In its simplest form, trade finance works by reconciling the divergent needs of an exporter and importer. While an exporter would prefer to be paid upfront by the importer for an export shipment, the risk to the importer is that the exporter may simply pocket the payment and refuse shipment. Conversely, if the exporter extends credit to the importer, the latter may refuse to make payment or delay it inordinately.
A common solution to this problem in the area of trade finance is through the issuing of a letter of credit, which is opened in the exporter’s name by the importer through a bank in his home country. The letter of credit essentially guarantees payment to the exporter by the bank issuing the letter of credit upon receipt of documentary proof that the goods have been shipped. Although this is a somewhat cumbersome process, the letter of credit system is one of the most popular trade finance mechanisms.