Early Careers: Breaking stereotypes and shifting priorities

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I genuinely believe that if you want something you can achieve it – but, you have to put the work in. Success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm – and if you keep that enthusiasm up, you will succeed!”

Charlotte Prior works as a Trade Finance Analyst at GIB. While she is still at the beginning of her career, she has already broken stereotypes and made her mark on the trade finance industry. In this interview, Charlotte explains how she progressed from Receptionist to Trade Finance Analyst, and why she is pushing for increased focus on sustainability in trade finance.

Q: Tell me about your entry into trade finance.

Prior: I started my career as a receptionist. I had a terrible interview at Bank of India and walked away thinking I would never get the job there. Approximately three months later, I received a call with an offer for a job.

I was hired as a bank clerk and when I arrived on my first day, I wasn’t sure what my responsibilities or role would be. I ended up becoming the receptionist for the bank. 

I enjoyed my role as a receptionist – it allowed me to learn so much about the different departments within a bank. 

I knew that I didn’t want to stay in that role though. So after about eight months, I asked if I could be moved into a banking role. If I didn’t ask, I don’t think I would have been given a new position. I moved around a few different departments. I got the opportunity to learn about payments and the cash desk and a few other roles before I found my way to the trade finance desk. 

The trade finance desk at Bank of India was small, it was just myself and a Trade Finance Officer, but I loved that role and learnt everything on the job as I went. 

Q: What is your advice to people who feel they don’t have the right background to go after what they want?

Prior: I think we need to stop looking at people’s backgrounds! I didn’t go to university, and yet, I have the same job as people who did attend university. I genuinely believe that if you want something you can achieve it – but, you have to put the work in. Success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm – and if you keep that enthusiasm up, you will succeed! Everybody has something to offer the world that no one else does, so when you may be having times of disbelief, it is always important to remember that and work to your strengths! 

Q: What excites you about trade?

Prior: What doesn’t excite me about trade, Pouya?! In my role, there is something new every day! No transaction is the same. They may be structured the same way but it is always different products in different regions and I love that I learn a lot about how the world works through my job. For example, I have learnt about the process of growing cocoa to the extraction of metals and many other processes that happen throughout the world every day. I am also very excited about the future of trade. I believe that trade has a massive role to play in fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals. We are now starting to see an emergence of ESG and sustainability in trade finance, and I look forward to seeing how this plays out over time. I am also intrigued by how the development of technology may enhance the processes within trade finance. I think trade finance is a fascinating sector to work in currently. 

Q: Those who have been following your work for some time know your passion is sustainable trade and ESG investments. Can you tell our readers about your journey and how this came to be so important to you? 

Prior: I have been very passionate about sustainability in my personal life. My late auntie was very passionate about this subject, too and I spent a lot of my time with her learning about the many different ways the world is suffering, whether it be environmentally or socially. We spent many hours discussing the troubles of the world, and how they could be fixed. However, in my previous roles, I wasn’t always able to express my opinions, and on some occasions, was told not to bring my personal views to work.

When I arrived at my current employer, GIB, I quickly learnt that sustainability is something that is embedded in their culture and strategy. It brought me so much joy to realise that I work for an organisation which has similar morals to my own. Our CEO is very passionate about this issue too, and it is great to see someone at the top of the business wanting to make these changes.

When I joined GIB, there was a lot of work going into how we could make our business more ethical and sustainable. I was given the task to develop a strategy for Trade Finance with regards to ESG. I am proud of the progress we have made not only in Trade Finance but across the whole business at GIB to step up and become a leader in this space. It took me about a year to finalise our ESG Methodology in Trade Finance, and during that time, I felt that this was still a subject you didn’t hear a lot about. At Trade Finance events or conferences, everyone is talking about technology and blockchain, but not ESG. I decided to write a thought piece about the challenges trade financiers (specifically those in asset management) face when implementing ESG into their decision-making process. I then hosted the first ESG event for the ITFA Emerging Leaders as another way to open the discussion.

I sit on a roundtable with several other trade financiers, and we get together semi-annually to discuss the different approaches we are taking, and how we can make it a standardised approach. I believe a standardised approach is essential. I’m looking forward to seeing the progress on that front over the next few years.  

I believe that it is excellent if we can make changes in our personal lives, but being able to influence companies to make changes is going to have more of an impact!