Women in trade finance: An interview with a recent Global Trade Certificate (GTC) graduate

Singapore, 18 September: Despite increased awareness and focus on empowering women in business, it is widely recognised that women continue to be underrepresented in the workplace. Upskilling the workforce should remain a crucial part of companies’ objectives in promoting equality for all, as businesses continue to navigate the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite these barriers, the trade finance industry continues to showcase women who have overcome these challenges through hard work, training and continuous professional development.

The ICC Academy took this opportunity to speak with Emirates NBD’s Head of Trade Products, Sarah Salah. Ms Salah has 11 years of trade finance experience within the banking industry in Egypt and is a recent Global Trade Certificate (GTC) graduate.

According to the Women Economic Empowerment Study conducted by The World Bank, women represent an untapped resource in the economy of Egypt. Egypt ranks low in gender equity compared to other countries worldwide: women have significantly lower participation in the labour force than men (26% vs 79%) and lower literacy (65% literacy for women vs 82% of males).

In spite of a scenario like this, Ms Salah sets an exemplary example for women in general and the banking industry in particular. Read on Ms Salah’s journey within the banking industry and how upskilling has helped her career progression:

ICC Academy: Tell us about yourself?

Ms Salah: I began my career working for Credit Agricole Bank as a Senior Trade Officer. I then moved to the National Bank of Greece, where I worked as a Senior Trade Finance Officer, and for the last six years, I have worked for Emirates NBD where I am Head of Trade Products for Trade Centre-Transaction Banking Services.

I am a firm believer in lifelong learning and try to keep up with current industry trends and best practices, having completed the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Academy’s Global Trade Certificate (GTC). I hold the Certificate for Documentary Credit Specialist (CDCS), Certificate for Specialists in Demand Guarantees (CSDG) and I also work as a Trade Finance Instructor at the Egyptian Banking Institute.

ICC Academy: Can you talk us through your journey to reach your current position?

Ms Salah: 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, I progressed to become a Team Leader in 2016, Trade Manager of Transaction Banking in 2018 and last year, I became 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, but although I faced challenges along the way, I learned to be patient and never give up.

To quote the novelist Paulo Coelho, ‘When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too’.

ICC Academy: Describe some important elements of your work; what does a typical day or week involve?

Ms Salah: As the Head of Trade Products, I am responsible for monitoring and analysing the market demands, maintaining strategic relationships with clients and business partners, and improving our trade finance marketing tools. I also manage the trade products team and provide training to internal stakeholders on new trade products.

During a typical working week, my job is to ensure our client’s trade transactions remain smooth and uninterrupted. A large amount of the transactional process is automated, and the back-end operations team manage the day-to-day procedures. However, there are times when tasks get disrupted, and I must step in to take control of the situation. On-boarding new clients and working closely with existing clients is also part of my day-to-day activities.

One of my main tasks is to manage my team and assess their progress on various projects. We meet at the start of the week to set priorities, mid-week to check on progress and at the end of the week to deliver projects and start planning for the following week. I also meet with Executive Managers regularly to update them on my department’s progress and workflow.

ICC Academy: What skills have helped you reach a senior position within the team?

Ms Salah: I have been fortunate to work in an array of roles, which has enriched my 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. This position has also enabled me to gain a broader understanding of products and regulations.

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 that I signed up to the ICC Academy’s Global Trade Certificate (GTC) programme, as it provided me with solid expertise on trade finance products, alongside the opportunities that have been provided to me by Emirates NBD to continue to improve my skills and abilities.

Want to reach the same level as Ms Salah? If you want to develop a very solid understanding of trade finance products and acquire the skills to excel in a trade finance related role, ICC Academy’s Global Trade Certificate (GTC) is for you. This is the same qualification that Ms Salah took. Here is a list of GTC alumni from around the world.

ICC Academy: What is your favourite part of the job and the most challenging?

Ms Salah: To be honest, I enjoy every part of my job. One aspect of my role is advising large firms on the specifics of international trade transactions. It is quite a unique experience working in a trade finance department, where unlike other banking roles, there is a set of rules and processes put in place by multilateral trade organisations like the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

The most challenging part of my role is managing internal restrictions and country specific regulations.

ICC Academy: Describe your experience with the ICC Academy’s Global Trade Certificate (GTC) programme?

Ms Salah: I think there are two distinct aspects of the GTC programme. The first section is the industry-validated syllabus. Authored by leading trade finance experts from ICC’s Banking Commission, each course has been tailor-made to learn the essentials of global trade finance. The lessons provide a broad understanding of trade finance products – from letters of credit through to supply chain financing techniques.

The second is the digital platform which made the learning experience easy and engaging. The combination of text, videos and quizzes made each e-course interesting and straightforward to comprehend. Especially having a full-time job, being able to learn anytime, anywhere has been an added advantage.

The Global Trade Certificate has added value to my resume by demonstrating that I have a specialisation in international trade finance.

ICC Academy: According to statistics, Egypt ranks low in gender equity with significantly lower participation in literacy and labour force compared to other countries worldwide. Despite the scenario, you set an exemplary example. What advice would you give women who aspire to be leading managers?

Ms Salah:  In one sentence, ‘Economic growth cannot be sustained without inclusiveness’. I firmly believe that investing in women is central to sustainable development. My advice to women who want to be a leading manager is work hard and know your stuff but don’t be afraid to ask questions or take risks, lead with determination and grace. Build a support network and if you are in a leadership position, advocate for diverse talent in your organisation and finally, don’t let obstacles get in the way of your goals and success.

ICC Academy: What advice would you give to junior employees who want a career in trade finance?

Ms Salah:  I believe anyone working in the trade finance industry needs to have a basic understanding and overview of trade finance products and cycle. The other traits that employees should focus on are:

› Continue to learn, embrace opportunities offered at your workplace
› Master you task. Never say, it’s not my job.
› Do not hesitate to ask for help.
› Come up with ways to better handle and solve your client’s problems.
› Think ‘out of the box’. There is always a way to get the job done.
› Aim for the three E’s: Enthusiasm, Energy and Excellence. Always be assertive, confident and visible.

About our Global Trade Certificate (GTC) Programme
The Global Trade Certificate (GTC) is an introductory-level programme providing solid knowledge on trade finance products. It is an ideal programme for professionals wanting to build an understanding of the nuts and bolts of global trade finance.

Why take the GTC?
› Get a foundational understanding of global trade finance solutions
› Learn to use trade finance tools effectively to mitigate risks
› Become efficient in trade finance process flows—from the steps and responsibilities to the required documents used


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