To say that Rebecca Hing landed in a career in risk management by accident would be no exaggeration. Hing – who is now vice president at World Fuel Services, a global fuel logistics business headquartered in Miami, Florida – went to school in Virginia and accepted her first job as a credit risk analyst for no other reason than it took her to New York City.
Originally published March 2017
She says: “I was just looking for a job in New York, so I reached out to people that I knew, and it just so happened that a family friend was in need of a credit analyst at RBC Capital Markets in New York. RBC generally only took people who had been through traditional credit training, but they gave me an opportunity, and then I had to prove myself.”
Prove herself she did, and after two years she moved to Salomon Brothers as a liquidity risk analyst. In 1999 she joined JP Morgan, where she was to spend the next 16 years of her career, the last decade as a senior leader in the market risk team for commodities.
“I like being on the trading floor,” says Hing. “I like the dynamics of understanding exposures and formulating views on where the market moves and the risk associated with structured transactions. What I really came to love about the commodities space was that it is something physical, something tangible. JP Morgan was growing a physical commodities trading business at the time that I was there, and tying client needs into a market solution was something I found particularly interesting.”
In 2015, Hing moved to WFS, and left New York behind to move to the Sunshine State. She is now global head of market risk and quantitative analytics for supply and trading, in a business that sells fuel and delivers services to clients in more than 8,000 locations, in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
Her role is something of a newly dedicated focus for the company: “I’m working with them looking at client opportunities, and looking at the next steps in their product offering,” she says. “I get to look at different businesses to expand organically and to acquire, and I get to help World Fuel continue to build and expand their brand while building out a risk team to support that brand.”
While the role of the risk professional has been well understood in financial services for many years, corporations like WFS are breaking ground by investing in the function, says Hing: “In the financial industry the role of risk managers has been well understood for at least the last 15 years. Now that’s moving into the corporate environment, so the fact that a company like World Fuel went out and said we need someone solely dedicated to market risk says a lot about the importance of the function.”
She adds: “They are recognising that this is where companies don’t always put enough resources. If you’re primarily a customer-service driven company, you may not recognise the risk you’re taking on but it’s always important to ensure you have the right controls in place to protect margins.”
Even when corporations do recognise the need to invest, it can be tough to find talented professionals with the right mix of skills. Hing says: “The issue with looking for talent, particularly to fill market risk roles, is that market risk in different firms can sometimes cover almost any kind of risk. People are being asked to do qualitative analysis, modelling and programming, liquidity / credit risk analytics, limit governance and oversight and ensuring the appetite for risk is understood. That means the skills needed can be very broad, so it’s hard to find someone that fits every bracket.”
What’s important, therefore, is hiring people with natural curiosity, she argues, who aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something and can independently seek solutions.
She has a few tips for people starting out on their own careers in commodities risk management: “The first thing is, understand that you really need to take an active role in managing your career,” says Hing. “If you don’t think about your next steps, and go after those yourself, no one else is going to do it for you.”
The second thing you need to do is self-promotion: “What I’ve learned is that you have to be someone who will do that. It’s not necessarily something I like to do, but it’s good to make people aware that you have confidence, that you have added value, that you want to take on more, and that you deserve more opportunities.” Finally, she advises people to take every opportunity to network.
Hing says there is definitely a shortage of women in roles such as hers, and that is often because they need to learn to be better at self-promotion and networking. “Women do tend to think that they don’t want to be the type of person doing self-promotion as it can come across as being boastful,” she says. “But it’s the way that you do it that makes the difference.”
She adds, “The other thing that I have a tendency to do, which I think a lot of women do, is that when a job opportunity comes along, I look at all the things they are looking for and focus on the one or two things I’m not qualified for instead of the ten that I am. Men don’t do that – they think they can learn, and so they focus on what they can do. That’s something we can learn from the men around us.”
Hing does some recruitment at the university level, and says that she is starting to see the number of men and women interested in risk careers is heading towards equilibrium. But there is a shortage of women higher up: “People aren’t surprised any more to see senior women running teams in the trading environment, but certainly there are obstacles and it’s nowhere close to 50/50 at senior level,” she says. “I look around the table, and often times I’m still the only woman in there. There’s still plenty of room for improvement.”
The good news is that those who are entering the function are joining at a time when the profile of the risk professional is clearly in the ascendency. Hing says: “There’s a real recognition that you need really good people. And there’s a recognition that those risk professionals need to be in a direct line, working on every transaction with the commercial team, and that’s the best way to protect margins and to offer the best solutions for clients, by formulating the appropriate risk structure.”
Hing may have landed in commodities risk management by accident, but she has sure made it work.