Guest blog by Louis Taylor, chief executive of UK Export Finance
Last week, I was pleased to attend the Institute of Export’s graduation ceremony to celebrate the success of almost 200 international trade professionals.
I offer my congratulations to all of the graduates and students. It’s a remarkable achievement, particularly as so many of them have managed to undertake these studies at the same time as holding down a full-time job.
I feel great personal pride when I say I was particularly delighted to see some of my colleagues among the graduates. Carlos Guallart, Hugh Francis, Anne Lockett, Elizabeth McCrory, James Bowker, Patrick Crowley, Paul Wright, Phill Potter and Steve Cowles successfully completed the Level 5 IOE Diploma in International Trade – as well as Mathew Hughes, who collected his diploma from 2015.
Well done to all of the graduates– particularly my colleagues. This is a huge personal achievement.
My involvement in an organisation with the word ‘export’ in its name began about seven months ago. My time at UK Export Finance has been outstandingly exciting, and I’m absolutely convinced of how worthwhile an organisation it is, helping companies to export where otherwise they could not.
Exports are front and centre of government policy at the moment. There are ambitious targets for exports – £1 trillion worth of exports by 2020, and not just 100,000 exporters but an additional 100,000 exporters by 2020 as well. In the media, we often see quite a lot of negativity about the UK’s trade performance, and I think that is largely due to the balance of payments deficit that we have run for some time.
That is undoubtedly itself an issue – one of the solutions to which is more exports – but it is far from being the whole story. For example, we rarely hear that the UK is the sixth-biggest exporting country in the world. We rarely hear that we are second only to the US in the export of services. We are right to be boldly ambitious for exports of goods and services, and we undoubtedly have scope to perform better than we are. But we should not be in any way defensive about the base from which we seek improved performance in the UK.
And the nature of our performance is changing. The growth in the export of services is much more rapid than the growth in the export of goods. This is not in itself a bad thing, but a real change in the picture. The UK economy remains a creative powerhouse, and commercialisation of that creativity is the key to hitting the export targets that we have.
My own organisation has tended to help the exporters of large goods far more than the exporters of services or intellectual property. I am convinced that the growth of our business will in future reflect more the changing makeup of the UK economy than it does at the moment. Our mission, simply put, is to ensure that no viable UK export – of goods, services or intellectual property – fails for want of finance or insurance from the private sector.
Last week’s graduates are part of a business world that is changing more rapidly than ever and in so many ways. For example, in technology, there are huge developments in fintech, biotech, agritech, pharma, and electronics. There are also changes in regulation, turning the banking and insurance industry upside-down. Supply chains are changing, becoming more globalised, and logistics are becoming an increasingly important part of the global economy. There are a host of other changes.
So, how do we progress our export effort with so much change going on? The answer has to be: through education, through know-how, and through skills. Looking at the syllabus of the IOE’s Diploma in International Trade, just one of its many courses, it is reassuring to see not only how relevant it is to exporting (a given), but also how future-proof it is. For example, the ability to develop strategic marketing plans across a range of products and services, within a range of geographies – that need will endure, regardless of the economic weather. Similarly, understanding supply-chain management, the logistics of international trade, and – of course I’d say this – the financing of international trade are all key elements in understanding how to approach an export campaign.
Our Export Finance Advisers in particular spend much of their days with exporting companies. That is why we put them through the formal qualifications that the Institute of Export offers. The Institute is uniquely placed to provide high-quality professional development for international trade. Our people understand the constraints and concerns that companies have, and with the Institute’s help are able to assist companies in overcoming those.
The Government as a whole has renewed its focus on empowering more UK businesses to sell overseas, helping them to realise the opportunities presented by the global marketplace. But engaging in international trade can be complex. For companies exploring business in overseas markets the Institute can provide a vital lifeline – giving them the knowledge and skills to get the essentials right when they agree contracts or terms.
The conversations that we at UKEF and colleagues across Government have with exporters can touch on a number of these issues. We speak to companies struggling to find finance, or concerned about not being paid by their buyers. They may not know a solution exists. A simple conversation can bring that out, but only if the adviser has the commercial knowledge to understand what help is wanted.
So the IOE is a key partner for UKEF, and increasingly for many other companies looking to grow exports. 80 years young, with very capable leadership from Ian Taylor and Lesley Batchelor, today the Institute is more relevant than ever.
Congratulations once more to the graduates, whom I would like to wish the best of luck in their careers in international trade. The role they play, growing the UK economy is a vital one, and one for which they are now well-equipped.