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Standby Letter of Credit

Категорія — Загальні поняття
By Konstantin Vasilev Member of the Board of Directors of Cbonds, Ph.D. in Economics
Updated December 17, 2023

What is a Standby Letter of Credit?

A Standby Letter of Credit (SBLC) is a financial instrument issued by a bank on behalf of a client, with which the bank guarantees to make a payment to a designated beneficiary if the client fails to meet financial obligations or meet specific conditions outlined in a contract. Essentially, an SBLC acts as a safety net, assuring the beneficiary that they will receive payment even if the applicant cannot fulfill their payment duties. It is often considered a "payment of last resort" and is ideally intended to remain untouched, serving as a testament to the credit quality and commitment of the applicant.

SBLCs play a crucial role in international trade, providing a level of assurance to parties engaged in transactions across borders. These instruments are not meant to replace the primary method of payment but act as a secondary payment option, mitigating risks associated with non-performance, bankruptcy, or other unforeseen circumstances. With the backing of a commercial bank, an SBLC offers reassurance that an agreement will go through, even in a worst-case scenario.

Standby Letter of Credit

How Standby Letters of Credit Work

Standby Letters of Credit (SBLCs) operate as a financial safety mechanism, providing assurance to both buyers and sellers in various transactions. When a business applies for an SBLC, the issuing bank commits to making payment on behalf of the applicant if the applicant fails to fulfill their contractual obligations. There are two primary types of SBLCs: financial and performance. A financial SBLC ensures payment for goods or services as specified in the agreement, while a performance SBLC guarantees the completion of a project outlined in a contract. These instruments play a vital role in international trade, reducing the risks associated with non-payment or non-performance.

The process of obtaining an SBLC involves the applicant, typically a buyer or contractor, requesting their bank to issue the SBLC in favor of the beneficiary, often the seller or project owner. The bank evaluates the creditworthiness of the applicant before issuing the SBLC, emphasizing its independence from the underlying contract. In the event of a default by the applicant, the beneficiary can present the SBLC to the bank, which then fulfills the financial obligation outlined in the SBLC. This structured approach helps facilitate trust and confidence in business transactions, particularly when dealing with unfamiliar parties or in situations with legal and regulatory differences.

Benefits

  1. Secure Contracts. SBLCs provide a powerful tool for businesses to secure contracts, bids, or deals that might be challenging to obtain otherwise. By offering an SBLC, applicants demonstrate financial credibility and commitment to the beneficiary, fostering confidence in the transaction.

  2. Reduced Risk of Default. For beneficiaries, SBLCs offer a high level of assurance against non-payment or non-delivery by the applicant. The direct and irrevocable obligation of the issuing bank ensures that the beneficiary can claim payment without the need to prove or enforce the underlying contract.

  3. Negotiation Leverage. Applicants can use SBLCs to negotiate favorable terms and conditions in their contracts, such as lower interest rates, extended payment periods, or higher credit limits. The instrument’s flexibility allows tailoring to specific contract requirements.

  4. Currency and Political Stability. SBLCs mitigate the risk of currency fluctuations, political instability, or legal disputes that might affect international transactions. The beneficiary is protected from uncertainties that could impact the successful completion of the deal.

  5. Transferability and Confirmation. SBLCs can be transferred, assigned, or confirmed by another bank, depending on the preferences of the beneficiary. Confirmation by a second bank enhances the level of commitment and security in the transaction.

  6. Tailored to Contract Specifics. SBLCs can be customized to suit the specific needs and requirements of the contract, including the amount, duration, trigger events, and document specifications. This adaptability makes them suitable for a wide range of business scenarios.

  7. Promotion of Confidence. The presence of an SBLC is often seen as a sign of good faith in business transactions. It serves as tangible proof of the buyer’s credit quality and financial capacity, instilling confidence in the parties involved.

  8. Potential Fee Waiver. If the business meets contractual obligations before the due date, an SBLC can be terminated with no further charges. This flexibility encourages prompt fulfillment of obligations.

  9. Global Trade Facilitation. SBLCs play a crucial role in facilitating global trade by providing a secure and reliable method for international transactions. This helps businesses overcome challenges related to distance, legal differences, and unfamiliarity with trading partners.

Risks

  1. Fraudulent Demands. One of the main risks for applicants is the potential for fraudulent demands from beneficiaries. If the beneficiary makes a wrongful or fraudulent demand on the bank, the applicant may lose the SBLC amount, especially if the demand is not in line with the agreed-upon terms of the underlying contract.

  2. Difficulty in Obtaining or Renewing. Applicants may face challenges in obtaining or renewing an SBLC, particularly if their financial situation or credit rating deteriorates. The issuing bank may be hesitant to provide the instrument, leading to potential disruptions in securing contracts or deals.

  3. Costs and Fees. SBLCs can be expensive for applicants, as they are required to pay fees and charges to the issuing bank. Additionally, collateral or security deposits may be necessary, adding to the overall cost of utilizing the SBLC as a financial guarantee.

  4. Dependency on Issuing Bank. The beneficiary might encounter delays or complications in receiving payment if the issuing bank fails or becomes insolvent. This risk arises from the dependency on the financial stability and reliability of the issuing bank.

  5. Document Verification Challenges. Delays or complications may occur in presenting or verifying the documents required to trigger the SBLC payment. If the documents are incomplete, incorrect, or inconsistent with the SBLC terms and conditions, the beneficiary may face challenges in accessing the payment.

  6. Incomplete Coverage of Losses. SBLCs might not cover all possible losses or damages incurred by the beneficiary due to the applicant’s default or non-performance. This limitation may leave the beneficiary exposed to financial risks beyond the scope of the SBLC.

