Supply shift from food services to supermarkets brings new risks for transaction banks


Kanika Saigal
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Plugging gaps in fractured supply chains is central to maintaining trade and food security.


In the UK, supermarkets have started to remove purchase limits on essential items as food hoarding behaviour abates.

Yes, online delivery slots remain elusive, but perhaps the fact that shelves are stacked with toilet roll and tinned tomatoes once again is a sign that panic buying in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic is starting to slow.

The recent unprecedented demand for food supplies from supermarkets, however, is not sufficient to cover the slump in demand from restaurants, cafes, hotels and bars that have been forced to shut due to Covid-19. 

Travel restrictions, which limit the movement of goods and services, also mean that fresh produce cannot always get to its intended destination.

Farmers across the globe complain that fruit and vegetables are being left to rot and milk is being thrown away because of distribution challenges.

Maintaining resilient supply chains in this new environment is one of the biggest challenges transaction bankers face today.

"The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted domestic and international supply chains across the globe. No one is immune," says Vinay Mendonca, managing director and global head product, propositions and structuring, trade and receivables finance at HSBC.

Vinay Mendonca_160x186

Vinay Mendonca, HSBC

"Closing gaps and diversifying supply chains will be essential to maintain trade, and this can mean anything from on-boarding suppliers as quickly as possible to streamlining access to finance," he says.

This will be critical in the food industry.

"Some of our clients in the food industry are shifting distribution away from the food services sector such as restaurants and cafes to supermarkets and groceries and are facing large-scale logistic disruptions, especially on cross-border perishable movements that rely heavily on commercial air traffic," Mendonca explains.

"All this is resulting in uncertainty, with spikes in their working capital gaps leading to increased financing needs as their supply/distribution chains are swiftly re-purposed," he says.

Banks must support clients with working capital. HSBC is making £3 billion available to importers and exporters in need of additional support, extending payment terms of up to 60 days in some cases, granting faster guarantees and even providing a dedicated helpline to companies needing to speak to trade finance specialists.

"We are also helping with risk-mitigation solutions as they diversify their supplier/distribution base by establishing trade with new counterparties in different markets to address some of the logistics challenges," says Mendonca.


But for companies repurposing their business to support the relief effort – be that in food, manufacturing or the textiles industry – additional steps in the due-diligence process will need to be taken.

This could include looking at how long it may take for new certification on the products they are making, how they might be able to use existing inventory as collateral, or how relationship managers can conduct factory visits for inspection.

"Where we may need to carry out a factory visit, for example, we try to do it over video call," says Mendonca. "As our clients adapt, so must we."

Adaptation comes with some financial relief. In the UK, HSBC will offer preferential pricing, extended repayment terms on loans, and fast-track approval times to support companies involved in the supply and manufacture of ventilators to UK hospitals.

For those corporate clients that continue to see demand falling, we need to help them fulfil basic requirements such as wages and utilities 
 - Vinay Mendonca, HSBC

Companies that are repurposing their business and adding new suppliers to the chain within such an unpredictable environment present new risks to lenders.

"From a risk profile perspective, the previous performance of suppliers is important," says Mendonca.

"Yes, this may be new territory for them, but they have an existing track record that we can rely on. Moreover, suppliers have become much more interested to join supply-chain finance programmes, but with this they are increasingly interested in pre-shipment financing. Our anchor clients are willing to underwrite the loans, absorbing some of the risk, investing directly into their own supply chains."  

Then there are those that are unable to fill gaps in their supply chain or repurpose their business. 

"For those corporate clients that continue to see demand falling, we need to help them fulfil basic requirements such as wages and utilities," says Mendonca. "Bridge financing will be essential until things get back to normal."