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At the EBRD 2024 annual meeting in Yerevan, Armenia, the Trade Facilitation Program (TFP) was in the spotlight as it transitions leadership from Rudolf Putz to Shona Tatchell.

Trade Finance Global (TFG) spoke with both leaders to discuss the past, present, and future of global trade finance.

The evolution of global trade: Reflections from Rudolf Putz

Rudolf Putz, the outgoing head of TFP, has plenty to reflect on throughout his 40-year career. From seeing the shift from financing imports of raw materials and foodstuffs from emerging markets to supporting the export of machinery and equipment, and the transition from state-owned economies in Eastern Europe to the current landscape, trade finance looks very different.

Putz said, “When I started my career in Vienna 40 years ago, I financed trade trade with Eastern Europe, and it was all with the state-owned economies and with state-owned organisations in Eastern Europe.”

This shift brought new trade flows and partnerships, challenging but ultimately enriching the trade finance landscape.

A new era for EBRD’s Trade Facilitation Program

The EBRD’s Trade Facilitation Program, established in 1999, has grown significantly under Putz’s leadership. From a small team with just two assistants, it has expanded into a vital component of EBRD’s mission, dealing with a high volume of small transactions in high-risk countries.

The programme’s success lies in its ability to adapt and evolve, supporting partner banks as they transition to serve the contemporary needs of an evolving industry.

Putz said, “Our partner banks today need our support in different areas of trade finance than they did 25 years ago. The role is never finished, it keeps evolving.”

The latest evolution for the programme will take place under new leadership, as Putz steps out of his leadership role after 25 years at the helm.

Shona Tatchell, the incoming head of the TFP, brings a wealth of experience in trade finance, distribution, origination, sustainability, and trade technology.

Tatchell said, “I cut my teeth on distribution, at the very emergence of unfunded risk participations and the development of that secondary market in trade.”

“I later went into innovation because I could see that the digitalisation of trade was really beginning to emerge and I had the fortune of working with some really cool startups.”

While her own startup, Halotrade, a venture aimed at harnessing emerging technologies for sustainable trade finance, eventually closed, the lessons learned, and the vision behind it remains highly relevant today.

She said, “I’m just so excited about the future and being able to actually continue the legacy that Rudolf has established.”

Harnessing digitalisation and sustainability: Shona Tatchell’s vision

Tatchell’s vision for the Trade Facilitation Program focuses on enhancing, expanding, and securing trade finance through digitalisation and sustainability.

Tatchell said, “It probably won’t surprise you to hear that digitalisation and sustainable trade are very high on my agenda. They are so fundamental to the industry and the TFP is already doing great work in that space. I want to build on those foundations and really help develop a green economy around trade finance.”

Achieving such a lofty vision will require a high degree of cooperation between banks, development institutions, and trade finance associations.

Tatchell said, “We have such a huge challenge ahead of us in the global economy and in trade, in particular. The only way that we’re going to overcome the challenges that we have is through working together.”

By working together, these entities can overcome the challenges facing the global economy and trade, paving the way for a more sustainable and inclusive future.

Tatchell’s forward-thinking approach signals a promising future for EBRD’s TFP, one that will embrace digitalisation and sustainability to drive positive change in global trade finance for years to come.

But what’s next for Rudolf? 

“I don’t yet know – it will be an adventure for myself,” Putz said.

“I will take a few months off, but then I hope that we will soon meet again. I do not yet know where or for whom I will be working, but I hope that I will be able to continue my career in trade finance.”

Regardless of what he lands on, Putz will be able to rest easy knowing that the program he helped start 25 years ago is in capable hands.