Q&A: Aspiring diplomat turned development banker

Hi there fellow monkeys, 

As a new member take this as an introduction and a Q&A at the same time, happy to help anyone thats exploring the (development) finance industry or careers in general. As you'll see, I was late to the game myself and hope to illustrate that improvising as you go with the flow can be a good strategy. No need to have it all planned out!

The bio:

My dream job pre-college? Ambassador of my (somewhat small) Western-European country to the United States. I always had an admiration for America, and being a representative of sorts out there sounded like a solid plan. When I went off to college - small but prestigious Liberal Arts college with about 50/50 nationals/internationals - I started seeking ways to get US exposure: managed to land acceptance for an exchange to UCLA. After undergrad, I went straight into a Masters of Law - which is common in Europe - specifically in regulation & supervision of markets / antitrust law. 

To be fair I always imagined business school for my graduate studies, but you need work experience for that. And, in my home culture, to get work experience you need a Masters. I'm sure you see the problem there and how I ended up in a law degree with little drive to be a lawyer. 

Still a tad clueless on things, but with a deep desire for more US exposure, I landed a grad-internship in Washington, D.C. as an oil market analyst for the OPEC states. It triggered an interest in markets: I was very amazed by the speed of information processing and sophistication of institutional participants. 

Out there I ran into some diplomats representing my country / American lobbyists with an interest in their heritage who turned out to be behind the foundation that gave me the scholarship for D.C. in the first place. One in particular, doing trade relations / trade politics, was interested in the things I was up to. I saw my chance to actually get close to that vague childhood ambition and went for it: I asked for an internship. 

I got it after the process. Surely it helped that I could apply by taking a cab to the embassy vs. all the others doing it over skype etc. I briefly went back to Europe and had about half a year to kill. I put the masters thesis on the shelf for a bit to explore my newfound interest in the financial space. I spent that time interning in private banking. Fascinating firm, older than the monarchy in my country itself, and fascinating clients to serve. Though I do remember one Senior's advice/joke: the best of us start out with asset management before we are just the face of the firm on the client's speed dial". He was saying learn the analytical side of things before you focus on human aspects.

So, back to D.C. Walked around in trade politics for 6 months (US elections ended the negotiations at the time. Nonetheless, fun to see the kitchen!), went home, finished my thesis, postponed finding a job for a little bit to join the campaign for upcoming national elections, and finally found a starting gig in corporate banking. It was really hard - I truly didn't know enough coming from law - but the drive was there. I signed up for the CFA program to wrap my head around it all. 

With initial experience and early CFA level-1 success, I went to phase 2 of the plan. While in D.C. I had met a women working for a DFI (Development Finance Institution) headquartered there. That seemed like a great "best of both worlds" thing. I applied with a "I'll take the job anywhere" type of letter and anywhere became a major Middle-Eastern. This time, things were even harder, as I had to get good at more advanced modeling real quick. 

I survived, maybe Seniors were a bit more patient because of covid and me being alone in a strange environment, I'll be fair about that. Plus, this wasn't Wall Street. Its harder to find these type of expats. Anyway, come year 2 I got the hang of it and finished the CFA program. It dawned on me I had done some interesting deals across the region, such as one very high-profile one in a country the world's major financial institutions hardly touch. I leveraged this experience to apply for B-school and am happy to say I will be starting at one of the Ivies in two months. Who doesnt like a happy ending right!

What's next? Something with emerging markets I hope, but done from the Street. I have two years to level-up and be ready for the much more unforgiving environment. Slowly, as relationship management becomes more important, let's see if I can get on the speed dial of the right people across the world's developing frontiers. The hail mary play at the moment is to leverage a network to head into development-cooperation one day at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (State dept.). We'll see about all that but in case you were wondering...

With that, ask me anything! 

