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Back-to-Back Letters of Credit


Back-to-Back Letters of Credit refer to a financial arrangement in which one letter of credit serves as collateral for another. It typically involves an intermediary, who takes on a smaller credit risk with the second letter of credit to complete a larger transaction. This arrangement is commonly used in international trade, where the intermediary assists the buyer and seller in completing the transaction by ensuring payment security and managing risks.


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Key Takeaways

  1. Back-to-Back Letters of Credit are used in intermediary trade transactions, where an intermediary is involved between the buyer and the seller. These Letters of Credit consist of two separate and independent LCs, with the first one issued by the buyer’s bank to the intermediary, and the second one issued by the intermediary’s bank to the seller.
  2. These Letters of Credit minimize the risk for all involved parties. The intermediary is assured of receiving payment from the buyer (through the first LC), and the seller is assured of receiving payment from the intermediary (through the second LC), provided that all the terms and conditions in the respective LCs are met.
  3. Although the two Letters of Credit are separate and independent, they are linked in the sense that the terms and conditions of the first LC must be fulfilled in order for the second LC to become operative. This ensures that the transactions between the buyer, intermediary, and seller are properly coordinated and executed.


Back-to-Back Letters of Credit are important in business and finance as they provide an efficient and secure means of financing transactions, particularly in international trade. This arrangement involves two separate letters of credit: one issued by the buyer’s bank to the intermediary and another issued by the intermediary’s bank to the seller.

By linking the letters of credit together, the intermediary can use the credit of the primary buyer to finance the transaction without needing to invest their own capital. This facilitates a smoother and more secure transaction process, as both sellers and buyers are assured of timely payments and deliveries, while the intermediary minimizes their financial risk.

Furthermore, Back-to-Back Letters of Credit contribute to fostering trust and confidence in cross-border trading activities, which can ultimately promote global business expansion and economic growth.


Back-to-back letters of credit serve a significant purpose in international trade involving a middleman or intermediary, particularly when the intermediary is reliant on the creditworthiness of another party to fulfill the financial obligations of the transaction. This financial instrument ensures that transactions occur smoothly by providing assurance to both the buyer and seller regarding payment and fulfillment of their respective contractual obligations. I

n essence, back-to-back letters of credit facilitate transactions wherein the intermediary relies on securing the financial support or credit from the purchasing party, which then enables the intermediary to ensure payment to the supplier of goods upon fulfillment of the order.

One of the primary uses of back-to-back letters of credit is to mitigate the risk associated with transactions involving multiple parties that may be operating in different jurisdictions or countries. By utilizing this mechanism, an intermediary can successfully navigate the complexities of international trade and foster trust between the buyer and seller. This is accomplished by allowing the intermediary to use the original letter of credit issued by the buyer as collateral to obtain a separate letter of credit to assure the seller of payment. The issuing banks play a crucial role in back-to-back letters of credit, as they act as guarantors that the seller will receive payment upon meeting the conditions outlined in the letter of credit, while also ensuring the buyer can in turn trust the intermediary.

Consequently, back-to-back letters of credit can optimize cash flow for the intermediary and streamline the import-export process, thereby fostering growth and expansion in global trade.


Back-to-back letters of credit are used in international trade when an intermediary or middleman is involved in the transaction process. A middleman would then issue two separate letters of credit: one to the buyer and another to the seller, effectively backing each other. Here are three real-world examples:

1. Textile Industry: A textile exporter (middleman) based in Country A receives an order from a buyer in Country C for a large shipment of fabrics. The textile exporter doesn’t produce the fabrics but sources them from various manufacturers in Country B. In this case, the exporter will receive a letter of credit from the buyer in Country C and issue a back-to-back letter of credit in favor of the manufacturer in Country B, ensuring payment to the manufacturer upon fulfillment of the contracted order.

2. Electronics Industry: An electronics trading company based in Hong Kong acts as an intermediary between a buyer in the United States and a manufacturer in China. The buyer engages with the Hong Kong trader to import a large consignment of smartphones. The trader receives a letter of credit from the buyer, and issues a back-to-back letter of credit to the Chinese manufacturer, guaranteeing payment once the required shipment of smartphones meets the agreed-upon specifications.

3. Agricultural Industry: A commodity trading company in Brazil sources coffee beans from local farmers to sell to a European distributor. The distributor issues a letter of credit to the trading company, which in turn issues back-to-back letters of credit to the coffee bean farmers. The farmers receive payment once they meet the requirements set forth in the respective letters of credit, such as volume and quality parameters.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What are Back-to-Back Letters of Credit?

Back-to-Back Letters of Credit refer to an arrangement in which an intermediary party, usually a trader or broker, uses the security of a letter of credit (LC) from a buyer to secure another LC from the issuing bank for the benefit of the actual supplier. This arrangement helps smaller, lesser-known suppliers gain access to trade financing when dealing with international transactions.

Why are Back-to-Back Letters of Credit used?

These are used when the intermediary party does not have the requisite collateral, creditworthiness, or confidence of the ultimate buyer to secure a traditional letter of credit. The intermediary can then use the initial letter of credit to request a second letter from the issuing bank, assuring payment for the actual supplier.

How do Back-to-Back Letters of Credit work?

Once the end buyer issues the letter of credit for the intermediary party, the intermediary takes the original letter to their bank and requests a second letter for the actual supplier. Both LCs have matching terms, like shipping dates and product specifications, with slight differences such as the amount (usually a smaller LC for suppliers) and document requirements (to protect the intermediary’s anonymity). Upon successful completion of the transaction according to its terms, the bank releases payments under the LCs.

What are the benefits of using Back-to-Back Letters of Credit?

The main benefits include separating the buyer and the seller to preserve trade confidentiality and reducing the risk of non-payment for the supplier. It also extends the credit opportunity to smaller traders or intermediaries who do not have the means or established relationship with the original supplier.

What are the risks of using Back-to-Back Letters of Credit?

The risks involved are primarily the intermediary’s financial exposure if the issuing bank’s letter of credit turns out to be invalid or if the supplier fails to meet the terms of the transaction. The bank that issues the second letter of credit is also exposed to a risk in case the end buyer’s payment fails to come through.

Can any bank handle a Back-to-Back Letters of Credit transaction?

Most banks engaged in international trade financing and documentation can handle such transactions. However, it’s essential to establish a relationship with a bank that has experience dealing with back-to-back letters of credit, as the risk management and documentation process can be complex.

What factors are included in a Back-to-Back Letter of Credit for trade facilitation?

Some essential factors include transaction currency, terms of payment, product quantity and specifications, shipping and destination details, agreed documents to be presented, and dispute resolution procedures in case of non-compliance.

Related Finance Terms

  • Collateral security
  • Intermediary bank
  • Trade financing
  • Primary beneficiary
  • Secondary beneficiary

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