The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has overhauled the leadership of its Banking Commission – the standard-setting body for international trade finance transactions.

Previously made up of an advisory board, executive committee, and secretariat, the new streamlined leadership comprises a single steering committee with one chair – Lynn Ng, global head of commodities, food and agri at ING.

She will be joined by 12 vice-chairs: Mencia Bobo, global head of trade and working capital solutions, Santander Corporate & Investment Banking; Marilyn Blattner-Hoyle, global head of trade finance, AIG; Merlin Dowse, global trade product manager, JP Morgan; Yina Fu, head of financial ecology solutions, Alibaba; Andrew Kigira, group head of trade products, Equity Bank; Maria Jose Llabot, head of international, Banco de la Provincial de Córdoba; Surath Sengupta, global head of financial institutions, portfolio and distribution, HSBC; Louise Taylor Digby, head of global trade strategy, Swift; Florian Witt, divisional head, international banking and corporate banking, ODDO BHF; and Xu Jun, deputy general manager, global transaction banking, Bank of China.

Commenting on the appointments, John Denton, secretary general of the ICC, says: “We see an absolute imperative to smooth the flow of cost-effective trade credit to small businesses in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m confident that the new leadership of the Banking Commission will provide us with the diversity of technical, industry and regional expertise needed to enhance the impact of our work in this vital area for global real economy.”

The new leadership group is tasked with working with the ICC global headquarters team to provide strategic direction for the ICC’s work on trade, supply chain and export finance – overseeing the delivery of a range of new and enhanced projects in areas such as digitalisation, sustainability and the capital treatment of trade assets.

In an exclusive interview with GTR, Ng outlines the objectives for the commission, and discusses her priorities as she takes on her new role.

GTR: What led you to take on the role of chair of the ICC Banking Commission?

Ng: I was very pleasantly surprised to be asked in the first place, because I have always kept a very low profile. I felt that there were a lot of things that needed to be done, and certainly from a practitioner’s viewpoint, rather than sitting on the sidelines and complaining, it is time to get myself into the action and hopefully try to do my bit to improve things.

In trade finance, because there are so many parties and so many jurisdictions involved, it is really complicated to try to get everybody together to face in the same direction, and there’s always a tendency to look at your own little piece, and not really take the effort to put it all together and try to solve things collectively. Covid provided us with the opportunity for a bit of a reset, and a good example is the implementation of the International Plant Protection Convention’s (IPPC) e-Phyto solution in Australia, Brazil and the EU.

GTR: What are your main objectives and what are you most looking forward to tackling?

Ng: The key objectives can be summarised as promoting transparency and trust in the trade ecosystem, so that trade and financing can flow smoothly.

A key area that we need to tackle in order to achieve the objective is to establish industry standards for digitalisation. We need to progress. It is quite unbelievable that we are still creating and passing around stacks of papers, which is not only inefficient, but is open to exploitation and fraud.

Whilst there are many technological solutions in the market, the adoption rate has been slow – primarily because the solutions tend to be closed and private. This adds significant complexities owing to the different actors in the supply chain, and these actors are often involved in different supply chains. This results in an untenable situation where each actor has to hold multiple memberships and operate different systems, adding significant costs and complexities.

What is needed is an industry standard interoperability layer, which allows data connectivity no matter what system the actor is using. To achieve that, we need clarity and consistency in the data ingestion, to ensure that there is data integrity, accessibility and useability.

I see an important role for the ICC in establishing this, and am glad that ICC is already driving this through the Digital Standards Initiative (DSI). The Banking Commission has a vital role to play in complementing this work by focusing on opportunities to commercialise ICC’s e-rules at scale.

GTR: What are the biggest challenges the Banking Commission faces?

Ng: The biggest challenge lies in building trust. We need to align within the industry, and with the different stakeholders, be those countries, regulators, or business. To a certain extent, there has been an erosion of trust as we have allowed financial criminals and fraudsters to infiltrate and abuse the financial systems and to get away with it. This in turn has led to increased costs and inefficiencies, making it difficult for the financial institutions to perform their fundamental role. We need to revert to the basics of ensuring that all parties who have delivered according to the agreed contract and standards are paid. We need to keep it simple and transparent, so that trade will flow smoothly, and all good parties can focus on delivering real value-add. We simply need to keep the bad guys out. To this end, we will be forming a new peer-to-peer group on financial crime to address the challenges for the industry.

It’s also important that we work collectively to enhance the depth and breadth of performance data in the ICC Trade Register. If we want to build trust amongst regulators that trade products are deserving of differentiated treatment, we need to be able to clearly evidence that they are genuinely low risk assets.

GTR: How do you plan to ensure that the Banking Commission has connectivity with the whole trade ecosystem and how important is this?

Ng: Connectivity is critical. The term ‘ecosystem’ already implies the need for collaboration and the need for symbiotic relationships. Whilst ICC has taken care to ensure that the members of the Banking Commission come from a diverse background – including from Alibaba’s B2B business group, there is also the ability to leverage off the expertise of the other ICC commissions such as customs and trade facilitation, digital economy and the network of our national committees.

GTR: The Banking Commission previously had numerous disparate working groups addressing various issues within trade finance. Will this still be the case?

Ng: The good news is that, in the spirit of being transparent and being efficient, we are going to simplify things. It’s really just going to be one committee which together with the ICC Secretariat will steer all the different projects that we have, which focus on rebooting the economy, accelerating digitalisation, enabling sustainability, and renewing the global trading system.

This has been a deliberate choice. If you look at the steering committee, you will see that we have quite diverse backgrounds, and the aim is to create cross-cutting working groups to really foster the cross pollination of ideas.

GTR: What workstreams do you have underway and what’s in the pipeline?

Ng: We have established a commercialisation working group which is working on the implementation of ICC’s e-rules. We want to understand what the barriers are to their widespread use in conjunction with the DSI.

Besides the financial crime group, we will be setting up refreshed project groups. One of these will establish common industry classifications for sustainable trade finance which I hope will help build public and investor confidence in the environmental and social performance of the industry. Our aim is to launch the new taxonomy at the next UN climate summit, COP26, in November – we plan to move fast. Meanwhile, another group will progressively enhance the utility of the trade register – giving us a platform that will allow us to take a data-driven approach to regulatory advocacy.

Our focus is really going to be on bringing together all the experts and utilising the pockets of expertise in the whole trade ecosystem. It won’t be easy, and I will be the first one to admit that, but let’s give it a shot.