Comments (5)

Jun 25, 2022 - 7:41am
mrebeazy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hi! Great post and very interesting career progression so far. Would say I was in a similar boat to you pre-college as I hoped (and still do) to become the US Ambassador to my East African motherland. Originally thought the best way to do this was to follow a traditional diplomatic route of obtaining an MPA/MPP, completing foreign service exam and becoming an officer, and hoping for a interesting posting. However, during my COVID my interests shifted heavily to finance and I began recruiting for roles for next summer. Managed to lend a role in AM at a BB in NYC, learned a ton, but knew that I still wanted to combine my interest for international development with finance. Recruited for FT roles and am gonna be joining an impact investment bank as an analyst next month. I plan on staying for 2 years and then applying to HBS and GSB (did undergrad at HYPS) and hopefully transition into a role at another reputable impact investment firm. Long term I want to be able to found my own firm focused on sustainable development in East Africa and be able to use my regional expertise and connections to eventually be appointed as a US ambassador. Here are my questions:

- the majority of reputable impact firms i've noticed are located in europe compared to the US, do you think a move to europe would be necessary to advance my career?

- What has it been looking interacting with the govt/diplomatic community? Is it insular or are ppl willing to help you?

- Is your long term goal still focused on becoming an ambassador or have you abandoned that for development finance altogether?

- Any tips/advice for me as I start my new role and plan to apply to B-school?

Most Helpful
Jun 25, 2022 - 9:08am
ChiefFrivolitiesAnalyst, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hi there, let me do those in order and thanks for sharing! Good luck with the new role first of all.

On europe, I think development finance is indeed the biggest in European capitals + D.C. but New York is not asleep though. In the last two years some BB players started development finance teams so my advice would be to keep an eye on them. Late to the game but may may big strides (implicit hiring sprees) in the years to come ;)

On diplomatic community, I think as you start out you won't get much exposure. Honestly most of my diplomatic friends I just met in my personal life out in the Middle East, it wasn't work. As you progress though you are likely to leave the assembly line (actual investment / deal processing) and do some work in a country management unit for a while. Those teams liaise with government, central banks , financial regulators to solve all kinds of issues such as USD expatriation. Massive exposure there, but realistically that'll be post-MBA

On long term goal, like you it is not fully out of my mind, but I wouldn't fall apart if it never materializes. The thing is ambassadors are often career diplomats in my country. They are not politically appointed, and a financial expert is much more likely to become a high-level attaché or something. Point being: I'm quite sure I can find myself back in the US on diplomatic status one way or another, but ambassador may be difficult. Maybe flip it even? The US embassy in the Hague? I'll have to see how life progresses over the next 5 years or so to give you a better answer.

On tips, think of the story you just shared. You may want to explain how you've made steps that are useful on their own sure; but they also pave the way for a highly specific yet attainable long-term goal. It would illustrate your capacity to chart a course and commit.

Jun 25, 2022 - 10:48am
mrebeazy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thank you for the reply! Also curious as to what got you interested in emerging markets (my main interest and why i chose my firm) and what sectors excite you. Also curious as to how you think development finance will change in the coming years, particularly in light of recent global events. 
 

Did you ever consider combining your MBA with a MPA or MPP? still exploring this option but don't know how necessary it is to be successful in the field.

Jun 25, 2022 - 1:54pm
ChiefFrivolitiesAnalyst, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hi there,So what got me interested is the fact that I do believe in finance as a force for good, I'm sorry that sounds cheesy AF. But let me tell you why. When I interned in trade politics this overlapped with the Spring Meetings (for those out of the industry: that's the major meetings of the world bank group and international monetary fund in D.C. each year). I was staffed to carry files and speaking notes and shadow a Minister of development cooperation for a day (cheap intern labor amirite ;) )Point is: her speech was on stabilizing Uruzgan, a province in Afghanistan, and the need for financial infrastructure. Why? You can't train an army when soldiers keep walking away to get wages to their families. It was truly eye-opening, and made me realize the importance of bankingWhere's it going? It's institutionalizing I'd say. In the end the DFIs exist to do the deals the BB and other banks cannot do or won't do. That makes a DFI portfolio a bit of an asset class on its own. I think that in the wake of the major challenges the world is facing, the appetite is growing. Which to me also explains why major BB players are setting up teams for this space. Particularly JPM is positioning itself well I'd say, but imma let you google that!

Jun 25, 2022 - 2:01pm
ChiefFrivolitiesAnalyst, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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