Megafund PE -> Impact Investing (IFC World Bank)? Am I Crazy?

Hey WSO:

I wanted to get a second opinion on my next potential career move.

Personal background: Graduated from top target 2 years ago, went to a megafund (BX / KKR / Carlyle) out of college, been here since. Right now I work with top tier talent on smart deals, and make decent bank...but I just don't think what I do is purposeful or helpful to the world at all. Sometimes borderline harmful. My hours are also pretty tough (although at 80-90 probably not the worst you've heard of - still painful though).

In another life, I like to think I would've done the Peace Corps or something but then Wharton happened to me. For some time now, I've been eyeing a transition to impact PE at a international institution like IFC (World Bank) / EIB / ADB / CDC. I'm very late in the interview process at several of these places and expecting an offer very soon. It seems exactly what I want on paper - using PE to deliver economic development to places that need it.

But a few things are making me quite wary:

  • My peers (other PE/IB analysts) are telling me I'm literally insane to take a 30%+ paycut and "brand dilution" to do a less exciting and more bureaucratic 9-5, when the alternative is to keep my resume "pure" by recruiting for a tiger cub hedge fund and making mid/high six-digits. Quite frankly I think the pay/WLB trade-off is great at the junior level.

  • When I speak to people working at these places, they do seem a little surprised to have someone like me so enthusiastic about joining

  • When I look at people who have come through these places, a ton of them seem like they go to a top B-School and re-recruit for the private sector (PE / Tech / Consulting) instead of staying in impact investing. Not sure if this means everyone just uses this role to craft a cool MBA admissions story, or if people are genuinely enthusiastic about the mission at first and then become disillusioned.

My questions are:

  1. Am I actually crazy for considering this? Is it crazy to be contrarian about this whole "Harvard -> GS -> KKR -> HBS" prestige-whore track my friends are all attempting? My thesis is: there has to be a point where we have to get sick and tired of proving ourselves for cash and recognition, and I'd rather reach that point in my mid-20s than my late-30s when I'm cuffed to deferred comp and have lost all my personality and dreams. But at the same time I'm very scared that I'll be sad and wrong when it's all said and done.

  2. If it turns out to be the wrong decision and I head to B-School to path-correct, would a place like IFC on my resume hurt or help my chances at a top MBA (H/S/W)? If I want to return to traditional PE post-MBA, would this stint hurt me, notwithstanding the fact I have 2 years at a top megafund already?

  3. Do you think these places actually help the world, and if you know people who do this kind of work, do they seem to find it meaningful?

Thanks a ton.

Comments (39)

 
Jul 29, 2020 - 2:53pm

I don't think it is crazy at all, but just have a good understanding of what you're getting into. All the organizations you named have key differences in how they operate -- it isn't like comparing GS to MS to JPM. The structure, amount of red tape, quality and backgrounds of people, teams (direct vs. co-invest-vs. fund investing) really differs from place to place.

I've worked indirectly with IFC and CDC in different capacities (investors in one of our funds, co-investors on a deal we led, and investors in a company we were also invested in, but they came in separately). I found the people to be a mixed bag, which is why I think it really comes down to specific teams, offices, etc. Some of the teams were very involved and analytical, whereas others were really underwhelming in their understanding of a transaction and basically took what was told to them by us at face value (when in many cases it deserved to be challenged quite a bit).

I wouldn't worry about hurting your resume, as brand wise these are all great places. I would just caution you into looking at their investments and really understanding where in the org and with which org you would be able to achieve your goals of really making impact. The bar for "impact investing" is pretty low in terms of what qualifies. The investments I mentioned above were all pure for-profit, financial transactions, which qualified as impact because of the broad criteria. For example, a grocery store chain would qualify in many countries because it is providing food, which also supports lower income individuals. It isn't necessarily that the bulk of the work is building schools in rural Afghanistan, if that makes sense.

Feel free to message me and am happy to go into detail on my experience with IFC / CDC at least. I know people who have interviewed with EIB and ADB, but not enough beyond that to comment on them.

