Net Impact 2011 Conference Panel: Finance Careers for Good

By Jacen Greene

“We’re going to occupy Wall Street from the inside.” Those words, spoken as part of the introductory speech of the 2011 Net Impact Conference, certainly applied to the topics and audience of a conference panel on “Finance for Good: Creating a Career with Impact.” The wide-ranging discussion covered topics such as how to meet the credit needs of the working poor, how to quantify the management effectiveness of firms (hint: look for those with more women board members), and, of course, the best way to get a job at a great financial organization.

Panel members included:

  • R. Paul Herman, CEO and Founder, Human Impact + Profit Investor. HIP Investor is an impact investment firm that quantifies human, social, and environmental impact on a scale from 0-100 to guide their selection of portfolio firms.
  • Haydee Moreno, Vice President and Micro Branch Director, Self-Help Federal Credit Union. Moreno developed Self-Help’s micro-branch program to provide low-income, primarily Spanish-speaking customers with more affordable banking and credit options.
  • Mark Savoye, VP Global Operations Emerging Payments, MasterCard Worldwide. Savoye worked on a program to give parents and employers greater controls over card usage.
  • The panel was moderated by Mark Pinsky, President and CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network, the national network of Community Development Financial Institutions.

The panel spoke of their varied career paths and their approaches to creating beneficial financial products and practices (with Savoye playing the odd man out between deflecting criticism from the other panel members and defending unpopular views). The audience, however, showed more interest in several key topics: how financial products can be designed to help the poor, how impact investors can quantify sustainability, and how to get through the door at an outstanding financial organization.

How can financial institutions meet the needs of the poor? “The needs of working families are largely around liquidity” said Moreno. She explained how financial coaching “misses the mark” because it ignores the fundamental needs of the working poor while adding additional customer service challenges for a financial organization. By focusing instead on developing and deploying innovative, beneficial products, financial institutions can better serve the needs of their customers. Pinsky also challenged the concept that the working poor lack appropriate financial knowledge, speaking instead to their investment savvy but lack of options and poor access to affordable credit.

Moving from financial products to financial investments, Herman spoke of the ways in which the HIP Impact Portfolio quantifies and ranks the sustainability of S&P 100 firms. Some of his tools include evaluating the exposure to oil price shocks of a firm’s suppliers and evaluating management effectiveness by looking at the number of women on the board of directors. Want to know who ended up at the bottom of the upcoming list? Berkshire Hathaway, because of a lack of transparency and Warren Buffet’s belief that climate change is not a material risk to their business, said Herman.

And finally, how do you get a job at a great financial organization? According to Herman:

  1. Determine how you can add value to an organization and communicate that to a manager.
  2. Pick your CEO: don’t work for an organization with a poor leader.
  3. Cultivate the garden: work to position yourself as a thought leader by writing about and sharing interesting concepts within your own network.
  4. Finally, be strategically open to serendipity and opportunity.

Good advice for seeking a job at any organization.

Jacen Greene is a social enterprise consultant in Portland, Oregon.

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