Letters of credit have increasingly come under strain as a payment mechanism in international trade as a result of increased technology, competition, and regulation. At the same time, the letter of credit’s efficiency has reduced over time as a result of its processing costs and speed. The space created by the decline of the letter of credit has been filled by trade parties turning to open account and prepayment terms, whilst using Supply Chain Financing (‘SCF’) techniques to provide the requisite liquidity. The advantages of such payment terms are principally their speed, convenience and cost, all of which the letter of credit increasingly lacks. Accordingly, it is unlikely that this trend towards SCF techniques will abate any time soon. Nevertheless, there are still legal difficulties associated with such payment and liquidity-enhancing techniques, as well as uncertainty associated with the regulatory and accounting treatment of these devices. If open-account trading and SCF techniques are going to eclipse the letter of credit as a payment mechanism, these challenges will have to be addressed.
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