 
  • Analyst 2 in PE - LBOs
Jul 29, 2020 - 10:58pm

Will PM you once my message limit expires haha (quite annoying)

Interested in getting more color on IFC in particular. Personnel, talent, types of deals, reputation etc. I'm particularly curious about how the social impact angle gets factored into the underwriting process - is it a box to tick off, or is it a variable they try to maximize alongside IRR?

 
Jul 30, 2020 - 5:32am

Sorry, I thought I responded to this but it didn't go through. I'm not sure on the internal process of evaluating impact, though I imagine there is some criteria wherein impact is measured through a matrix against returns.

I will add that IFC in particular has pretty strict criteria for its investments and subsequently for the investments of the funds it invests in with respect to ESG. There is usually a large checklist of ESG requirements / changes to be made at every portfolio company within set time frames (some within 3 months, 6 months, etc). This can be anything from improving fire safety standards, to x number of independent directors, to increasing number of women in the company, all of which are quite impactful.

 
Jul 30, 2020 - 1:47am

Wait - we are literally the same person. I feel like I could have written your post word for word. I'm new to WSO and I can't seem to figure out how to PM you, but I would absolutely love to chat. I graduated from a top school and started out in a megafund's analyst program right out of UG. The IFC has been my dream job for so long. In another life I would do the peace corp .... would love to think through this journey together

 
  • Intern in PE - Other
Jul 30, 2020 - 3:33am

Wow. Current student at your alma mater. Came in to the school knowing I wanted to combine business with social impact but obviously ended up in the traditional finance route. Would love to stay updated on your transition!

 
Aug 27, 2020 - 9:33pm

Was wondering the same thing. From what I've seen online, it looks like it's very bureaucratic. I was thinking about opportunities there though.

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

 
Jul 30, 2020 - 2:17pm

I think I can help answer your questions, I've been doing PE impact investing for a while now after spending a couple years in IBD at GS/MS, and I'm familiar with IFC.

I'm pretty backed up at work right now though so I just need a bit of time this weekend to write a comprehensive response. Ping me if I don't reply (I know several people who commented in this thread have also sent me DMs in the past, sorry if I haven't responded yet)

 
Jul 31, 2020 - 12:52pm

OP check out Social Finance in Boston.
Incredible firm that focuses on pay for success project and impact investing, and although many end up at HBS and may go to do non-impact investing afterwards, people there really care about the work they do and many took a pay cut to be there

 
Most Helpful
Aug 2, 2020 - 6:50pm

Hey sorry for the delay. Like I mentioned earlier, I've been working in impact investing for a while now after abandoning "the path" that many of my former colleagues from GS / MS took.

:

My peers (other PE/IB analysts) are telling me I'm literally insane to take a 30%+ paycut and "brand dilution" to do a less exciting and more bureaucratic 9-5, when the alternative is to keep my resume "pure" by recruiting for a tiger cub hedge fund and making mid/high six-digits. Quite frankly I think the pay/WLB trade-off is great at the junior level.

This is the biggest question that you'll have to answer – how much do compensation and prestige matter to you? It's a highly personal decision and there's not necessarily a right answer. So I'll tell you about how I rationalized the decision for myself:

  • Incremental income doesn't matter - I know this is crazy to say on WSO, but past a certain point, income levels don't matter too much. Especially if you already make enough money to have a good/decent lifestyle. Research has shown that once people make six figures (with adjustments for cost of living), happiness levels are not correlated to income. If you already have a nice car, does it really matter if you could afford a slightly nicer one? It's more likely that any extra money just goes towards your savings anyways.
    Yes, you could make the argument that I could retire a few years earlier if I made more money, but I'd probably work more hours per week in traditional PE so it balances out a bit. Also, I didn't grow up in a wealthy family so I don't have any affinity for expensive things – I enjoy eating fast food just as much as going to a fancy restaurant.

  • Prestige doesn't matter - When I was in college, I used to think that prestige was important. College kids used to worship me when I was at GS/MS but the novelty wore off pretty quickly. After pulling a few all nighters in banking, I realized that nobody important in my life actually cares about prestige. The funny thing is, the most successful people I know are the ones who went off to do their own thing and take a risk (like entrepreneurship or small startup funds), while abandoning prestige.

