Silvio is an experienced professional in Commodity Trade Finance. He has spent more than 30 years at ING Belgium with more than 15 years as Head of Trade Finance. Today he is still an active player as advisor in the commodity trading industry. He shares with us his experience.
An interview with Silvio Kofmel, Former Head of Trade Finance at ING Belgium, Geneva branch
#1/ What is the best time you can remember in your career in trade finance?
It was without a doubt the years following the break-up of the former Soviet Union. Within a couple of months, all the long-established Soviet systems for exporting huge volumes of commodities disappeared. New private companies emerged within weeks and took over the role of exporters. It was a time when, as a commodity banker, you felt like a true pioneer and you just had to travel to all these countries – Russia in particular, of course – to bag the business and get these new Russian trading companies on board. In the end, this didn’t just last a couple of years, as I had initially anticipated, but proved to be a major driving force in our industry for more than 20 years, despite the rapid process of consolidation that began in the new millennium.
#2/ If you had to give just one piece of advice to a junior starting his/her career, what would it be?
Junior staff today are not as patient as we were in our younger years. It is important to gain experience and sometimes wait a year or two before trying to get promoted to the next level. I also strongly recommend getting out of your comfort zone and seizing any opportunities within your company to work with different client groups, functions and sectors in order to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible.
#3/ Do you have a Motto/Lucky charm?
Not really. When it comes to the world of commodities, I’m a big believer in going back to the basics: common sense, pragmatism and the ability to listen to your clients.
#4/ What do you enjoy the most in your day-to-day job?
Almost everything that happened in the world had an influence on one of the sectors in which we were operating. Political, technical and geographical developments brought about constant changes, making our sector a fascinating and challenging environment. Our work was never boring and there was no such thing as monotony. In all the countries where we were active, we had the opportunity to meet many brilliant people and entrepreneurs from very different cultures, with a huge variety of approaches to doing business.
#5/ If you had to do it again, would you choose the same career path?
I believe in destiny. There have been ups and downs in my career, as is no doubt the case for everyone in today’s world, but I would not hesitate to choose the same career path! Commodity trading is a fascinating and, in my opinion, very attractive world, despite the headwinds the sector has faced in recent years, with big rises in sanctions and compliance work.
#6/ Where is your favourite place on earth and why?
Although I have travelled to many countries and continents in my life, Geneva remains my favourite base. It is the ideal size and has a vibrant international feel, as well as being close to most destinations in Western Europe. I do a lot of outdoor sports and have a place close by in the French Alps, where I spend much of my time, in both summer and winter. Since retiring from the bank, I have been able to devote more time to my other passion, golf – a pastime where the area around Geneva once again has much to offer.
#7/ How would you describe your relationship with Ampersand World?
Ampersand World became a key player in the commodity-trading sector in just a few years. I appreciated not only their professionalism, but also their dynamic and innovative approach to creating opportunities for people to come together and socialise, as well as becoming the go-to experts for both employers and employees in the industry.