At the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (EBRD) 2023 Trade Facilitation Programme (TFP) conference in Vienna, Trade Finance Global (TFG) spoke with Rudolf Putz, head of the trade facilitation programme at the EBRD, looking back at his 40 year career with the EBRD. 

Vienna as a trade hub

Vienna’s position as an important trade hub dates back centuries, thanks to its strategic location at the crossroads of Europe’s major trade routes. 

Following the Second World War, Austria found itself surrounded by the Iron Curtain, which made it the most Eastern part of the Western world. 

Despite this, the nation continued to thrive as a trade hub, with a lot of trade – primarily in the form of machinery and equipment –  happening between Austria and its neighbouring countries. This trade was often financed by Austrian banks, allowing them to establish close relations with the market. 

Over time, these banks helped to establish and promote trade finance facilities, allowing them to acquire considerable experience in the space and further boosting Vienna’s position as a key player in the world of trade.

Originally from Vienna, this was the backdrop to the beginning of Putz’s impressive 40-year tenure in trade finance.

He said, “When the Iron Curtain fell, I was totally surprised. I knew it would change my career and offer new business opportunities, and I wanted to be part of this new development. A few years later the EBRD was founded, and from that day, I knew I wanted to be a part of this institution.”

Today, Putz has an impressive record to look back on with the success of the EBRD’s TFP. 

The rise of the TFP

The Trade Facilitation Programme (TFP) initiated by the EBRD in 1999 has been highly successful and has witnessed tremendous growth since its inception, something that can be attributed to several key factors. 

Firstly, the EBRD’s mission is to foster economic development in its countries of operation, and trade plays a crucial role in this development. Additionally, the EBRD has provided both the capital and the risk-taking capacity necessary for the programme’s success.

Putz said, “It was a good match for my experience. I started this programme with two assistants, and over the years, it has grown and turned out to be more successful than we had ever expected.” 

Fast forward to 2023, and EBRD was recognised with TFG’s award for being the best development bank in trade. For Putz, this award is meaningful because it demonstrates that EBRD is producing value for money. 

Putz said, “We work with public money that has been given to us by donors and shareholders. This award – given by trade finance experts, for trade finance experts, shows that our work has been successful. We can demonstrate that we are doing a good job, which will help us to invite more private sector risk-taking capacity.”  

The award also serves as a reminder of the EBRD’s commitment to responsible and sustainable investments, including investments into the next generation of professionals to continue the mission that Putz helped begin.

Advice for the next generation

When asked what advice he would give to the next generation beginning their career in the industry that he entered 40 years ago, Putz said, “It’s very important for young bankers to learn to finance the whole trade cycle.”

Trade finance is multifaceted. It is not only documentary business, nor is it only export finance or commodity finance. It is the whole supply chain.

The best way to do this is by building close relationships with customers and learning what they need to move their business forward. 

Putz said, “Every customer has specific requirements, and I would recommend young bankers to work over several years as a client relationship manager in order to understand the needs of the clients, to understand which products are required by the market, and to learn how to adjust products to the clients needs.” 

It is all too often for banks to offer products that do not benefit their clients. By working closely with clients, bankers can develop a personal edge by understanding the market more intimately. 

The next generation of trade finance professionals must learn to be patient, and persistent and always stay curious and eager to learn. 

Rudolf involvement, and ultimately his leadership in the EBRD is a prime example of the type of success that comes from dedication, and a willingness to learn. Rudolf’s knowledge, expertise, and passion to continuously help clients has built the EBRD TFP to the success that it is today.

TFG would like to honour Rudolf for his 40 years in the trade finance industry, and his 23 years at EBRD.