Investors: how will you leverage the expected growth of the trade finance market?

By Christoph Gugelmann

A new study by Technavio came out at the end of May, stating that the global trade finance market would grow at a compound annual growth rate of 3.75% between 2018 and 2022. The prediction is based on market analysis with inputs from industry experts including key financiers like BNP Paribas, Citigroup and HSBC, amongst others.

Despite an increase in protectionist rhetorics, trade flows are forecast to grow by 4.3% a year, reaching nearly US$19tn by 2020, according to the 2017 ICC Trade Register. In the same report, the ICC points out that trade finance revenues are expected to reach US$44bn by 2020, based on growth projected in markets where trade is conducted to a significant degree on the basis of traditional trade finance.

The numbers are clear: the trade finance market is on an upward trajectory – one that no one in the financial sector can afford to miss.

Unsurprisingly, the trend of rapid technological advances has been identified as a key trend driving this market growth. “Technological advances boost the increased automation and standardisation of trade financing transactions. This reduces the risk of manual transactions,” a Technavio analyst comments in the firm’s study.

In particular, the involvement of clearing houses as intermediaries between buyers and sellers of financial instruments are seen as crucial to growth by the authors. Such intermediaries are making transactions safer, but also more investable.

More and more trade finance players are investing in fintech platforms that can streamline and facilitate their processes, but also allow them to distribute parts of their trade finance portfolios to other banks and institutional investors, as a way to maximise the opportunity.

There is a recognition in the market that trade finance assets are attractive to investors, since they present a lower default risk than many other asset categories. Yet, distribution to institutions other than banks remains rare. Why is that? Various surveys cite a lack of standardisation, fear of non-compliance to regulations and the low efficiency of transactions (which so far have mainly been conducted on an isolated basis) as reasons why investors are still rarely present in transactions.

All these obstacles can be overcome with the use of technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, which are already operational in many sectors – including credit analytics. The emergence of new platforms increasing the transparency and efficiency of trade transactions, combined with the expected growth of the sector in coming years, means there has never been a better time for institutional investors to get involved.

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