  • Better work / life balance - I work way less now than I used to, and I actually have time for hobbies, fitness, and friends/family. Things do get busy sometimes during live deals, but quality of live overall has definitely improved. Meanwhile, many of my friends in finance have gotten burned out after the 2+2 in finance. There are probably some personalities that just want to grind, but I don't think I really want to work 70-80 hours a week for the rest of my life.

  • Personal fulfillment - I'll elaborate on this point later in my comments…

:

When I speak to people working at these places, they do seem a little surprised to have someone like me so enthusiastic about joining.

I'm going to completely generalize and stereotype right now (sorry in advance), but in my experience working in finance, people usually fall within one of these three categories (the % allocations are just guesses):

  • 70% of people in finance think having impact in their career is not important - They usually have the mentality that you should make lots of money and enjoy life while it lasts, because you only live once. They'll usually care more about doing intellectually stimulating work, rather than impactful work. Nothing wrong with that, many of my friends are like this.
  • 25% of people in finance think impact is interesting or important, but are not willing to switch careers for it - Typically they care about social issues, inequality, or climate change, but they aren't willing to make the trade-offs required for a career in social impact (like comp, prestige, etc). Some of them have the mentality that they can do more good by making lots of money and then giving it away later in life. This is basically Warren Buffett's approach, which has its pros and cons (the problem is when the money-making activity is actually harmful to the world, like oil & gas or tobacco).
  • 5% of people who need to have impact in their career, and will actively make it happen - These are usually people who went into IBD/consulting after college because of the learning experience, the pay / prestige, or just because it was what everyone else was doing. But then they realized that it wasn't fulfilling (or they already knew it was just a stepping stone) and they needed to have a more meaningful career. Thinking back to my IBD global analyst class, I can count on one hand how many people ended up doing something impact-related for their next job. 5% is a generous estimate actually, but I rounded up since it seems like there has been more interest lately.

OP, my guess is that people are surprised that you fell into the third category since there are not many people like that in the finance world. Usually, people who prioritize impact for their careers don't take a finance job right after graduating. They usually go directly to a government role, a nonprofit / foundation, Teach for America, or a company focused on impact (renewable energy company, healthcare company, etc).

:

When I look at people who have come through these places, a ton of them seem like they go to a top B-School and re-recruit for the private sector (PE / Tech / Consulting) instead of staying in impact investing. Not sure if this means everyone just uses this role to craft a cool MBA admissions story, or if people are genuinely enthusiastic about the mission at first and then become disillusioned.

I think this phenomenon is more specific to IFC in particular, based on what I've heard from those who worked there. Because they have a large analyst program, that organization seems to attract a lot of recent college graduates who just want an investing role or want a prestigious MBA (they have a good track record to HSW), but don't care about impact that much.

Just look back at the old Abraaj Group analyst program threads on WSO as an example of this. Abraaj was big in impact investing (before they blew up due to scandal), but nobody in those threads was talking about impact.

I don't think this is the case with many other impact investing firms. You'll see that many employees actually came from traditional finance and made the decision to move to impact, rather than vice versa.

:

Am I actually crazy for considering this? Is it crazy to be contrarian about this whole "Harvard -> GS -> KKR -> HBS" prestige-whore track my friends are all attempting? My thesis is: there has to be a point where we have to get sick and tired of proving ourselves for cash and recognition, and I'd rather reach that point in my mid-20s than my late-30s when I'm cuffed to deferred comp and have lost all my personality and dreams. But at the same time I'm very scared that I'll be sad and wrong when it's all said and done.

I've thought a lot about how much brand/prestige/comp matter and I think it essentially comes down to what you want to accomplish in life (see my earlier thoughts about the types of people in finance).

I've talked to several 60+ year old finance guys who made tons of money, but still feel like they didn't do anything meaningful as they look back on their careers. This is usually the point where they start getting involved in nonprofits or donating their money.

Here's another way to think about it: as you reflect on your career 40 years from now, would you feel more fulfilled if you did an LBO of a widget manufacturing company and got a 4x return, or if you provided growth capital to help an education technology company scale up and lift thousands of kids out of poverty? Which deal would your parents, significant other, and family be more proud of? What about your children and grandchildren?

