How to have a successful trade finance career at an international bank

Whenever students complete ICC Academy’s Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) programme, we ask them what ambitions they have for their future trade finance careers. The overwhelming response that comes back…..?

“I want to be Head of Trade Finance or Trade Operations at a major international bank”.

But what does this job entail and how do you reach that level of seniority? To find out we spoke to someone already doing the role. Abbas Haider is Vice President, Trade Finance, Financial Institutions at Deutsche Bank, as well as a CTFP graduate.

Abbas generously gave up his time to tell us everything. From what he does on a day-to-day basis to what he recommends more junior employees focus on to build their career in trade finance.

In this interview, you will learn:

  • The number one skill you should focus on to be successful in a client-facing trade finance position – especially senior roles (questions 3 & 5)
  • The real, tangible benefits of getting experience in both back and front-office positions within your bank (question 5)
  • Why it is essential to develop a solid, foundational knowledge of all the products that trade finance encompasses. You won’t reach senior positions by specialising in just one product (question 6)
  • The key personality traits that senior trade finance professionals look for when interviewing candidates for their teams (question 6)
  • What a trade finance team at a major international bank does on a day-to-day basis (question 2)

Read the full interview below.

1. Hi Abbas, what is the purpose of your job at Deutsche Bank (DB)?

Abbas Haider (AH): I am part of the Trade Finance, Financial Institutions (TFFI) team in Dubai, that manages financial institution clients in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), Iraq and Pakistan.

More specifically, we are responsible for developing a focused client management and sales strategy to cover trade finance products for banks in our region. This includes, not only revenue generation but, very importantly in this day and age especially, risk mitigation.

2. What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

AH: It will probably help if I explain a bit about how our process works.

Banks have corporate customers that wish to engage in trade finance either domestically or in cross border opportunities. This is where our team steps in by providing its clients, i.e. the banks, with trade finance products that they can then offer to their corporate clients.

For example, the banks may issue a letter of credit (LC) on behalf of the buyer which may require confirmation by the seller and thus the bank may approach us for adding confirmation, thereby mitigating the exporter’s payment risk.

On a typical day, we will deal with several stakeholders that include our clients and internal parties i.e. – branches, operations teams, product partners, credit teams, sales colleagues and so forth.

We service the client from A-Z; whether it is issuing or closing transactions, resolving any operational issues or facilitating them in any service requirements they may have from the bank. The operational side involves working closely with our operations teams to ensure effective processes and controls and that transaction turnaround adheres to committed timelines and standards.

Another very important element of our work is to ensure strict adherence to compliance and KYC requirements. This includes both from a global perspective as well as in line with our internal policies on these matters.

Essentially, our job is to tie everything together between our clients and all our relevant internal stakeholders across the globe.

3. How did you get to the position you are in today?

AH: I started my career in 1996 working for Deutsche Bank (DB) in Pakistan and have been with the organization ever since. All my time (almost 24 years) with DB has been in the transaction banking division, but I have worked in a variety of different roles, covering both back office and client facing positions.

I believe this experience has been instrumental in helping me understand the challenges you may face on both sides of the coin. As well as how best to tackle them. Being aware of our internal challenges and interests while also catering to client expectations is crucial.

4. Do you think your path (24 years at one bank) is a typical one?

AH: Whenever I tell people I have been with one bank for 24 years it definitely raises some eyebrows.

However, I think it all depends on what your objectives are. Although I do know colleagues who have moved around more than me, I have never had any reason to leave. I have earned my respect here and it has been a very enriching experience.

Staying at DB has given me the opportunity to get a variety of different experiences. What I am doing now is completely different to what I started doing when I joined which was a back-office role.

I can confidently say that I have no regrets. I have grown both professionally and as a person, as well as being given wonderful learning opportunities and geographic mobility.

Ultimately, whether you stay in one place or not is down to personal motivations. It is possible to progress your career either way.

5. What skills or experiences do you think have helped you reach a senior position within a trade finance team?

AH: From when I started 24 years ago, I have had back office roles, client facing positions, been involved in operations and service on the corporate side and managed teams of 20-25 people. All this experience has groomed me in terms of my skills in conflict management and having a sense of balance.

If you can be familiar and aware of not only internal, operational challenges and workarounds, but also clients’ expectations and how best to manage them, it will really help you.

