Interstellar Transactions and Letters of Credit
"What do you mean my Yendorian Express Card is no good in this region?"
Many Players and non-player characters are involved in interstellar commerce. In the various realms of Traveller this will involve different "back office" transactions which may or may not be made a part of the adventure itself. Knowing the mechanics (and how they can go wrong) may provide a hook for the referee to parley into more adventures, or just a reason to go to the local bank, find an NPC, meet a patron, etc. This article outlines the real-world (tm) letter of credit processes into the Traveller Milieu, with many details dependent on the era and location.
One of the major innovations that makes the Imperium, well, The Imperium is the Interstellar Banking System (IBS). The Imperium itself underwrites insurance on deposits and interstellar transactions conducted across distances where data is automatically out of date. This risk management allows banks to keep records that are always weeks out of date (due to the speed of Jump limit) and honor drafts against funds without being concerned that there is someone at another bank across the way that is emptying the account at the same time. The Imperial Interstellar Scout Service (IISS) also is responsible for the dissemination of the deposit information. (You thought all those X-Boats were carrying emails to Grandma?) It also raises interplanetary banking fraud to a crime enforced by the Imperium.
Theoretically, a player character could raise a lot of funds quickly by opening an account on one world, waiting for the scheduled X-Boat to leave, then withdrawing the cash, jumping to the X-Boat's destination, and withdrawing the cash again before the record of the first withdrawl reached the new world. This would only work once. Identity verification is a big part of this process, and any successful cons of the system center around identity theft. Imperial identity verification should be extremely difficult to spoof, and even lower technology worlds will invest in high tech identity verification systems. You can count on identity verification on industrialized Imperial member worlds to be at least TL9 or 10, and will typically be 2-3 TLs higher than the world's standard TL (max of 15 of course). This reflects the willingness to pay a higher societal cost to ensure the security of the banking system. If the world is not really centrally organized or is poor or more sparsely populated, the ability to support the cost of such a system will not be as great.
In no case should a player's credit balance be something carried on their person or ship. Outside, multiple means of credit and identity verification are the norm in banking, and a credit card (Even a Yendorian Express Platinum Card) issued in the Player's name without the credit card backer's records showing the same information will not be honored (or may be only honored to a nominal level until the records catch up).
But what if you did not want to await the X-Boat's arrival at the system in which you intend to do business? What if the system were off the route? What if the Milieu you are using is effectively Imperium-free? Here we get into the Letter of Credit.
In the days of sailing ships, a merchant would bring a letter of introduction and credit from a bank in London to the East Indies that requested that the Bank in the East Indies extend certain amount of credit to the bearer in order to buy goods for shipment back to Europe. In the Traveller realm, such a letter would be in the form of a card or chip, or perhaps simply an information transmission, secured by a one-time code which had been worked out between the two banks in advance. The code reassures the receiving bank that the sending bank will stand behind the letter of credit. Once established, the merchant can then use the funds to buy stuff locally.
In our world, ship captains rarely are in the business of buying and selling goods. More often, two firms are doing business with the ship acting as a freight carrier. In Traveller, players sometimes carry "freight" for a fixed fee per ton. Carriers are typically responsible for the loss or damage of the goods until delivered to the destination. Traveller players in my Universe must buy insurance (actually, its just assumed) which will cover most losses and damages, but if there is a sniff of negligence or fraud, cargos and ships may be impounded, investigated, crew interrogated, etc (see your local law level for extremity of response). Freight must reach its destination before payment for goods is made in Contingent letters of credit. In a disputed case, a player ship may be forced to revisit an earlier port of call to prove they delivered their freight and thereby get paid by the shipper.
Remember that banks are in the business of making money. Nothing is for free, and an interest rate or fee will always accompany any transaction. For letters of credit a flat fee may be incurred, or a percentage fee of the value of the letter (2% is a nice round number), and the amount of the credit may be subject to some kind of annual interest rate (calculated daily, of course).
Ok, but how do I use this stuff?
Players often need cash for less-than-legal activities. They often want their identity hidden. Modern banking is all electronically done. Doing business in cash raises all sorts of legal red flags. Depending on the law level the Players may get a visit from the local law enforcement organization or planetary Navy, the equivalent of the Treasury department or DEA, or may simply find that the Glamdring Geckles that were well received in Jewell are worthless in Glisten. If you find your players accumulating lots of ill gotten gains, this may be a plot device for ridding them of some of their excess cash balance. You don't have to take it all either; find a nice somewhat corrupt NPC bank officer who will explain the ins and outs of the local version of the letter of credit system and they only need to give up, say, 20%. Be careful though, most schemes will not stand the test of time, and what worked once may put players in hot water if they return to the same system in the future.
Another hook is the investigation of a con artist. The patron may be an angry insurer or banker who has paid on a fraudulent letter of credit for the third time. The perpetrator may be outside the short arm of the local Pocket Empire, but that does not prevent a private fixer from attempting to apprehend, or even eliminate, the criminal. Identity would be the key in such a case. Lower technology is often victimized by higher tech; the method of positive identification is not foolproof, only "good enough" to stop most theft for a reasonable societal cost. More paranoid (read higher law level, certain gov't types) societies will spend more on positive identification methods, such as retina scans and brain pattern recordings, but with sufficient differences in technology, any system can be fooled (at least once).
Players may also become the victim of fraud. A mission is paid off with a fraudulent letter of credit, and the originator has disappeared. Tracking the con artist down may require shaking down bank employees or hacking records of transactions. A trail of other fraud victims