Singapore, 28 June: In the latest of our ICC Academy Alumni Stories, we sat down with John Pfisterer – a graduate of our Global Trade Certificate (GTC) and Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) programmes – to understand his career journey from an intern to a Vice-President within the trade finance sector.
From the traits that helped him reach a senior position to why continuous professional development is a must to get ahead in the current global market, John will walk us through his nearly ten years of experience that led him to the high-level position he is in today.
ICC Academy: John, tell us about your journey to reach your current position.
JP: I started my career as a commercial bank intern at JPMorgan Chase & Co. I gradually moved up to become an associate dealing with traditional credit products. During my five years with the bank, I managed multiple portfolios including healthcare, not-for-profit enterprises, and debt capital markets. Working in varied functions and across departments helped me gain a broader understanding of structures, large-scale resources, risk assessment, and the fundamentals of networking.
I was keen on broadening my scope and looking for a switch when an opportunity at LiquidX, a financial technology company focused on delivering working capital and trade finance solutions, came along. Going from an organisation with more than 250,000 employees to one with just over 20 at the time was quite a transition, but I was up for the challenge. I joined LiquidX as an associate. The role provided me the flexibility to expand my entrepreneurial skills by focusing on deal syndication, while I was able to offer our client’s solutions in financing of receivables, payables, inventory, insurance, and asset digitisation.
In three years, with sheer hard work and determination, I climbed up the ladder to become the Vice- President and Head of Client Solutions. In this role, my main responsibilities include relationship management, market research, data analytics and trade execution to our global client base. With a 360-degree view of the business, my focus is on the company’s organic growth, which is supported by a multi-channel sales strategy, as well as managing and implementing effective client solution policies and tactics.
I am a strong believer in continuous professional development. Hence why I took up the ICC Academy’s Global Trade Certificate (GTC) and Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) programmes. The professional qualification has enabled me to confidently act as a strategic platform partner for all our clients working with capital needs.
I am also pursuing a master’s degree in corporate strategy and finance from the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School in the United States.
ICC Academy: What does a typical day or week involve?
JP: To be honest, it’s hard to illustrate a typical day when every day can be so different. But that’s what keeps me on my toes. A regular day might begin with internal meetings focused on sales and strategy sessions with our global partners. We then move on to product demonstrations, sales conversations, and deal talks, which happens to be a common occurrence in our daily agenda.
In between deal-making conversations with clients, it is critical to have an execution focus with our existing portfolios as well. To this effect, our global team ensures a seamless closing of transactions on a day-to-day basis.
ICC Academy: What skills have helped you reach a senior position?
JP: There are many aspects and traits that I would attribute to my success. The most important one is knowing the nuts and bolts of the trade. My ability to forecast the pipeline of assets, transactions, investor appetite, and key performance indicators (KPI’s) has proven to be an invaluable resource as a key point of contact for our growing network. This has also worked as a foundation that has allowed me to add value to a multitude of client conversations that I have had over the years.
The other thing, and perhaps of equal importance, is knowing my clients. It’s important to put yourself in their shoes. What really matters to them is if your product offers him/her a real and practical solution. It doesn’t matter how technically sophisticated your offering is–if it doesn’t solve the problem and make their lives’ easier, it doesn’t matter.
The last thing that has been key to my growth is the skill of networking. It is important to build a community that fosters a long-lasting partnership. Furthermore, as a millennial, many of us are far too reliant on emails, texts, and WhatsApp messages. When was the last time you picked up the phone and called your clients?
ICC Academy: What is your favourite part of the job and why?
JP: I enjoy the ability to be exposed to many different client types and deal structures. There are so many ways to add value within the cash conversion cycle for corporates and new investors that are just learning about the asset class. It is important to educate them about all things trade finance and how it is an asset that needs digitisation. Being able to convince clients and witness them move towards digitalisation is very satisfying and exciting.
ICC Academy: What do you find most challenging in your role?
