The International Trade and Forfaiting Association (ITFA) has expanded its Young Professionals network through the creation of an advisory panel, chaired by Johanna Wissing.

Wissing, together with Duarte Pedreira, who joined the ITFA board in September as head of its Young Professionals initiative, are now in the process of appointing the remaining members of the panel.

Wissing tells GTR that the panel will include a “good mix” of individuals from different institutions, bringing together people with a few years of experience in the trade finance industry and those who are newer to it.

The panel is an extension of the Young Professionals network, in that, as board member, Pedreira will drive the wider strategy for the initiative, but that the panel members will execute the finer details in relation to specific events, projects and programmes.

To begin with, the panel will focus on London-based educational and networking events – both of which will be aimed at career development.

The looming trade finance knowledge gap is at the heart of what ITFA – and the panel – are aspiring to address.

“The trade finance world is a mature sector, and therefore you deal with quite a lot of people that have been around for a long time. Eventually, at some point, they’re going to leave, and so we’re now edging towards there being a danger of a skills gap,” explains Wissing. “One of the reasons for that is because people in the trade finance sector have grown organically within it, because it’s a very enjoyable space to be in. There wasn’t really any room for new entrants for a while, because there were enough people with that specialist knowledge.”

Technological disruption within the trade finance industry is further necessitating the importance of driving more young people into the space. “I think it’s good to get fresh pairs of eyes who can work with the experienced people to see how change can be driven for the industry,” she says.

ITFA’s aim is to be at the forefront of championing this initiative for the industry. “We hope that the creation of the advisory panel will help to create sufficient critical mass and resources to really drive things forward,” says Wissing.

ITFA’s Young Professionals network has been a few years in the making, but the association’s commitment to the cause was cemented when it appointed a board member dedicated to the initiative at its 2016 annual conference in Dubai. Chris Hall, was initially drafted in to head the network, but became the head of regions in a recent board reshuffle, which saw Pedreira elected.

“It’s the kind of initiative that needs that level of involvement,” says Wissing, who herself had set the ball rolling the year before at the Barcelona conference.

“Having Duarte take it on combines his passion for the mentorship scheme [Pedreira helped set up the Martin Ashurst Trade Finance Mentorship Forum] and the fact that he is now a board member.”

Wissing explains that when the network was first launched, it was difficult to get ITFA’s membership institutions to devote enough thought to it. “It took a little bit of time for institutions to really look at it,” she says.

But, she believes that because ITFA has found its feet in the broader trade remit – beyond its original scope of a forfaiting and secondary market organisation, it is now the “right time” to revamp the initiative and “go further and wider and put some more pressure on members to nominate their youngsters”.

What these membership institutions stand to gain is development of their younger staff members, without excessive investment requirements. “It opens up training and networking opportunities for their staff: this leads to career development, which ultimately the institution will benefit from,” Wissing says, adding that individuals will in turn be greatly appreciative of their institutions for their support.