Wouldn't it be amazing if we helped create a world where anyone can live a good life, even if they were born in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the slums of Mumbai, or the housing projects of Brooklyn? Even if they were born into a family with very little money or the wrong color skin? Well, there are plenty of companies focused on education, financial inclusion, and healthcare that need capital to innovate and scale up.

Or how about a world where global warming doesn't raise sea levels and displace 150 million people by 2050. It's crazy when you look at scientists' forecasts – half of Vietnam will be underwater, most of Bangkok will be gone, Mumbai will probably be wiped out, and New Orleans will be sunk. Millions of other people will live in arid conditions and be forced to relocate, farmers will struggle to grow food, and entire animal species will die out after surviving for thousands of years. Now is the time to invest in renewable energy, battery storage, electric vehicles, and sustainability.

Personally, I know I'd rather do meaningful work as early as possible, especially when I think about what my goals are and what my ambitions were as a bright-eyed optimistic college kid.

:

If it turns out to be the wrong decision and I head to B-School to path-correct, would a place like IFC on my resume hurt or help my chances at a top MBA (H/S/W)? If I want to return to traditional PE post-MBA, would this stint hurt me, notwithstanding the fact I have 2 years at a top megafund already?

In my opinion, here are the pros of joining IFC:

  • Great lifestyle, 9 to 5 typically with little weekend work. Really allows for you to have a life and spend time with friends/family
  • Opportunity to do really interesting and impactful work in emerging markets. It can be pretty fulfilling to know that you improved people's lives
  • Big brand name that is widely respected among the general public. Also has a good business school track record

Here would be the cons of joining IFC:

  • Low compensation (relative to PE) with not much long-term upside
    Not always working with impactful companies (more focused on the region rather than industry) and some colleagues are not impact-oriented

  • Can sometimes be slow / bureaucratic with little pressure to get deals done

  • Not always the most analytical / financial rigorous teams. It's not as essential for them to maximize financial returns by getting an extra 25 basis points of leverage, and they can afford to cut corners

  • They have a weird MBA requirement before people can get promoted to senior positions

On the MBA admissions question, I think you'd have no problem getting into HSW after going to IFC or a similar organization. MBA programs generally like those big government institutions and have great relationships with them.

If you do decide to return to PE after IFC, I think it may hurt slightly (or at best be neutral) primarily because they aren't known for being rigorous financial investors and you'd be investing in different markets than most PE firms do. However, since you already have megafund experience then I'm sure you could still return to PE again (but maybe not as easily, or not the same fund size).

However, my recommendation would be for you to consider some other impact investing firms before deciding. IFC is certainly not a bad place to be, but there are other great firms out there as well (not sure how much you've thought about them yet).

 
Aug 2, 2020 - 6:55pm

I think it would be good to provide some background on the broader impact investing landscape, since there are a lot of other options out there beyond just IFC if you want to make a difference. You should be fully informed about other opportunities are before you accept a potential offer. Here's how I would segment the landscape:

  1. Philanthropic organizations - These are usually organizations that provide program-related investments (PRIs), mission-related investments (MRIs), or grants. PRIs target below-market rate returns, such as interest-free loans, loan guarantees / letters of credit, or equity investments in risky (but highly impactful) companies that would otherwise struggle to raise capital. MRIs target market-rate returns in impactful companies / regions (but less risky, more investable companies than PRIs). Grants can help catalyze an early industry / technology that needs initial capital to get started (carbon capture for example). Examples include foundations (Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Gates Foundation Strategic Investment Fund), nonprofits, and some family offices

  2. Government institutions - This is the category where IFC / World Bank would fit in. Oftentimes they are investing in emerging markets, with the idea that economic development can have a big impact. Some of the companies they invest in may not be in an impactful industry (like renewables or education) but they create jobs for people who really need them. They usually do debt, equity, and fund investments, and sometimes make grants as well.
    Examples include development finance institutions (IFC, OPIC, IDB, CDC Group), foreign aid institutions (USAID, UNICEF)

