Trade Finance Explained: Benefits, Process and FAQs

By Annapoorna


Updated on: Aug 21st, 2023


9 min read

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The Indian trade finance market is estimated to be approximately USD 3 billion in 2023 and reach around USD 4 billion by 2028. This growth indicates a preference to trade finance due to low risk compared to loans.

Continue reading as we discuss trade finance, its benefits, how it works, and the parties involved.

What is Trade Finance?

Trade finance refers to the financial instruments that businesses use to facilitate global trade and commerce. It is an umbrella term covering various products, all of which revolve around structuring transactions to reduce as many risks as possible for the parties involved — exporters, importers and financiers. 

This method finances the trade cycle at different phases of the transaction, allowing participants to manage the money needed for trade while minimising or lowering the risks associated with an international trading agreement. 

Moreover, for the trading system to function effectively, it needs a strong and reliable financial system that offers traders the ability to secure loans. This is important because only a small portion of international trade is paid in advance. 

Simply put, trade finance offers the credit, payment guarantees, and insurance required to permit the payment for the good or service under conditions that will satisfy both the exporter and the importer. By bridging the gap between the different needs of an exporter and an importer, trade finance lowers the risk of fraud, ensures compliance, and builds trust.

Benefits Of Trade Finance

Trade finance provides various benefits for the parties involved in an international transaction, such as:

  • Improves Cash Flow Management: Trade financing guarantees fewer delays in payments and shipments, enabling importers and exporters to manage their businesses and organise their cash flow more effectively.
  • Facilitate Cross-border Trade: Trade finance solutions ensure that transactions move easily and smoothly across international borders. Additionally, it makes trade much safer by guaranteeing payment to the exporter for sending the products and reassuring the importer that the exporter delivers the goods as per the agreed terms.
  • Protects against Currency Fluctuations: With international trade, there is always the risk of fluctuating exchange rates—they can decrease or soar overnight. In such a scenario, the payment amount might be heavily different from what was initially agreed upon. Trade finance establishes exchange rates for transactions in advance to prevent this.

Parties in Trade Finance

Although there are various parties involved in a trade finance process, there are three primary parties including:

  • Importer
  • Exporter
  • Financial Institutions

Other parties might include:

  • Investors
  • Insurance Brokers
  • Ship and Freight Brokers
  • Introducers
  • Export credit agencies

Financial instruments in trade finance

There are various types of financial instruments involved in a trade finance process, including:

  • Letters of Credit (LC): LC is a bank-issued document that guarantees that the importers make the payment once the transaction is complete.
  • Purchase Order Financing (PO): PO financing funds the pre-shipment stage of a company's supply chain process. It serves as a security in this scenario since banks issue funds based on the PO granted by the buyer.
  • Supply Chain Financing (SCF): SCF funds the company's end-to-end supply chain cycle, which covers the post-shipment part of the process.
  • Working Capital Financing: Working capital financing is an excellent choice for meeting a company's short-term demands. It allows businesses to get funds without an invoice or purchase order.


How Does Trade Finance Work?

Trade finance facilitates transactions and minimises payment and supply risks by involving a third party. For instance, when an importer needs credit to fulfil a trade order, trade finance helps them access those funds while ensuring that the exporter receives payment or receivables based on the agreed-upon terms.

Here's an example to help you understand the concept of trade finance better:

Suppose you are a supplier selling products to various retailers. At one point, you experience a surge in demand, requiring additional inventory from your supplier. However, you don’t have immediate funds to make the purchase.

Here, instead of opting for a normal bank loan, you get into a trade finance arrangement with your bank. The bank collaborates with your supplier, manages finances, and simultaneously collects payments from your buyers. This arrangement allows you to manage demand fluctuations while maintaining a smooth supply chain.

How Does Trade Finance Reduce Risk?

Trade finance decreases risk by assisting importers and exporters satisfy their unique requirements, such as payment security and working capital. For example, the exporter might want the importer to pay in advance to prevent defaults. The importer is sceptical that if he makes an upfront payment, the exporter might take the money and not dispatch the products.

Trade finance can help to lower the risks in this situation by allowing banks to handle some parts of the financing process. This means that importers are not required to make upfront payments, and exporters don't have to make upfront shipments.  

The process not only streamlines trades but also develops trust among the parties. Trade financing agreements can also shield importers and exporters against currency fluctuations and other hazards, but this depends on other instruments like contracts and options.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the three elements of trade finance?

The three types of trade finance elements are letters of credit (LC), purchase order (PO), and supply chain finance. Other elements may include standby credits, bonds, and guarantees.

What is the trade finance life cycle?

The lifecycle of a trade finance process has five stages—pre-trade, trade execution, trade clearing, trade settlement, and position and risk management.

How does blockchain benefit trade financing?

Blockchain in a trade finance process reduces the cost of the overall process for all stakeholders by making the process more efficient, cutting out middlemen, and reducing fraud.

About the Author

I preach the words, “Learning never exhausts the mind.” An aspiring CA and a passionate content writer having 4+ years of hands-on experience in deciphering jargon in Indian GST, Income Tax, off late also into the much larger Indian finance ecosystem, I love curating content in various forms to the interest of tax professionals, and enterprises, both big and small. While not writing, you can catch me singing Shāstriya Sangeetha and tuning my violin ;). Read more


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