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Standby Letters of Credit


A Standby Letter of Credit (SBLC) is a guarantee of payment issued by a bank on behalf of a client that is used as “payment of last resort” should the client fail to fulfill a contractual commitment with a third party. It’s a form of financial safeguard that can be invoked in the event of non-payment or default by the client. Essentially, if the business fails to pay, the bank pays on the business’s behalf.


The phonetics for “Standby Letters of Credit” are:Standby: /ˈstænˌbaɪ/Letters: /ˈlɛtərz/of: /ʌv/Credit: /ˈkrɛdɪt/

Key Takeaways

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  1. Security: Standby Letters of Credit (SBLC) serves as a fail-safe for business transactions. It guarantees that the seller will receive their payment in the event the buyer fails to fulfill their contractual obligations.
  2. Flexibility: SBLC can be utilized in various types of business operations, ranging from investments to trade goods and services, making it a flexible financial instrument.
  3. International trade facilitation: SBLC make international and domestic trade transactions safer by reducing the risk involved. It is a commitment given by a bank on behalf of the client, which is taken positively by all financial institutions around the world.

“`Please be aware that this is a simplified explanation of the subject and real-world applications may be more complex.


Standby Letters of Credit (SBLC) are important in business/finance as they provide a secure and reliable means of fulfilling contractual obligations, particularly in international trade. Essentially, an SBLC is a guarantee issued by a bank on behalf of a client, ensuring that the client will fulfill their payment obligations to their business partners. If the client fails to do so, the bank will cover the payment. This makes an SBLC an essential risk management tool, allowing businesses to establish trust and credibility, safeguarding both parties involved in the transaction from potential losses. It essentially minimizes the default risk, which is why it’s an important instrument for financial safety and negotiation flexibility in various business dealings.


Standby Letters of Credit primarily serve as a safety net in business transactions, acting as a guarantee from a bank or financial institution whenever the client fails to fulfill a contractual obligation with a third party. It essentially functions as a pledge from a lending institution on behalf of their client, stating that should the client fail to meet the terms of a contract (like payment), the bank will provide the contracted amount. It provides reassurance to the party conducting business with the client and mitigates risk associated with non-payment or failure to perform a specific act in trade.They are often sought during international trade deals where risk is inherently greater due to a lack of familiarity between parties, distance, and potential volatile economies. For example, an exporter might feel uneasy about shipping goods without payment assurance due to buyer bankruptcy risk or other default risk. Therefore, the importer, to establish trust and credibility, may request a Standby Letter of Credit to cover the total cost of the goods. In this scenario, the exporter can be confident that the agreed-upon cost will be paid, regardless of the importer’s solvency.


1. Import/Export Trade: Standby letters of credit are extensively used in international trade transactions. For example, Company A in the USA wants to import goods from Supplier B in China, but the supplier is unsure about the company’s ability to make payment. An American bank could issue a standby letter of credit in favor of the Chinese supplier, promising to make payment if Company A defaults.2. Construction Projects: In this instance, a construction company (Contractor A) is required to deliver a construction project for a client (Company B) on a certain date. Company B would request a standby letter of credit from Contractor A’s bank, guaranteeing that should Contractor A be unable to complete the project on time, Company B will be compensated.3. Energy Sector: Standby letters of credit are often used to guarantee payment in energy wholesale markets. For instance, an electricity supplier (Company A) might need to provide a standby letter of credit to the grid operator to cover possible non-payment of their energy supply bills. If Company A cannot pay, then the grid operator can draw on the letter of credit issued by Company A’s bank.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a Standby Letter of Credit (SBLC)?

A Standby Letter of Credit (SBLC) is a guarantee of payment by a bank on behalf of their client. It is a legal document that guarantees the bank’s client will pay for goods or services purchased from the seller.

How does a Standby Letter of Credit work?

The bank issues an SBLC on behalf of the buyer or debtor in favour of the seller or creditor, and undertakes to pay a certain amount if the buyer doesn’t fulfil the agreed terms of the contract.

When is an SBLC used?

SBLCs are often used in international trade, to ensure that payments will be made if the buyer or seller fail to fulfil their responsibilities in the agreement.

How is an SBLC different from a traditional letter of credit?

A traditional letter of credit is used for conducting the actual transaction, while a Standby Letter of Credit is designed as a backup should the buyer fail to pay.

Is the Standby Letter of Credit negotiable?

No, an SBLC is not negotiable. It’s issued for a specific beneficiary and the parties can’t be changed without the consent of all parties.

Who pays for the Standby Letter of Credit?

The applicant or customer (the party purchasing goods/services) typically pays for the SBLC.

What is the duration of a Standby Letter of Credit?

The duration of an SBLC is typically one year, however this can be extended. The issuing bank determines the expiry date.

What happens if an SBLC is not used?

If the SBLC is not used, it simply expires without any parties owing any obligations to the others.

Is an SBLC a long term or short term instrument?

It can be both. It’s considered a short-term instrument if it’s used to guarantee payment for goods in a single transaction, and long-term if it’s used for continuous transactions over a period of time.

What are the risks for the parties involved in an SBLC?

The primary risk for the applicant is if they fail to meet contractual obligations and the SBLC is drawn on. For the beneficiary, there are very few risks. A risk for banks is the default of a client on a payment.

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