time since 2012, we are seeing the letter of credit (LC) market growing again. So, trade finance is experiencing an uptick – and other factors such as new technologies and partnerships are feeding into that too.
EH: Speaking of new partnerships, how is the competitive trade finance landscape changing? And what does that mean for corporates?
BF: The whole ecosystem is changing. Corporates have always wanted to extend their payment terms, to pay their suppliers later without damaging their supply chain. This is where banks would traditionally step in with a financing solution. However, the banks were limited in how much trade finance they could provide, given the risks in the market. So, the much talked-about ‘trade finance gap’ began to appear.