Trade finance: the path less taken

22 January, 2024LIBF

Ni Zhang is Trade Finance Business Operations Manager at the Bank of China and holds the LIBF Diploma for Qualified Trade Finance Specialist (QTFS).   


She talks to LIBF Insights about her career in trade finance, what she most enjoys about her work, and how she managed studying for the QTFS diploma alongside a full-time role.  

What made you interested in financial services and how did you get into banking?   

When I read this question, one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost popped into my mind, as it’s the best explanation of why I chose banking after graduation. The verse is: “two roads diverged in a wood and I…took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”.  

Originally, I intended to be a teacher after graduation, as I majored in Applied Linguistics and most linguistics graduates choose to be teachers or editors. However, I always had an impulse to try something new. People say language is the bridge into different cultures, so I felt that giving full play to my language skills in business would be cool. When I read the recruitment information from Bank of China, the most internationalised and diversified bank in China, I felt I should give it a try. I started my career in the banking industry in 2012. 

How did you first become interested in trade finance?   

At first, I worked in a small branch of our bank as a customer relationship manager, and there were lots of foreign trade customers. My director always assigned me the task of delivering letter of credit presentations to our customers, so I became really keen to know more about trade finance. 

In 2016, I began to work as a product manager and got a chance to communicate with colleagues from different departments about clients’ problems. I felt that my lack of knowledge of trade finance had hindered my communication with clients, because when they asked me about, say, letters of credit, or letters of guarantee, or supply chain finance products, I had to rely on colleagues in the trade finance department to give them the correct answers. Our trade finance officer was a real expert, always pursuing excellence in her field. So, inspired by her story, I set my mind on going deep into trade finance and finally became a member of the trade finance department in 2020. 

What made you decide to study QTFS? What were the benefits of the programme? 

When I entered the trade finance department, I felt there were a lot of rules and regulations to learn. I think one of the best ways to learn is to sit exams for professional qualifications, because there is always a deadline for every exam, and one has to make study plans accordingly. Those plans included daily revision practice, but also a systematic approach in which I stood back from my daily work and used my studies to put it into a wider perspective. 

Apart from giving me knowledge about rules and regulations, the qualifications I gained on the route to QTFS also gave me a wider understanding of the trade finance landscape. For example, preparing for the Certificate for Documentary Credit Specialists (CDCS) and the Certificate for Specialists in Demand Guarantees (CSDG) taught me about the history of letters of credit and letters of guarantee. Preparing for the Certificate in Supply Chain Finance (CSCF) brought case studies from other countries, which broadened my vision and helped me get a more comprehensive picture of trade finance. 

What was the most challenging aspect of preparing for exams?   

The challenging part is to make schedules and stick to the schedules. I set a target for each exam: CDCS in 2021, CSDG in 2022, CSCF in 2023, and I also made detailed plans about how many pages of which book I should review every day, and how many times I should read each book, so that I would not be under too much pressure when it came to the exam. 

When I started to prepare for CDCS and CDSG, I found it quite hard to fully understand the concepts from the books alone, so I turned to online classes for help. They were arranged by the CCPIT Training Center and taught by my manager, the expert I mentioned before, who was a great teacher. The online lessons helped a lot, because the concepts and rules are illustrated with case studies and examples. After the online lessons, I found that what had confused me a lot during study no longer puzzled me, and I felt confident about moving on with my preparations. 

What advice would you give to other professionals thinking about studying for QTFS?  

 The advice I would give other professionals about studying for QTFS is: take professional online training if there is any in your country and find case studies and examples. That will definitely help you get a better understanding of the rules, and how things are done. 

It was a great experience to prepare for the Diploma for Qualified Trade Finance Specialists (QTFS) alongside a full-time job, because what I learnt enabled me to do my daily work better. Studying the LIBF qualifications helps to build a comprehensive picture of trade finance. 

QTFS is a professional designation that is awarded to finance professionals who complete a minimum of three trade and transaction banking qualifications with LIBF. These include: 

Learn more about out trade and transaction banking qualifications