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Trade finance: Forfaiting for fun and profit

Trade finance used to be a less glamourous part of the business. But times have changed. Banks have seen there's money to be made if deals are intricately structured and widely traded. That means building teams with the required expertise. When a trade financier's phone rings now it could well be a headhunter offering a better package. Rupert Wright reports on the new dynamism.

It's hard to imagine Wall Street star Michael Douglas, all red suspenders and slicked-back hair, playing a trade financier. Trade finance has never had charms for the Gordon Geckos of banking. Trade financiers don't wear fancy suspenders. Their characteristic fashion statement is said to be brown shoes. There are no big swinging dicks, no million-dollar bonuses. Instead of Douglas, a casting agent might pick Rowan Atkinson.

But this image needs updating. The modern trade financier may not be flamboyant, but he's well dressed and highly paid and may even have a colourful personality. Take Andy Ripley. A former England rugby player, he has made a name for himself as one of London Forfaiting Company's most successful executives. He has just left to study trade finance at Cambridge University. At the age of 50, he's also trying to win a place in the Boat Race crew. This is more like Chariots of Fire than Mr Bean. The new image is attracting bright and aggressive people into the business. Structured trade finance is all the rage, and all the banks want a slice of the action. Why?

"Trade finance offers a source of real value-added business," says Luigi La Ferla, director of trade finance at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell.

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