Like many organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Trade and Forfaiting Association (ITFA) has had to adapt to a changing business landscape.

And despite a great deal of disruptions and restrictions that have affected global trade over the last two years, ITFA has nonetheless made considerable progress in its regional expansion efforts.

One ITFA member who has stewarded this transition during the pandemic is Chris Hall, head of regions at ITFA, who was first elected as an ITFA board member in 2015.

An insurance broker by trade, Hall is also an executive director for financial solutions at UK-based firm Willis Towers Watson, which he joined this year, and where his role focuses on developing credit and political risk businesses for financial institutions.

Prior to joining Willis Towers Watson, Hall was a senior underwriter at Liberty Speciality Markets from 2018 to 2021, and head of trade asset management at Lloyds Banking Group from 2015 to 2018.

Regional expansion 

As head of regions at ITFA, Hall oversees and coordinates with each of ITFA’s 11 regional committees. 

His aim is to ensure that members’ needs are represented no matter their location, and to advocate for consistent policy and best practice in global trade and forfaiting markets.

“What we try and do is make sure that we are servicing all of those respective needs that the members have in the regions,” said Hall.

“That can be through organising events, educational seminars, it could be webinars – as has often been the case in the last 18 months or so. 

“But in essence, it’s trying to make sure that ITFA’s central mandate of trying to bring together the trade and forfaiting world in a global sense continues.”

ITFA-ATFA merger

On December 31, 2019, ITFA launched its merger with the US-based Association of Trade and Forfaiting in the Americas (ATFA). 

“The Americas is an area where historically ITFA hasn’t played too much of a role,” said Hall.

“And conversely, the rest of the world is the area that the ATFA team were not, so there’s a real synergy to be gained from coming together.

“Many ITFA members are also ATFA members, historically, and of course vice versa.”

In September this year, the newly formed ITFA Americas Regional Chapter (AMRC) held its first event in the almost two-year period since its launch, with an in-person get together in New York City.

“We have a real opportunity to leverage their expertise locally, and obviously throughout the rest of the continent,” said Hall.

“It’s really been great to see the energy that they had in the room and hearing some of the stories – it brings back ITFA’s raison d’être, which is networking and bringing people together, and that’s what it’s all about.

“Our coming together enables them to leverage some of our scale, and also give access to the global nature of the business.”

Short-term trade credit insurance

Meanwhile, in Hall’s other role at Willis Towers Watson, his focus has been on short-term trade credit insurance, which has also been impacted by the pandemic.

“The role is supporting predominantly bank clients, who are internally supporting their own exporting clients by mitigating their risk in transactions,” he said.

“And that might be by enhancing their balance sheet, treatment of a transaction, it might be around capital utilisation, or it could just be around limits.”

Hall said the short-term credit insurance market had seen a reduction in capacity during the pandemic, but that capacity is now returning, and could even be back at pre-pandemic levels.

“Pricing spiked for a while, but then came back down again – all driven by banks and their exporting clients and what they’re willing to pay,” he said. 

“Inevitably, supply and demand come into play, and if you can’t make the two match then you don’t really have a business model.

“At Willis Towers Watson, we are very much trying to bring banks to the market, help our clients find the right sort of underwriting capacity, and really be that conduit between the two.”

Non-payment insurance

Another product that Hall believes is bouncing back from the pandemic is non-payment insurance.

In the non-payment insurance market, Hall believes that underwriters are returning to their usual style of considering a potential trade transaction on its own merits, rather than focusing on circumstantial risk factors, as was the case during the pandemic.

“As I say, capacity and interest had probably retrenched somewhat during the first part of the pandemic,” said Hall, “and underwriters were being less open to taking on more difficult risks than they might have been. 

“I would say that’s probably returned back to a more normal situation where underwriters are looking at transactions on their merits.

“They’re trying to understand: does this fit within their agreed parameters within their portfolio requirements?”

With this shift, Hall expects that non-payment insurance will steadily return to its pre-pandemic market dynamics, in which the flow of business – and the interest in that flow of business – will find itself back at 2019 levels.

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