Letters of credit have been around almost as long as commercial trade itself. It is a guarantee from the buyer’s bank that states the payment of a buyer’s obligation will be received on time and in the correct amount. It  takes many forms; a standby letter of credit is used for multiple transactions while a commercial letter of credit is used for just one.

Typically, a business will require a letter of credit from a buyer when they're unsure of the trade risk; specifically, if the buyer is perceived to have a higher risk of late payment or non-payment because they are new to the business, and/or if the buyer is foreign.

A commercial letter of credit cost is up to 3% of the total transaction amount, with other fees included. 

In today’s digital world, letters of credit can be a cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming tool for facilitating a transaction. More importantly, letters of credit place a burden on buyers at a time when they want a transaction to go as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

Consider the following issues buyers often face with letters of credit:

  • It is up to the buyer, not the seller, to obtain and pay for any of it.
  • For commercial letters of credit, buyers must obtain a letter from their banks for every shipment.
  • It can tie up the buyer’s lines of credit with its bank, reducing their financial flexibility.
  • Even the smallest errors or problems with a letter of credit can cause a bank involved to refuse to issue payment once the shipment arrives.
  • The claims process can be lengthy and laborious and can be derailed by minor discrepancies in paperwork.

Because of these drawbacks, buyers may resist using letters of credit, especially if they are used to dealing with open account terms that allow payment after they have received a shipment.

Fortunately, there are alternatives—such as  trade credit insurance—that offer a more convenient and inexpensive option to streamline a transaction. 

table of letters of credit versus trade credit insurance

Using trade credit insurance, you can:

  • Create the means for easy payment that does not impact buyers’ access to credit.
  • Offer open terms and more aggressive credit limits to your customers.
  • Ensure that payment is based solely on compliance with the contract of sale.
  • Pursue safe sales expansion and gain access to more working capital to recapture the credit insurance cost.
  • Gain access to more working capital by giving their lender additional comfort in one of their largest assets: their accounts receivable.

Additionally, trade credit insurance is considerably cheaper than letters of credit, with the cost being absorbed into a smoother transaction rather than presented to the buyer at an additional cost. Credit insurance is an everyday partnership, rather than a one-time transaction with a bank.

Allianz Trade provides credit protection and market insights with business risk management analysts evaluating current and potential buyers behind the scenes, every day. Our priority is predictive protection.

Trade credit insurance offers a similar guarantee of payment as a letter of credit, but without the added costs and burdens. This solution is unlike letters of credit because it’s not just one transaction through a bank, it’s a continued partnership. Credit insurance allows businesses to protect themselves from non-payment, as well as drive growth and effectively manage trading risk

The cost of trade credit insurance is generally cheaper and can often pay for itself with the additional sales that are generated from offering more favorable payment terms. You can incorporate the cost of credit insurance into the cost of their goods. 

Simply increasing a product cost by 0.10% can be enough to ensure protection while the cost remains neutral for the buyers. The increased sales volume from open terms as opposed to letters of credit typically offsets the small increase in the margin.

Aside from trade credit insurance, there are other alternatives to a letter of credit. Those include:

  • Purchase order financing: Purchase order financing provides you cash up front to complete a purchase order. Under this agreement, a financing company pays your supplier for goods you need to fulfill a purchase order. The finance company collects payment from your customer who initiated the purchase order. The finance company then pays you, minus their fee. When using purchase order financing, you risk alerting your client to your cash flow issue.
  • Invoice factoring:  Factoring insurance for receivables is an agreement with a third-party company to purchase accounts receivables at a reduced amount of the face value of the invoices. The factor provides a cash advance ranging from 70% to 90% of the invoice’s value. When the invoice is collected, the factor returns the balance of the invoice minus their fee. Invoice factoring may not protect against non-payment, depending upon contract details.
  • Standby letter of credit: While a commercial letter of credit is used for just one transaction, standby letter of credit insurance is used for multiple transactions. It can be tedious and time consuming to create, and they tie up working capital.
Allianz Trade is the worldwide leader in export credit insurance and business debt collection, offering expert solutions such as account receivable management, trade credit, credit control, bad debt, bad debt recovery, debt collection & recovery, business risk, trade risk, industry risk, country risk rating, credit management, cash flow management, collect overdue payments and late payments. Our mission is to help customers globally to manage trading risk, trade wisely and develop their business safely.
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Credit management is defined as your company’s action plan to guard against  late payments or unpaid invoices by your customers. An effective credit management plan uses a continuous, proactive process of identifying credit risks, evaluating their potential for loss and strategically guarding against the inherent risks of extending credit. Having a credit management plan helps cash flow forecast, optimizes performance and reduces the possibility that a default will adversely impact your business. Late payment and payment default situations happen with alarming frequency – it’s critical to the financial health of your company to minimize them. Many businesses find it challenging to properly evaluate and track the creditworthiness of new customers. And when conducting business with foreign customers, customer's account receivable  risk management becomes even more complex because it can be difficult to interpret and rely on information used by foreign countries to measure creditworthiness.