For example, we can face a lot of pressure from clients about how quickly they need to have their transactions executed. A lot can be at stake especially when the counterparties are key corporate clients expecting top notch quality and delivery. That is when you are required to put all your personal networking skills and relationships to effective use.

You need to be proactive to problem solving, to think out of the box for solutions and get the job done.

When a client gives us instructions for a transaction it must be done in line with expectations.  While, it is important for the client to get it through in time, you need to ensure they understand that theirs is not the only transaction the branch is working on. Typically, the branch will have hundreds to process each day.

You then need to work with your operations colleagues to make them aware of how important this is to your client and get them to expedite the transaction.

It is a real balancing act – managing priorities with your colleagues while keeping the client happy and gaining their trust. Relationship management and the ability to keep different stakeholders happy is a hugely important part of the job.

6. What advice would you give to more junior employees trying to work their way up the career ladder in trade finance?

AH: Trade finance is an interesting field, but it also has a lot of complexities. For someone starting off it is very important to have a basic understanding of the products that trade finance encompasses before one specializes in any one area of it.

**(Note from ICC Academy: A great way to do this is by taking one of ICC Academy’s online trade finance certificates – the Global Trade Certificate (GTC) or the Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP), which is the programme that Abbas took. These both cover all the main trade finance techniques from either a beginner or advanced perspective).**

AH: This is especially important if you want to progress within this field – you can’t expect to specialize in just one product if you want to head up a trade operations team for example. You may have a wonderful team but there are certain responsibilities expected of you that require wider knowledge.

Whatever route you choose, it is important to take the initiative to learn more than you are expected to. When you go and meet clients, you want their first impression of you to be of someone who knows what they are talking about; someone who comes across intelligently and who inspires confidence in their area of expertise.

Whatever you want to do in your life – don’t have tunnel vision. Look beyond what is expected of you, take the initiative to sit later at work and learn online

In my view that’s what differentiates one person from another and that’s what an interviewer may look for.

Are they thinking out of the box?

Do they show initiative?

Are they just doing the same thing day in day out and then they retire?

Are they adaptable to change?

If you really want to make a difference starting off, have a positive attitude and do things that are not expected of you. This type of behavior will be recognized.

Inevitably a good performer is never sidelined. You will always stand out.

7. What is your favourite and least favourite part of the job?

AH: One of my favourite parts of the job is client management.

It gives you an insight into how people think and want to work. I enjoy the human interaction – I would much rather talk to people on the phone than over email. This type of interaction really helps create a better personal relationship which leads to a stronger, better professional relationship.

It’s about getting to know your clients, how they think and what they expect of you.

Another aspect of the job that I have enjoyed has been the opportunity to travel and meet with so many of my colleagues across the globe. It has taught me to appreciate and embrace diversity. It has formed personal bonds of friendship with some people that are really irreplaceable. I have learnt a lot from them in one way or the other.

Conversely, client management is also the most challenging part of the role.

You may have some challenging clients, that have strict expectations in terms of service and cost. You may also have some restrictions internally, for example sometimes credit approval for certain transactions are not forthcoming, so you then have to relay that to the client.

Client management is enjoyable, but it also has its own set of challenges.

However, these challenges make the work more interesting. Doing the same stuff day-in day-out becomes mundane, but when you have challenges to overcome or take care of, it helps to spice things up!

Thank you Abbas!

In summary, if you want to progress your career in trade finance at a major international bank like Deutsche Bank, Abbas’ advice is to focus on the following key skills and experiences:

  • Get good at client management and comfortable dealing with all stakeholders. Develop your interpersonal skills.
  • Get experience on both sides of the business; front office and back office. It will really help you resolve issues and manage conflicts if you can see both sides of the picture.
  • Develop a solid, foundational knowledge of all the products that trade finance encompasses. You won’t reach senior positions by specialising in just one product.
  • Show initiative and be proactive enough to learn more than is expected of you. Make the extra effort so that when you meet clients you come across intelligently. You can start by taking one of ICC Academy’s trade finance courses and certificates.
  • Take the time to learn about the bigger picture in your industry. You need to stay up to date with the latest developments

If you enjoyed this interview and would like more, let us know by emailing info@iccacademy.com.sg with any suggestions for our next interview.