  3. Pure-play, independent impact firms - This is the group that has been mostly responsible for building out the impact investing industry over the past 20+ years. There are impact funds that do everything including venture capital, growth equity, buyouts, private credit, and infrastructure. There are also some very low-profile family offices that have billions of dollars dedicated to impact investing, but they never make the press / news articles and few people in the finance world have heard of them. Examples include venture capital funds (DBL Partners), growth equity funds (Bridges Fund Management, Generation Investment Management), infrastructure funds (Generate Capital, Spring Lane Capital), private credit funds (Calvert Impact, Global Partnerships), emerging market funds (Leapfrog Investments, Global Health Investment Fund), family offices (Capricorn Investment Group, Blue Haven Initiative, Omidyar Network)
  4. Sector focused, impact-adjacent funds - There are certain sectors where success is inherently tied to impact, like renewable energy and education. For example, an edtech company that sells to a university probably needs to show data to prove that its product helps enhance student's learning quality / experience. The funds focused on these sectors are doing good work and sometimes label themselves as impact investors, but the distinction is that this group is not necessarily analyzing impact in their investment committee, whereas all the other groups probably are declining deals if it doesn't meet the impact hurdle. Examples include education funds (University Ventures, Owl Ventures), renewable energy funds (Blackrock Renewables), some healthcare funds
  5. Large asset managers with impact funds - These funds get lots of press / attention (both positive and negative). A lot of people seem to want to work at these places though because they don't have to give up much "prestige" or comp, but still do meaningful work. Most of the time these firms work on both impact and non-impact deals (not always the case, Bain's group is pretty segmented). What usually happens is when the firm finds a deal with a strong financial return, then they will have a consultant evaluate the impact. If the deal meets the impact criteria, then they will invest from the impact fund. If it does not meet the criteria, then they will invest from their traditional fund (therefore, there are some issues with impact additionality and authenticity, see below). Examples include Bain Double Impact, TPG Rise Fund, KKR Global Impact, Apollo, Blackstone
 
Aug 2, 2020 - 6:58pm

This is how I would rank each category based on impact (high to low):
1. Philanthropic organizations - In my opinion, these groups have the highest impact out of everyone. Philanthropic and concessionary capital is desperately needed and can be incredibly powerful. Subsidizing a new drug development that could save millions of lives. Developing new renewable energy technologies is critical to fighting climate change. Traditional investors would never put money towards these companies though, since they are too risky / unproven
2. Government institutions - I think these institutions can have a big impact because of the size of their balance sheets (government funding / budgets), plus their work in developing countries that are most in need of economic growth and investment. Sometimes they are not looking to maximize financial returns, so they can enter riskier areas where their capital can really make a difference. However, they can also be bureaucratic and slow-moving at times, so I've heard that not as much gets done as they would like. Also, they are not always investing in impactful sectors (the grocery store example)
3. Pure-play, independent impact firms - These funds are generally less impactful than philanthropic groups or government institutions, because they seek strong financial returns. However, they are still able to scale up impactful solutions that may not otherwise get much funding. For example many regular investors won't even touch cleantech with a ten foot pole, but an impact investor might identify an emerging business model / technology with better sector knowledge, or be more willing to come up with a creative / complicated deal structure that works. However, sometimes these bets have not worked out in the past, and some firms in this category have gotten mixed financial returns. Others have done well though, like DBL Partners (the first institutional investor in Tesla and SolarCity, long before electric vehicles or solar became mainstream)
4. Sector focused, impact-adjacent funds - This group is a mixed bag on impact, I think some of them have great results while others do not. For example, healthcare is a tricky sector, since some healthcare companies make money by gouging patients and charging high prices or reducing service quality. A healthcare focused fund might still invest in that company even if it leads to bad outcomes for society. However, it would be hard to find a renewable energy fund that is not impactful – reducing carbon emissions is good for the world and quantifiable.
5. Large asset managers with impact funds - Some of these funds are branded as impact for marketing purposes. One impact investing industry leader I know went to a fundraising pitch for one of these firms, and came out saying they are an ESG fund disguised as an impact fund (ESG investing basically screens out negative qualities while impact investing seeks positive qualities). There are related questions around authenticity – did Bill McGlashan (of college admissions scandal fame) really seem like the type of person who cared about impact that much or did he only care once it became marketable and he could collect fees? There's also the issue of "additionality", or what happens if the fund doesn't invest in the company. Are you truly helping the world if a traditional investor still does the deal even if you're not around (so the impact would have happened either way)? In my opinion, greater impact is created when a company has a special situation that prevents it from getting traditional capital. These impact funds tend to have less additionality, due to the larger deal sizes that they play in (more capital availability and more competitive auction processes). On the other hand, these funds are bringing more attention to the impact investing space and getting LPs more comfortable with the concept, so maybe they are a net positive despite the points above

