Are you still requiring letters of credit for your cross-border transactions?

Letters of credit (L/C) are still commonly used for cross-border transactions in international trade. As you may recall, an L/C is a financial document provided by a buyer’s bank to the seller, guaranteeing payment for goods or services once certain conditions are met.

Using L/Cs for international trade transactions has both advantages and disadvantages. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons:

Pros of Using Letters of Credit:

Risk Mitigation: One of the primary benefits of an L/C is risk mitigation. It assures the seller that they will be paid once they meet the conditions specified in the letter of credit. This reduces the risk of non-payment or default by the buyer.

International Credibility: L/Cs enhance the credibility of both the buyer and the seller. The buyer demonstrates their creditworthiness by obtaining an L/C, while the seller shows their commitment to fulfilling the buyer’s requirements.

Compliance Assurance: L/Cs ensure that the terms and conditions of the trade agreement are met before payment is made. This includes verifying the quality and quantity of goods, shipping documents, and other requirements specified in the contract.

Flexible Payment Terms: L/Cs can be structured to allow various payment terms, such as sight LCs (payment upon presentation of compliant documents) or usance L/Cs (payment at a future date after sight).

Currency Flexibility: L/Cs can be issued in different currencies, allowing parties to negotiate deals in their preferred currencies without worrying about exchange rate fluctuations.

Financing Opportunities: Exporters can use L/Cs to secure financing from banks, using the L/C as collateral. This is especially valuable for businesses with limited working capital.

Cons of Using Letters of Credit:

Complexity: L/Cs can be complicated and involve detailed supporting paperwork. Any discrepancies in the documents can lead to payment delays or disputes.

Costs: Both the buyer and the seller incur costs associated with L/Cs. These costs include issuance fees, amendment fees (for any changes to the L/C), and other banking charges.

Time-Consuming: The process of issuing, amending, and verifying L/Cs can be time-consuming, potentially delaying the shipment or receipt of goods.

Potential for Disputes: Discrepancies between the documents and the L/C terms can lead to disputes, delaying payment and the release of goods.

Dependence on Banks: The entire process is dependent on the banks involved. Delays or errors in banking procedures can cause significant disruptions in the transaction.

Limited Flexibility: Once an L/C is established, it might be challenging to make changes to the terms without the agreement of all parties involved.

While letters of credit offer a secure method for international trade transactions, they come with administrative complexities and costs. Businesses must weigh the benefits of risk mitigation against the expenses and potential delays associated with using L/Cs.

Often, the choice between using an L/C and other methods of payment depends on the level of trust between the parties, the nature of the goods or services being traded, and the existing banking relationships. 

Your comments are most welcome.

Nancy Seiverd, President, CMI Credit Mediators, Inc.  (

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