It would be a difficult task to wrestle this award away from HSBC. The bank has well and truly entrenched itself in the region and continues to do so this year. This is a bank that knows how to leverage on its geographic reach to take advantage of Asia's booming trade economy.

However, HSBC's trade presence in 680 branches in 22 countries and territories, is but one of its strong points. The bank's knowledge of its Asian customers and their markets has been the key differentiating factor among its competitors. As one multinational customer put it: "They really understand our business and needs, wherever we are." Another had this to say: "Our relationship has evolved over the last decade from being a purely business relationship to a personal one. There exists a bond of trust and friendship between us, which can only be stronger with time."

How do they do it? HSBC has trade sales and service teams who are known for their undiscriminating dedication and commitment to both large and small customers. During the financial crisis, the bank continued to serve these customers, and is currently reaping the rewards for that dedication. HSBC turned over of 26,000 letters of credit to the value of $5 billion, and opened 105 new accounts with $340 million worth of facilities in the first three quarters of 2000.

While old-fashioned service has been HSBC's focus, the bank has not neglected the technical and technological side of trade finance. The bank has a number of new products, including TradeCollect, which looks to leverage on HSBC presence in India and China to accelerate the payment of export bills. HSBC is also aiming to move all trade transactions on to the internet. Its trade services web site currently offers trade tutorials, live news-feeds, and exchange rates. Soon, customers will be able to create documentary collection schedules in their own office and dispatch them directly to the collecting bank through the web site.

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