 
Aug 2, 2020 - 6:59pm

This is how I would rank each category based on compensation (high to low) and work/life balance (low to high)
1. Large asset managers with impact funds - Market-rate comp for typical middle market fund sizes of $500M to $3B (mix of growth equity / buyout), so you'd get paid decently. However, it would likely be a discount in comp if you're coming from a $10-15B+ megafund. The reason is pretty simple: lower AUM, lower fees, and therefore lower comp. Accordingly, I would expect the work life balance to be similar to traditional private equity. The senior guys at these funds probably came from these backgrounds as well, which affects culture
2. Sector focused, impact-adjacent funds Market-rate comp for typical middle market fund sizes of $100M to $2B (mostly growth equity). I would expect the lifestyle to be a little better than the large asset managers, but still similar to traditional PE. This is very firm-specific though obviously
3. Pure-play, independent impact firms - Some of the firms in this group are smaller in size ($100M to $1B funds), leading to a bit lower comp. Others are family offices, which aren't known for paying as much as traditional PE. As for culture, people who are impact-oriented are generally nicer to work with, so I would expect a better work/life balance overall (maybe 9 to 7 as a benchmark with occasional weekend work)
4. Government institutions - The pay is worse than the three groups above because these are public sector jobs. Compensation is usually capped and set at certain rates for everyone. You should still be making over six figures, but there's not much upside over time. I've heard that lifestyle is pretty good and 9 to 6 is fairly common. There's not as much pressure to do deals and they're not involved in competitive auctions most of the time. These can be good cushy jobs, especially if you have a family and value personal time away from work
5. Philanthropic organizations - From what I know, the pay at these organizations is not great, essentially because they want to maximize their impact by not overpaying people (they'd rather preserve that capital for grants or PRIs/MRIs). Sometimes comp is lower than six figures at these places. I would expect lifestyle to be quite good though, with 9 to 5 work hours and no weekend work.

 
Aug 3, 2020 - 1:13am

Leapfrog Investments does some really cool investments (much needed also). I have an older friend in the impact investing space and Handlbars comments are word for word what I've been told. My two cents, take the plung. You've already reached the mountain top, in a lot of peoples eyes, and you weren't compelled enough to stay, based on this post, so try a different mountain. Hundreds of thousands of people have died from covid in the past few months, life's too short to not do what you're pationate about....IMO

 
  • Analyst 2 in PE - LBOs
Aug 3, 2020 - 3:43am

I have heard absolutely terrific things about Leapfrog too. From market chatter, it sounds like they are the best-in-class impact PE firm right now, with top-quartile returns even when compared to regular PE.

Does anyone know which Leapfrog uses for HHs for London/Singapore? Or otherwise how to get in touch with them?

 
  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Sep 3, 2020 - 4:13pm

If you work for the impact fund of a KKR/TPG/BX/Bain is it then easy to move around and work on other funds (the main fund, growth funds, etc.)?

 
Sep 9, 2020 - 1:29pm

I'm an Associate in a buyout-focused MF in an emerging market. Enjoyed the job despite 70-90 hour work weeks as work quality was quite good and the team was excellent. The conventional path that those in my position follow is going for a H / S / W MBA and then return to PE / HF but I am now spending a lot of time introspecting on whether I really want to follow the conventional path. Based on my experience working with portfolio companies on strategic initiatives, I think I do have an inclination towards operating roles, especially in US based fast-growing tech companies where I can get leadership responsibilities and a fast-track career path. I am mulling between either joining a US-based portfolio company which is offering me a VP job or recruiting for middle-market late-stage VC roles in US / UK through which I can get a birds-eye view of the tech industry and network with tech industry leaders before moving to the operating side. Would love to get in touch with anyone who has considered or made a similar move from either PE to late stage VC or PE to a portfolio company.

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