Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers
London & South East Branch

Callum Beaumont takes An Inside Look At Careers In Shipbroking

Callum Beaumont takes An Inside Look At Careers In Shipbroking

Shipbroking is an exciting, fast-paced career with an international outlook – but what do shipbrokers actually do, what separates good from great, and how do you get started?

What do shipbrokers do?

Around 85% of global trade is carried on ships, transporting raw materials and products to retailers, plants and factories around the world. Cargoes can include finished consumer goods as well as things like coal, metals, foodstuffs, oil, gases and chemicals. 

Shipping brokers connect companies looking to charter or purchase ships with the owners of vessels suited to the task. They manage a sophisticated information network to be able to identify the right combination of ship owners and buyers or charterers, then work to mediate and negotiate between both parties to reach a deal. 

Brokers are experts in their sectors, guiding their clients on market pricing trends, demand and availability, and working through the details of complex (often international) contracts and documentation to overcome potential stumbling blocks in the way of successful transactions. As well as having a deep understanding of the commercial shipping market, they have extensive networks that allow them to move quickly and serve their clients effectively within tight deadlines. 

What makes a great shipbroker?

The best shipbrokers bring together some key skill sets:

-         They are market experts, with a deep understanding of the global shipping industry – its size, structure, key components, regulations and emerging trends.

Most shipbrokers start their days early (usually in the office by 7-8 am) and ensure they’re up to date with the latest market updates on rates, routes, vessels and ports. Leading shipbroking companies have state-of-the-art information platforms online and on big-screen monitors around the office to keep brokers alerted to the latest in breaking news.

-         They are commercially astute, able to match developments and events in the global markets with client needs and find creative solutions to create deals by bringing together buyer and seller needs.

Shipbrokers are great problem-solvers and business people. Where others see news stories, brokers see opportunity – they follow global political events and trade news, have great awareness of international geography (and port locations), and are able to see what impact market movement will have on supply and demand, and act quickly to service the needs these movements create. 

They don’t only operate at a high level – they’re also experts in the fine details of contracts and commercial agreements, working closely with both buyers and sellers in a negotiation to navigate obstacles that could otherwise mean a deal is not reached. 

-         They are great communicators, able to build and maintain relationships quickly with new business contacts and maintain high volumes of correspondence to keep in touch with a large global network.

An average day for most brokers involves high volumes of phone calls, emails, WhatsApp chats, Skype calls and in-person meetings, with communication at the heart of everything a broker does.

The broking industry is built around networking, and most top brokers are highly charismatic with outgoing personalities and a gift for building rapport with new acquaintances quickly. Once developed, they maintain relationships effectively and build themselves a network of buyers and sellers across the global shipping community, knowing who to contact and when to meet client needs and create deals. 

Where do careers in shipbroking start?

There are no defined entry qualifications required for the shipbroking industry, and brokers join from a variety of backgrounds. Some are graduates in fields such as economics, maths, geography or business studies, but others join without a university degree and build their career through trainee schemes. Many people are referred into the industry by friends or family who have connections to the sector, and are attracted by the fast-paced, results-driven nature brokerage work.

Prior work experience with a shipping company is beneficial but not always required. As a minimum, those looking to join the sector should have conducted thorough research and have a basic understanding of how the industry operates. Most hiring companies are keen to see not just raw abilities in a candidate but some deep-seated determination to launch a career within shipbroking, and preparation is a key part of this. 

Shipbroking can be a tough market to break into - the financial incentives for successful brokers are exceptional, and competition for places is always high. 

It often requires tenacity and patience to get your start – in many ways you have to broker your way into becoming a broker!

However, for those with the commitment to learn the industry and work hard to develop their networks and expertise, the rewards can be exceptional and shipbroking can offer a challenging, dynamic and lucrative career path. 

(Printed by kind permission of Callum Beaumont Recruitment Manager Clarkson Platou in February 2019)