Makiko Toyoda is the acting head of the Global Trade Finance Programme (GTFP) at the IFC, which extends and complements the capacity of banks to deliver trade financing by providing risk mitigation in new or challenging markets where trade lines may be constrained. She speaks to Eleanor Wragg about her long career in the industry and her work to promote greater visibility for women in trade.


“My career spans 28 years, and 25 of those have been in trade finance. That may sound a little boring to many people, but I have found it fascinating,” says Makiko Toyoda. After graduating with a degree in economics from Keio University in Tokyo, she joined the Industrial Bank of Japan in 1992. Initially based in Japan as an investment officer, she moved to Frankfurt in 1997 to manage the bank’s Eastern European and Russian trade finance activities.

“When the Russian financial crisis hit in 1998, that was really the moment that I realised the importance of trade finance for the economy. I decided then that this would be the work I would dedicate my career to, because trade can make such a difference during a crisis,” says Toyoda. “At that time, a conservative male banker may have been content with the status quo in their career, but I was the kind of woman who sought out challenging tasks.”

“I was fascinated by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (EBRD) Trade Facilitation Programme (TFP), because it had enabled me to carry out so many transactions that I could not have done alone at the Japanese bank, so I decided to move to the EBRD to try to make the impossible happen in trade finance,” she adds.


Taking extra steps to promote women in trade

After spending a short period of time at the EBRD, she moved to the IFC in 2003, and took up her current role in 2017.

Last year, she decided to link together the GTFP programme with the IFC’s Banking on Women initiative to promote women in trade. “We have about 240 banks on our platform, as well as around 300 correspondent banks,” she says. “We want to utilise this network to promote women in trade. This is the uniqueness of IFC’s global mandate. Our focus is really on emerging markets, and we plan to close the gap for those women exporters and importers to see how they can benefit from this global network.”

However, this isn’t always as easy as it seems. “Promoting women in trade requires extra work. You have to go the extra mile to find out if we can create markets for a woman-owned business. We have to spend a little bit of time every day to see if our clients are promoting women-led transactions on the ground. People are stretched as it is and don’t always immediately see the value in taking these additional steps when originating a transaction,” she says. “We would like to prove that putting a gender lens on trade finance is actually profitable and that trade finance transactions for women-owned businesses perform well,” she says, adding that the IFC plans to release its findings once the programme has been running for a sufficient amount of time.


Leveraging the community

Reflecting on the early days of her career, Toyoda highlights that meeting other women managers in the trade finance market across the former Soviet Union presented opportunities for mentorship and networking – something she believes is a powerful tool for promoting a better gender balance in the trade finance industry. “Our team is made up of about 50% women, which I think is a great achievement. When we talk to our clients and the banks in emerging markets, it is important to have that perspective to be able to cover the needs of women-led businesses,” she says. “Women-led businesses tend to trade in different sectors than their male-owned counterparts, and we need to be able to find out what is happening, what the constraints are, and how we can improve their access to markets and finance.”

To drive this further, this year she plans to create a women in trade finance network across the GTFP platform. “We cover about 73 countries, and we want to bring all of our women counterparts together to enable them to create their own community,” she says. “The trade finance community is actually quite small. You see many different people working in different locations in different countries, but at the end of the day, many people stay in this industry for their entire career, and this business is all about the network. I want to see more women accessing that.”