JP: Working for a company that is in growth mode can be both exciting and difficult at the same time. At LiquidX, we want to offer scalable technology tools that can be configured for specific client needs. So, it’s hard when clients come to us, frustrated about their current systems or operations. That said, it is incredibly rewarding to then be able to come up with sophisticated solutions to their problems. Having the creative freedom to put in place lasting solutions might be hard work, but it is also gratifying.
ICC Academy: According to a recent World Bank Report, the fintech industry has been largely resilient and adaptable despite the challenging pandemic backdrop. Rather, COVID-19 has underlined the importance of fintech in emerging markets. Can you provide some insight into this?
JP: During the pandemic, working capital was impacted in multiple ways. Most notably, in the beginning of March 2020, supply chains across the globe were either halted, delayed, or entirely shut down. Large anchor customers looked to stabilise smaller suppliers and ensure that business was not interrupted. Companies retreated to capital markets for bond and loan borrowings, which resulted in historic borrowing months for banking institutions.
However, as opposed to debt financing, working capital facilities are largely uncommitted. One of the benefits of leveraging an electronic platform with a scalable legal and operational infrastructure is that corporate clients find new sources of liquidity during uncertain times without having to agree to new legal documentation. Now that’s an advantage of a fintech.
The fintech industry is, due to its very nature, well placed to weather the storm due to its lean operating models and structures. Fintech systems are cheaper to run, flexible, and built to be able to scale resiliently. The cost of operations may be as much as 70 percent lower than that of a traditional bank with a large branch network.
When we partnered with Broadridge Financial Solutions, it allowed us to have a global footprint to scale with corporate and investor clients alike. Having expertise in business processing and operational execution affords customers across the globe to source liquidity with ease and trusted certainty.
ICC Academy: You have completed two of the ICC Academy’s trade finance certificates. Can you talk us through your experience of the programmes?
JP: Making the change from debt capital markets to trade finance is not as simple as calculating interest and discount. To aid my learning and have an edge, I was very interested in taking up a professional certification that was industry-backed. I firmly believe that time invested outside of the office in learning always pays dividends.
Both the Global Trade Certificate (GTC) and Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) programmes were immensely beneficial. I would recommend them to professionals looking to make further investments in their careers. Having a flexible online format with interactive learning modules made for a great learning experience. In particular, the introductory-level certification, the GTC, provided excellent details on guarantees and documentary credits, which have further enhanced areas of my trade knowledge.
The advanced-level e-courses, especially the ones on commodity finance and supply chain finance, have reinforced and improved my skillset. Overall, the programmes have strengthened my confidence and provided me with a strong foundation to build upon.
ICC Academy: Have there been any experiences that you feel have been transformative or important for your career?
JP: One aspect that is quite underrated for professional growth is to surround yourself with mentors and actively seek feedback. I consider myself very fortunate to have had excellent guidance along the way. Furthermore, having trusted relationships with managers, peers, and even former colleagues helps gain honest and candid feedback for self-improvement.
Other than that, I believe that each deal that we make is a new learning experience. Every single transaction includes new personalities, requirements, restrictions, and parameters to find the path to success. Every deal represents an opportunity for improvement, even if the transaction does not materialise. I think all these learning and experiences have helped transform my career.
ICC Academy: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in trade finance?
JP: I believe the most important practice for any interested trade finance professional is to stay current with industry trends. It is imperative to understand products end-to-end and develop client-facing skills. Having a professional and industry-validated qualification will not only benefit you but also strengthen the team around you.
As a matter of practice, our internal team shares industry papers, news, and highlights to keep each other informed. Staying on top of the latest news, treasury publications, innovations, and deals in the market will add value to any internal or external partner conversations.
ICC Academy: When recruiting, are there any traits or skills that you look for in people?
JP: Be intellectually curious, a self-starter, and open to new experiences. Build a strong foundation as there is so much to learn within trade finance. Be ready to dive into new challenges any given day, and with the rapid change in the industry, stay up to date on key market trends and solutions that clients need. In a nutshell, be flexible, nimble, and work smart.
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