Women in trade finance: ICC Academy alumni who #ChooseToChallenge

Singapore, 8 March: It is a well-known fact that diversity is key to any organisation’s growth, especially when it comes to leadership. Yet according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2020, it will take 100 years to close the gender gap. What is more, the study reveals that gender gaps tend to widen at the seniority level, with the presence of women on boards at just 18%. To celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) today, we, at the ICC Academy, are spotlighting some of our women in trade finance graduates who #ChooseToChallenge.

It is no secret that the trade finance industry is known for being male-dominated. Be as that may, our four ICC Academy graduates have not only discovered their strengths, setting goals to break the glass ceiling that barred them from previously entering leadership positions, but also defined their own personal definition of success in the process.

On IWD 2021, let us hear their career journeys, what helped them reach senior leadership, and their advice to women wanting to follow their path.

Poppie Simmonds
Associate Director of Financial Services Trade Sales, Lloyds Bank (United Kingdom)
Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) Alumni

women in trade finance

Poppie, can you take us through your journey within the trade finance sector so far?

I started off in the banking industry thanks to a scholarship programme with Lloyds Bank. My first role was within their SME and Mid Corporate Trade Sales team, where I then gradually made my way into Financial Services Trade Sales. It was quite a transition, working with smaller businesses to dealing with global banks. However, the opportunity exposed me to a variety of new challenges that helped hone my skills.

Being in the industry for a couple of years, I realised I could not travel back in time and make up for the years of experience missing in my resume. However, by upskilling, I could show my commitment to trade finance to any potential managers. For me, that meant taking up the Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) programme. The advanced-level certification provided me insights into key trade finance products, techniques, and compliance issues. After completing the CTFP programme, I was promoted to become an Associate Director in the Financial Services Trade Sales team.

Do you see a lack of diversity at the top in terms of leadership in trade finance?

It’s not just the trade finance sector, the whole industry has diversity challenges to address. Diversity can bring a wealth of knowledge and perspectives that have the ability to drive innovative results. If we foster a working environment that embraces differences, there is a greater chance we will be ready and flexible to embrace changes in our sector. It’s also not just about gender balance either, other areas of diversity should also be considered.

What is your advice to women aspiring for leadership positions?

Be courageous and speak up. Don’t be overly concerned about what others may think. We all spend so much time focusing on our own perceived mistakes that we’re rarely even noticing other people’s, so they probably aren’t thinking about yours.

Read the full interview...

Ling Fong Tay
Head of Transaction Services, Product Management, Asia , SEB (Singapore)
Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) Alumni

ICC Academy alumni

 Ling Fong, what skills have helped you reach a senior position within your team?

I started working in consumer banking before moving to wholesale banking. I worked within business development and product management and gradually transitioned into sales and cash management. The career mobility not only sharpened my skills but also provided me with excellent exposure to domestic, regional, and international client segments across different geographies. In 2016, I joined SEB, a Nordic financial services group as the Head of Transaction Services and Product Management for Asia.

I believe that having soft skills is equally as important as hard skills. The versatility to adapt quickly to the changing business landscape, keeping an eye on collaboration opportunities with partners, having the curiosity to continue my learning journey--such as taking up an industry-validated certificate programme-and finally, being compassionate towards the people I work with is crucial to moving forward.

Being an advocate of lifelong learning, I decided to enrol in the CTFP programme. I was able to complete the programme in just under two months, as the course content is highly organised and delivered via the ICC Academy’s e-learning portal that enables self-paced and self-directed learning anytime, anywhere.

Do you see a lack of diversity at the top in terms of leadership in trade finance?

In my opinion, the pathway to accelerating gender parity is evident. Its time companies offer equal opportunities to all by leveraging gender diversity and investing in employee talent through ongoing upskilling. Business and government should work together to create a new economic and social narrative for action and coordinating the process for change. Encouraging women in leadership, shining a spotlight on female role models, creating inclusive workplace cultures and changing mindsets and policies – are all attainable ways to close the gender gap.

What is your advice to women aspiring for leadership positions?

Be confident and compassionate. Believe in yourself and practice self-compassion when you encounter any setback. Treating others with compassion will also pay dividends in your personal and career development. Also, have more ‘lean in’ groups, that champion your interest as a woman in the professional world.

Read the full interview…

Sarah Salah
Head of Trade Products, Emirates NBD (Egypt)
Global Trade Certificate (GTC) Alumni

ICC Academy alumni

Sarah, tell us about your career journey and how you reached a senior position within your organisation?

I started my career at Emirates NBD in 2014 as a supervisor in the trade finance back office, and with a lot of perseverance and determination, progressed to become a Team Leader, then a Trade Manager of Transaction Banking, and finally the Head of Trade Products.

It took me nine years of continuous learning, hard work, and dedication to reach my current position. Of course, it wasn’t an easy path, and I faced challenges along the way, I learned to be patient and never give up.

I have been fortunate to work in an array of roles, which have all enriched my working experience. While working in the front office, I learned to handle diverse client segments, be a ‘problem solver’, troubleshoot issues and create customised suite products to meet client needs.

While working in the back office, I became specialised in trade finance products and quickly understood in order to progress in my career, I needed to further my knowledge. I am pleased to have completed Global Trade Certificate (GTC) programme, as it provided me with solid expertise on trade finance products.

Do you see a lack of diversity at the top in terms of leadership in trade finance?

In one sentence, economic growth cannot be sustained without inclusiveness.  I firmly believe that investing in women is central to sustainable development.

What is your advice to women aspiring for leadership positions?

Always aim for three E’s: enthusiasm, energy and excellence. Continue to learn and embrace opportunities that come your way. And don’t let obstacles get in the way of your goals and success.

Read the full interview…

Nuria Reveco Garcia
Trade Finance Specialist, BNP Paribas (Spain)
Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) Alumni

ICC Academy alumni

Nuria, can you briefly talk us through your journey in the trade finance industry so far?

I started my career with BNP Paribas back in 2014 as a Trade Finance Middle Office Operation Office. With hard work and perseverance, I progressed to become a Trade Finance Specialist, with an opportunity to work with diverse teams in Frankfurt, London, and Madrid. This helped me gain exposure to the regional nitty-gritty, and at the same time, understand how to customise offerings to attain new, and retain existing, clients.

Even though I have been in trade finance for quite a while now, I quickly understood that in order to progress in my career, I needed to further my knowledge. In today’s ever-evolving global trade landscape, keeping up to date with current industry trends and practices is not a matter of choice, it’s a must.  Hence, why I took up the CTFP programme, for which I am glad to have completed with a high score.

Do you see a lack of diversity at the top in terms of leadership in trade finance?

I feel it’s too early to say the trade finance industry has failed on diversity. There are many indicators that the sector is moving in the right direction. However, the pace of change needs to accelerate. COVID-19 could be a stimulus to expedite that change. Mindsets are shifting, with diversity being seen as contributing to strong and resilient businesses rather than being a problem that needs to be fixed.

As an industry, we have to better at getting the message out to women they can be treated with respect and promoted on merit… that the industry can provide constant intellectual stimulation and opportunity for impact both personally and socially, and that it is a great sector to build a rewarding career.

What is your advice to women aspiring for leadership positions?

Be visible. Don’t just sit at the table, make sure you speak, and ensure your voice is heard. Also don’t wait to be asked all the time. Develop the confidence to proactively seek assignments, as this is an important step for women in accepting their potential for promotion.

Read the full interview…

For more information, please contact
Priyanka Satapathy
Communications and Events Manager