Singapore, 26 February: Ahead of Women’s Day on 8 March, we are spotlighting our talented female ICC Academy trade finance graduates, who have each discovered their strengths, set goals to overcome the glass ceiling barriers in their fields, and defined their own personal definition of success.
This week, we took the opportunity to speak with our Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) graduate Poppie Simmonds, Associate Director of Financial Services Trade Sales at Lloyds Bank. From her background in computer science and getting into the banking industry to upgrading herself with ICC Academy’s trade finance professional qualification, Poppie has been able to link her technology background with trade, using her unique skill set to bring the best of both worlds together.
ICC Academy: Poppie, tell us about yourself?
PS: My first stint within the banking industry was through a scholarship programme, Lloyds Scholars. Designed for students from lower income households, the award offered me financial support, paid internships, a business mentor and the opportunity to develop my employability skills.
On completion of my degree in Computer Science, I was offered the opportunity to join the Lloyds Graduate Scheme. It was a matter of chance that I got into banking, but within a very short time of working at Lloyds, I realised how much I enjoyed working in a bank, specifically with commercial banking clients. I started off with the SME and Mid Corporate Trade Sales team, gradually transitioning to Financial Services Trade Sales.
ICC Academy: Can you talk us through your journey so far?
PS: The Lloyds Graduate Scheme provided me with the opportunity to understand a wide range of the bank’s business. During one of my placements, I worked with the Mid Corporate Trade Sales team where I got exposure and firsthand knowledge of trade finance basics. I found trade to be an interesting product set.
From there I knew I wanted a career in trade finance. However, I was conscious of the fact that I had no experience in this area, being new to banking. That is when I decided to take up the Certificate in International Trade Finance (CITF) qualification.
Being at the very start of my career, 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, so as to help secure a role in this area.
My first role was in our SME and Mid Corporate Trade Sales team, and from there I moved into Financial Services Trade Sales. While it was quite a transition, working with smaller businesses to dealing with global banks, this opportunity exposed me to a variety of new challenges that helped hone my skills.
The next natural step was to upskill myself further by taking up the ICC Academy’s Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) programme. This advanced-level certification provided me insights on 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. The synergies between my experience in trade finance, my professional qualifications and my technology background, all helped me reach where I am today.
ICC Academy: What specific tasks and responsibilities does your job require?
PS: As part of the Financial Services Trade Sales team, I currently focus on a portfolio of global bank clients. By building strong relationships with our correspondent banks, I work to support businesses of all sizes in achieving their international trade ambitions through tailored risk management and working capital solutions. I work on a cross-product basis covering everything from a trade perspective relating to banks, including Letters of Credit, Guarantees, trade loans, and more.
My role is both varied and dynamic. One day I could be dealing with a small business with their first export to a new country, and on another, I could be structuring a deal in multi-millions for a large, well-established business. It’s not just one client, a business, or a sector, but rather any transaction involving an overseas bank, which makes every day interesting.
ICC Academy: What do you like most about your job?
PS: Trade finance is like an ever-changing puzzle and that fascinates me. I enjoy the dynamic nature and complexity of the business. My role isn’t limited to one region, so keeping up with global industry trends is of utmost importance. From gauging international policy changes to scoping out the new trade landscape because of COVID-19, I have to be constantly aware of changes in the market. We have strengthened our financial services trade capabilities as of late, so it’s exciting to be part of that ongoing journey.
ICC Academy: What skills have helped you reach a senior position?
PS: It may sound like a massive cliché, but I believe that no question is a silly one! I would rather chime in and ask for clarifications on a topic than carrying on having the wrong idea. In my portfolio, things tend to move quickly, so there isn’t time to wait and hope you figure it out later. Also, sometimes the political and economic situation in a country changes rapidly, and therefore our appetite may also change quickly. That’s the thing about trade, it is constantly evolving. So, it’s crucial to have the right mindset, be flexible, and get to the crux of what’s happening to react accordingly.
Whilst my role can often be quite technical, at the end of the day people buy from people. Hence, it’s important to be client-focused. It’s not necessary to be overly formal all the time, speaking in confusing and convoluted language. My role entails working with both our internal trade teams and building relationships with other banks. Most of the time all it takes is picking up the phone and just speaking with the other person to understand their needs and figure out a way forward. It is this human approach to business that I believe has helped build meaningful relationships with my clients and build my profile at the same time.
