The trade finance learning gap should be bridged before it’s too late, said speakers at the International Trade & Forfaiting Association’s (ITFA) conference, hosted in Warsaw last week.

ITFA formally launched its mentoring programme at the end of last year, and invited some of its mentees to speak at its annual conference. In a session titled “Teaching the next generation”, mentees Asif Dad and Michel Meylacq told the audience that mentoring plays a fundamental role in the careers of young professionals. They called for the industry to assist them in attracting more mentors and mentees to ITFA’s programme.

“Young professionals are the future of the industry, and you can help shape that,” Dad said.

The session addressed the needs of young professionals in the trade finance arena, finding these to chiefly be: access to resources, training and qualifications, and networking.

The speakers highlighted the fact that the trade finance industry is “skewed towards experienced professionals”. According to a 2014 survey by GTS on global trade and transactional services, only a small minority (2%) of trade professionals currently working in the industry have less than two years of experience in the field.

They recommended that the learning gap within the trade finance industry be tackled “before it’s too late”.

Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Sean Edwards, ITFA chairman, told GTR there is going to be a “deficit in the sort of people that understand trade”.

“There are a lot of very experienced people in the industry, which you see if you come to these conferences. But eventually they do retire,” he said.

Edwards called for those leaving the industry to transfer their know-how, gained through their cumulative experience, to their younger colleagues. “It’s really important for them to pass on their knowledge: you don’t get that through any training programme or through any textbooks – you can only get it through the one-to-one interchange with people who have been doing this business for a long time.”

As the world of trade evolves, so banks – and their customers – are finding new and different ways of doing business. “So if we, as an industry, don’t evolve in the same way as our customers, then the industry does run the risk of potentially being not relevant to our customers. And we can’t have that,” Chris Hall, ITFA board member and head of its Young Professionals network, told GTR at the conference.