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What is the U.S. Export-Import Bank?

By Megan Doyle

Opportunities for global business growth may be greater than ever, but lack of financing can hold many U.S. businesses back from international trade. Since many commercial lenders lack the capacity or willingness to lend for import-export due to the economic and political risks involved, the historical role of the U.S. Export-Import (EXIM) Bank has been to offer trade financing options and loan guarantees to businesses of all sizes.1

But between 2015 and 2019 the EXIM Bank’s capabilities were greatly reduced. As of June 2019, however, the bank is back up to full operation—if only until September 30 (unless re-authorized, again). This article explains the role of the EXIM Bank, its recent reauthorization, and how it benefits businesses large and small.


What is the EXIM Bank and What are its Roles?


The EXIM Bank is a U.S. federal agency that aims to support export of U.S. goods and services by offering trade financing options for businesses who cannot get financing from private lenders.2 With its trade financing backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S., EXIM accepts the risks that private lenders are unable or unwilling to accept.3 In other words, EXIM Bank acts as an intermediary between exporters, lenders, and buyers to provide loan guarantees that boost lender confidence.4 For example, if an exporter defaults on a loan guaranteed by EXIM, EXIM will reimburse the lender for the guaranteed portion, which is typically 90 percent of the loan.5


EXIM provides several trade finance options, including short-term working capital loan guarantees, export credit insurance, and long-term financing for foreign buyers.6 Working capital loan guarantees help exporters get the cash they need to fulfill orders and expand into overseas markets, while credit insurance can help exporters protect against nonpayment risk, for example.7,8 Long-term financing to creditworthy foreign buyers can help U.S. businesses secure export sales. Foreign buyers might include public or private sector entities, or governments.9


The EXIM Bank’s History and Recent Reauthorization


The EXIM Bank was first established in 1934 to help companies during the great depression, with the stated goal “to aid in financing and facilitate exports and imports and the exchange of commodities between the United States and other Nations or the agencies or nationals thereof.”10 The EXIM Bank has also helped finance a number of historical projects, including development of the Pan-American Highway.


But in 2015, several board directors’ terms expired, and no new nominations were confirmed. This led to a five-month shutdown. In December 2015, the EXIM Bank was reauthorized until September 30, 2019, but still lacked a board quorum so its capabilities were limited.11 Medium- and long-term financing of over $10 million could not be approved, and the bank’s “exposure cap” (total authorized outstanding and undisbursed financing and insurance) was greatly reduced.12,13


With these limitations, the bank’s reach was cut short. In fiscal year 2018, EXIM Bank authorized $3.3 billion for 2,389 transactions, supporting an estimated $6.8 billion in U.S. exports and 33,000 U.S. jobs, according to the Congressional Research Service. But in fiscal year 2014—the last time the bank was fully operational—it authorized $20.5 billion for 3,746 transactions, supporting an estimated $27.5 billion in U.S. exports and over 164,000 jobs.14


But the EXIM Bank’s new board of directors held its first meeting on May 30th, 2019, and once again has the quorum it needs for full operation. However, Congress must act again before September 30, 2019 to maintain authorization and full operational capabilities, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.15


How the EXIM Bank Benefits Large and Small Businesses


Key industries benefitted by the EXIM Bank include oil and gas, mining, agriculture, renewable energy, medical technologies, and aircraft.16 In fact, EXIM has special initiatives to increase financing of U.S. exports related to transportation security, medical technology, and renewable energy.17 For example, certain renewable energy transactions are eligible for long payment terms (18-years), and all qualifying environmental export transactions are eligible for up to 30 percent local cost financing and capitalized interest during construction.18


Otherwise, EXIM Bank is required to authorize at least 25 percent of its total financing output to small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs).19 EXIM has a number of Export Finance Centers located throughout the U.S. to help assist financing for SMEs. And, EXIM has a team of specialists dedicated to working exclusively with minority and women-owned businesses to help with trade finance.20


Some critics of the bank suggest EXIM pays too much attention to larger enterprises and large business deals. But small business funding did rise between 2015 and 2019, when the bank did not have the authority to approve larger deals. For example, in fiscal year 2018, U.S. SMEs accounted for 91 percent of EXIM’s authorizations, or 66 percent by dollar amount, up from 25 percent by dollar amount in 2014, its last fully active year.21



The U.S. EXIM Bank is a federal agency dedicated to providing trade financing options for small and large businesses who cannot get loans from private lenders. Despite its long history, the bank’s abilities were limited from 2015 to 2019. Now, the EXIM Bank is once again fully operational, but the future of the bank remains uncertain.

Megan Doyle - The Author

The Author

Megan Doyle

Megan Doyle is a business technology writer and researcher based in Wantagh, NY, whose work focuses primarily on financial services technology.


1. Export Finance Solutions to Increase Sales for U.S. Businesses,;
2. “About Us,”;
3. Ibid.
4. “Working Capital Loan Guarantee,”;
5. “U.S. Ex-Im Bank,”;
6. “Environmental Export Financing: Good News for U.S. Exporters,”;
7. “Working Capital Loan Guarantee,”;
8. “Ex-Im Bank,”;
9. Export Finance Solutions to Increase Sales for U.S. Businesses,;
10. “History of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S.,”;
11. “The Ex-Im Bank: Back in Business,” U.S. House Committee on Financial Services;
12. “Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank),” Congressional Research Service;
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. “Senate Revives Ex-Im Bank,” The Wall Street Journal;
16. “Key Industries,”;
17. “Special Initiatives & Assistance,”;
18. “Environmental Export Financing: Good News for U.S. Exporters,”;
19. “Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank),” Congressional Research Service;
20. “Minority & Women-Owned,”;
21. “Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank),” Congressional Research Service;

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