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Andrew K. Sokol is General Manager of Emerging Markets at Escrow.com, an International Trade Administration Strategic Partner.
About a year ago, Professor David Wyld, Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University, wrote an article titled, “Securing the Transaction: The Advantages of Using Online Escrow Services Versus Letters of Credit in International Trade.” In that article, Professor Wyld predicts that with the use of escrow services, “we will see a growth in exporting (and importing) activities around the globe.”
The question is…what is an escrow service and how is it used in international trade transactions?
The International Trade Administration’s Trade Finance Guide (TFG) says an escrow service is a cash-in-advance option available to exporters and importers that reduces the potential risk of fraud. It acts as a trusted third party that collects, holds and disburses funds according to exporter and importer instructions.
Here’s how it works: the importer sends the agreed purchase amount to the escrow service. After payment is verified, the exporter is instructed to ship the goods. Upon delivery, the importer has a pre-determined amount of time to inspect and accept the goods. Once accepted, the funds are released by the escrow service to the exporter. The escrow fee can either be paid in full by one party or split evenly between the exporter and the importer.
The TFG also points out that, as an exporter, any sale is a gift until payment is received. And, because getting paid in full and on time is the ultimate goal for the seller in each sale, an appropriate payment method must be chosen carefully to minimize the payment risk while also accommodating the needs of the buyer.
But, as illustrated in the TFG, different payment types present different risks to exporters than to importers. And for a variety of reasons, not all of the identified methods of payment are available, or desirable, to either exporters or importers. Here’s how the risk levels are illustrated in the TFG:
For the first time, however, the new 2012 edition of the TFG includes escrow services for “transactions with importers who demand assurance that the goods will be sent in exchange for advance payment” and states that “escrow in international trade is a service that allows both exporter and importer to protect a transaction by placing the funds in the hands of a trusted third party until a specified set of conditions are met.”
In other words, escrow services can offer a mutually beneficial cash-in-advance method for both parties. Plus, offering escrow services as a method of payment can actually add potential importers to U.S. exporters. In many cases, deals just don’t happen due to a payment related “issue” – and one example might be that you, as the exporter, require payment in full and up-front but the importer is reluctant to send the money until they receive the goods. In this case, by offering escrow services, both parties can be satisfied, the payment issue is resolved, and the deal closes. Cross-border escrow services are offered by international banks and firms that specialize in escrow and other deposit and custody services.
Like with any new business opportunity, if you are considering the use of escrow services, do your due diligence and make sure the one you choose is licensed and accredited. You can also verify the service you choose to do business with via:
- The Internet Crime Complaint Center – a partnership between the FBI and the NWC3 (National White Collar Crime Center) to prevent fraud: http://www.ic3.gov/crimeschemes.aspx#item-8.
- Escrow-Fraud.com: http://www.escrow-fraud.com/index.php?page=legit-escrow.
- The Better Business Bureau: http://www.bbb.org.
- LooksTooGoodToBeTrue: http://www.lookstoogoodtobetrue.com/fraudtypes/escrowfraud.aspx.
(Editor’s Note: This post focuses on one of several possible methods for receiving payments for exports. It is not intended to be an endorsement of escrow services or any organization that provides escrow services. More information is available in the Trade Finance Guide.)