  7. Currency Fluctuations. While SBLCs mitigate some risks, they may not fully protect against currency fluctuations. Changes in exchange rates can impact the overall value of the transaction, affecting both applicants and beneficiaries.

  8. Liquidity and Solvency Concerns. The beneficiary may face difficulties if the issuing bank encounters liquidity problems, regulatory sanctions, or legal actions, leading to potential delays or complications in receiving the SBLC payment.

  9. Legal Disputes. Disputes between the parties involved in the SBLC transaction, such as disagreements over the interpretation of contract terms, can lead to legal challenges, potentially prolonging the resolution process and causing additional uncertainties.

Types of Standby Letters of Credit

  1. Financial Standby Letter of Credit (SBLC). Guarantees payment for goods or services as specified in the agreement.

    A crude oil company shipping oil to a foreign buyer ensures payment within a specified period. If the buyer fails to make the payment, the seller can collect from the buyer’s bank with the financial SBLC.

  2. Performance Standby Letter of Credit (SBLC). Guarantees the completion of a project outlined in a contract within scheduled timelines.

    In construction projects with strict completion timelines, a performance SBLC ensures that the contractor fulfills the project requirements. If the contractor fails, the bank reimburses the third party involved in the contract.

Fees Associated with Standby Letters of Credit

  1. Issuance Fee. Charged by the issuing bank for the initial issuance of the SBLC. It covers administrative and processing costs related to creating the SBLC.

  2. Annual Fee. An ongoing fee paid annually by the applicant for the duration the SBLC remains valid. It maintains the availability of the SBLC as a financial guarantee.

  3. Confirmation Fee. Applicable if a confirming bank is involved in the SBLC process. The fee covers the costs associated with the additional commitment made by the confirming bank.

  4. Amendment Fee. Charged when modifications or amendments are made to the terms of the SBLC. It compensates the issuing bank for administrative efforts in processing changes.

  5. Presentation Fee. Applied when the beneficiary submits documents to claim payment under the SBLC. This fee covers the costs of reviewing and processing the documents.

  6. Advising Fee. Charged by the advising bank, if involved, for providing advice or notifications related to the SBLC. This is compensation for the services rendered by the advising bank.

  7. Negotiation Fee. Applicable if the beneficiary chooses to negotiate the SBLC with the bank. Covers costs incurred by the bank in facilitating the negotiation process.

  8. Cancellation Fee. Charged if the SBLC is canceled before its expiration date. It compensates the issuing bank for the loss of potential fees over the remaining validity period.

Parties Involved in SBLC Transactions

  1. Advising Bank. The beneficiary typically requests that the SBLC be sent to a bank in their country or one with which they have a relationship. The advising bank may receive and forward the SBLC to the beneficiary.

  2. Applicant (Instructing Party or Requesting Party). The entity applying for the SBLC. Initiates the request to their bank to issue the SBLC in favor of the beneficiary.

  3. Beneficiary. The party who will receive the benefits of the SBLC. The beneficiary can make a drawing, receive payment, and accept or reject amendments related to the SBLC.

  4. Confirmer or Confirming Bank. A bank that confirms the SBLC at the request of the issuing bank. Similar to a second issuing bank, the confirming bank commits to honoring or negotiating a complying document presentation.

  5. Issuer, Issuing Bank, or Opening Bank. The bank that issues the SBLC on behalf of the applicant. Issues a separate, irrevocable, independent SBLC, which is distinct from any underlying contract.

  6. Nominated Bank. Authorized by the issuer to undertake honor, negotiate, or make a payment if it receives a complying document presentation or demand. May act as a confirming bank if involved.

How to Apply for a Standby Letter of Credit

  1. Contact the Issuing Bank. The applicant, whether a buyer or contractor, should contact their chosen issuing bank to express the need for an SBLC. This can be done through a dedicated relationship manager or the bank’s trade finance department.

  2. Understand Application Requirements. The bank will provide a list of required documents and information. This may include details about the transaction, financial statements, and any collateral or security the bank may require.

  3. Creditworthiness Evaluation. The bank will conduct a thorough credit evaluation of the applicant. This may involve assessing financial statements, credit history, and the applicant’s ability to fulfill the terms of the SBLC.

  4. Notification to Beneficiary. Once the underwriting process is completed, the bank notifies the beneficiary (seller or counterparty) that the SBLC will be issued in their favor.

  5. Issuance of the SBLC. The issuing bank drafts the SBLC, specifying the terms and conditions, including the amount, duration, and trigger events. The SBLC is then issued independently of the underlying contract.

  6. Advising the SBLC (Optional). If specified, the issuing bank may send the SBLC to an advising bank chosen by the beneficiary. The advising bank notifies the beneficiary of the SBLC’s existence.

  7. Payment of Fees. The applicant pays the required fees, including issuance fees, annual fees, and any other applicable charges. These fees are typically determined by the issuing bank.

  8. Providing Collateral (If Required). Depending on the risk involved and the creditworthiness of the applicant, the issuing bank may request collateral, which can be in the form of cash or assets.

  9. Review and Approval. The bank reviews the submitted documentation, ensuring that all requirements are met. If satisfied, the SBLC is approved for issuance.

  10. Payment of Fees. The applicant pays the required fees, including issuance fees, annual fees, and any other applicable charges. These fees are typically determined by the issuing bank.

  11. SBLC Delivery. The issuing bank delivers the SBLC to the beneficiary, either directly or through an advising bank if involved.

  12. Ongoing Compliance. The applicant must comply with the terms and conditions outlined in the SBLC throughout its validity period. Any deviations or amendments should be communicated and approved by the issuing bank.

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