ICC Academy: According to the House of Commons International Trade Committee report on the COVID-19 pandemic and international trade, British businesses are facing major trade finance challenges. What is your strategy for the next six months?
PS: The global health crisis has had a major impact on British businesses. But as the largest retail and commercial bank, our focus has always been on being close to businesses and helping them prosper. When the government backed lending schemes were announced, Lloyds quickly moved to offer loans to British businesses within a matter of days, offering crucial support when they needed it the most. We are also focused on publishing a Recovery Tracker Report, a monthly publication that provides a comprehensive overview of the evolving economic situation, tracking recovery as countries continue to navigate the rapid spread of the virus and others fear a resurgence.
ICC Academy: The trade finance sector is undergoing unprecedented change. With accelerated digital adoption, is now an exciting time to be in the industry? If so, how, and why?
PS: Well trade finance was already on the digitalisation path, the pandemic has just provided an additional push. Even within Lloyds, we have shifted our approach to digital-focused trade finance solutions. But most of these projects were already in scope and progressing, the pandemic simply accelerated the completion of those initiatives out of necessity.
It is quite interesting to witness the intersection between technology and trade finance develop, something that was long overdue. It really feels now that we’re at a key turning point. For me, technology does not necessarily have to be overly complex, we just need to consider how we can apply it to trade and use it in new ways to solve problems. For example, I wrote an article on how Public Key Cryptography works, which isn’t a new technology, but it’s about how we can apply this to the trade finance space to enable technological developments.
While COVID-19 has accelerated things, we are still on a journey to get people on board with these new changes. It’s important for banks and businesses to understand that not only are we trying to find suitable digital equivalents to directly replace paper just like for like, but we’re finding digital solutions that go even further, offering enhanced security, efficiency, and convenience.
ICC Academy: Describe your experience with our CTFP programme?
PS: I decided to take up the Certified Trade Financial Professional (CTFP) programme when I joined the financial services team. There are a couple of things that stood out in the curriculum. Not only does the CTFP programme provides an in-depth understanding of various trade finance products–from grasping working capital for trade and documentary credits to learning commodity finance and standby letters of credit, the programme provides a 360-degree overview of the entire trade finance landscape. Along with the core e-courses that are mandatory, there are options to choose from electives as well. Of course, I chose the Digital Trade Finance and Fintechs e-course, which was really valuable.
The other thing that struck me was that the professional certification is industry-validated and offered by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Authored by leading trade finance experts from ICC’s Banking Commission, each course has been tailor-made to explain the nuances of global trade finance.
Finally, the digital platform made the learning experience both easy and engaging. The combination of text, videos, and quizzes made each e-course interesting and straightforward. I also enjoyed the fact that I can learn anytime, anywhere, which was an added advantage while having to juggle a full-time job.
ICC Academy: Do you see a lack of diversity in terms of leadership within the industry? If so, how do you think changes can be made?
PS: Honestly, it’s not just the trade finance sector, the whole industry has some 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. I have been very lucky to work with some great female leaders in trade during my time at Lloyds. However, I recognise that might not always be the case for everyone. It’s also not just about gender balance, but now other areas of diversity are being considered far more.
For those who want a career in trade finance, I would say:
– Stay focused on your own development. Stop worrying about how good someone else is at their job and comparing yourself to them. Everyone goes through a learning journey. If they could get to where they are, there is no reason why you can’t either
– Show interest and a willingness to learn. That is the best way to find mentors along the way who will support you
– Keep on learning. Trade finance has come a long way, and we are now seeing a shift where more people at the start of their career are getting into the sector and thriving. You no longer have to wait for years to become established
ICC Academy: What advice would you give women aspiring for leadership positions?
PS: For women aspiring for leadership positions, my advice to you is this:
– Be courageous: 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!
-Show interest in what you do: Don’t just do things for the sake of it. Put your heart and mind into it. It’s easy for people to tell if you’re genuinely interested in something or not, and they will be far more likely to engage with you, if you are
-Think outside of the box: Think about what else you could do outside of your usual role to develop not just yourself but also your business. Make life easier for the people you work with. Your clients and colleagues will appreciate this, and it goes a long way to developing great working relationships
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