Trade and supply chain finance’s most notable innovators share their successes and secrets.
The Phoenicians, who inhabited the eastern Mediterranean region from 3,500 to 2,300 years ago, were the greatest traders of their time, exchanging gold, wine, textiles, glass and metals with Greece, Egypt and even the British Isles. To facilitate long-distance shipping, though, they needed to invent trade finance.
Today, buyers and suppliers all over the world rely on trade finance to transact with one another. And, like their Phoenician forebears, today’s trade-finance providers continue to innovate. Recently, the great and the good from the world of trade and supply-chain finance paused to reflect upon their continuous advancements at Global Finance’s annual World’s Best Trade and Supply Chain Finance Providers awards, which were held January 17 at the London Hilton on Park Lane.
The ceremony closed out the Bankers Association for Finance and Trade (BAFT) Global Annual Meeting, an opportunity for trade bankers from all over the world to network, collaborate and share best practices.
Debate over the issues raised during the conference didn’t end once the awards got underway. Over a buffet lunch of confit duck and salmon, capped by daintily presented desserts, conversations about the state of the trade-finance business, commodity prices and such innovations as blockchain held sway.
“A lot of banks are into blockchain,” said Lakshmy Gourishankaran (known as Lakshmy G), deputy general manager for Global Trade Services at State Bank of India, adding that the bank is waiting to see the improvements blockchain brings to the business. “It’s an exciting time for trade.”
Some came seeking insight. “I don’t fully understand blockchain,” said Huabin Wang, chief corporate banking officer from Bank of China’s London branch. “I hope to learn more about it.” London-based Nuno Veigas, structuring and products vice president at Brazilian bank Itaú BBA, leafed through the awards ceremony booklet to find his bank’s name among the winners—Best Trade Finance Provider in Brazil. “It’s really important— recognition by the market,” said Veigas. An award “is like a credential for us to use when we are pitching clients.”
Although country winners were announced in advance, anticipation hung in the air as global trade and supply chain finance category winners were announced at the ceremony.
BNP Paribas’s Marguerite Burghardt, head of the French bank’s Trade Filière Competence Center Europe, was ecstatic to learn her bank had been named Best Bank for Trade Finance globally for the second year running, as well as Best Trade Finance Provider in Luxembourg and Best Pre-Shipment Financing Solution. She described these awards as “an important incentive for people to further develop their performance in the future.”
In the spirit of innovation of her Phoenician antecedents, she added that the bank hoped to aid civil society and humanity by working to develop the green economy and sustainable finance.
Some bankers traveled from far-flung corners of the globe just to collect their award. “We strive for excellence in what we do,” said Minos Gerakaris, head of trade finance at Rand Merchant Bank in South Africa, which picked up the award for the Best Supply Chain Finance Provider in the African region.
Closer to home, London-headquartered Standard Chartered won the global Best Supply Chain Finance Provider (Bank) prize. “Trade is going to be a fundamental part of banking transformation and innovation,” said Francesco Miccoli, Standard Chartered’s head of transaction banking for Europe. “At events like this, we talk about partnering [with other banks] to provide better solutions to clients. Some are more open to partnerships than others.”
Against a backdrop of low commodity prices, some banks have exited or stepped back from commodity finance. But Netherlands-based Rabobank’s commitment to the business earned it selection as Best Bank for Commodity Finance in the global category. “We’re not engineers and we don’t have any meaningful industry, but trade is close to the heart of the Dutch people,” said Karel Valken, global head of agricultural commodities at the Dutch bank.