Recent headlines have been dominated by news about banks rethinking and limiting their Trade and Commodity Finance exposures to various degrees.

The law of unintended consequences

  • Basel III rules for banks post-financial crisis introduced the Leverage Ratio, penalising trade finance as a low-default market segment.
  • Latest draft Basel IV supervisory slotting criteria propose a minimum 120% risk  weighting for commodities finance, increasing capital required to support lending and ignoring low “Probability of Default” and high recovery rates.
  • Basel Framework derecognises transactional goods as collateral, eliminating  capital relief and leading banks to abandon or to offshore (to minimize cost) collateral management teams, leading to poor monitoring/ control of collateral even where notionally taken.
  • Regulators instead emphasise forward-looking cashflow and balance sheet modelling, leading banks to prefer unsecured revolving credit facilities for commodity traders to traditional transactionally secured lending.
  • Banks’ ‘Compliance’ departments have exploded into multiple overlapping teams.
  • Banks’ costs for new client adoption effectively exclude taking on SMEs or one-off transactions.
  • As a result of ever heavier balance sheet regulation, banks are no longer agile lenders opening the door to fresh competition.

Lessons from Singapore

  • Banks’ over-reliance on forward-looking modelling leaves them blind-sided to  transactional and operational risks.
  • Years of cost cutting at banks impacts effectivness of due diligence and  often reduces it to a ‘desk-top’ process (the ‘Google Test’).
  • Collateral management at banks appears not to have been applied.
  • This led to a failure of monitoring, control and knowledge of the transactions financed by banks.
  • In the quest for revenues, banks’ financial exposures ballooned as they gave  up on traditional risk mitigation techniques.
  • Better technology and design can address these risk and compliance issues.