What is a Standby Letter of Credit?

Standby Letter of Credit

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Standby Letter of Credit

A Standby Letter of Credit (SBLC) is a financial instrument issued by a bank or financial institution, guaranteeing the payment of a specified amount to a beneficiary (usually a seller or creditor) on behalf of their customer (usually a buyer or debtor) in the event that the customer fails to fulfill their contractual obligations.

SBLCs are often used as a safety mechanism for transactions, ensuring that the beneficiary receives payment in scenarios where the customer defaults or is unable to meet their obligations.

Here are some key points to understand about a Standby Letter of Credit:

  • Nature of SBLC: Unlike a traditional letter of credit, an SBLC is not intended to serve as the primary payment method. Instead, it acts as a backup or “standby” guarantee. The SBLC is only drawn upon if the buyer fails to make the payment as agreed.
  • Trigger for Payment: The beneficiary can draw against the SBLC by presenting the required documentation, which typically proves that the issuing party (the buyer or debtor) defaulted or did not meet specific obligations.
  • Validity: SBLCs have a set expiration date. If the beneficiary does not present a claim within this period, the letter of credit will expire and can no longer be drawn upon.
  • Diverse Uses: While commonly used in international trade, SBLCs can also be used in real estate transactions, infrastructure projects, and other scenarios where there’s a risk of non-performance.
  • Types of SBLC: There are two primary types of SBLCs:
    • Performance SBLC: Guarantees the non-financial contractual obligations (like quality of goods, timelines, etc.) are met.
    • Financial SBLC: Guarantees that monetary obligations are met.
  • Cost: The applicant (usually the buyer or debtor) pays a fee, often a percentage of the SBLC amount, for the issuance of the SBLC. This fee compensates the bank for the risk they take in providing the guarantee.
  • Irrevocable: Once issued, an SBLC is typically irrevocable, meaning the bank cannot cancel it without the consent of all parties involved.

In essence, an SBLC serves as a safety net for the beneficiary, ensuring that even if there are unexpected issues with the transaction, they have a guarantee of payment or performance from a reliable bank or financial institution. It helps build trust, especially in transactions where parties are located in different countries and might not have established business relationships.

Example of a Standby Letter of Credit

Let’s use a hypothetical scenario involving an international trade transaction to illustrate how a Standby Letter of Credit (SBLC) works.


BrightTech Inc., a tech company based in the USA, wants to purchase specialized electronic components from ElectroParts Ltd., a manufacturer in South Korea. Given the substantial order value and the lack of an established business relationship between the two companies, ElectroParts Ltd. is concerned about payment security. They suggest the use of an SBLC.


  • Agreement: BrightTech Inc. and ElectroParts Ltd. agree on the terms of the transaction. ElectroParts requests an SBLC as a guarantee for the payment of $500,000.
  • SBLC Issuance: BrightTech approaches its bank, MetroBank, in the USA to issue an SBLC in favor of ElectroParts Ltd. BrightTech might need to provide collateral or have a specific credit line with MetroBank to secure the SBLC. MetroBank agrees and issues the SBLC, which is then sent to ElectroParts’ bank, KoreaBank, in South Korea.
  • Assurance for ElectroParts: With the SBLC in place, ElectroParts is assured that even if BrightTech fails to make payment, they can claim the guaranteed amount from KoreaBank, provided they meet the terms set out in the SBLC.
  • Fulfillment of Contract: BrightTech receives the components and is satisfied with the quality and timeliness. They proceed to make the payment of $500,000 directly to ElectroParts as per their agreement.
  • Expiry of SBLC: Since BrightTech made the payment as agreed upon, ElectroParts does not need to draw on the SBLC. After the specified validity period, the SBLC expires without any claim being made.

Outcome: The SBLC served its purpose by providing ElectroParts Ltd. with the confidence to proceed with the transaction, even though they had no prior dealings with BrightTech Inc. In this case, the mere presence of the SBLC was enough to ensure smooth operations without it being drawn upon.

Remember, an SBLC isn’t meant to be the primary source of payment but rather a backup. In the above scenario, it helped bridge the trust gap between two companies engaging in a significant international transaction.

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