Interview with Amy Wang by Inspirational Women Series
Amy Wang is the Vice President of PG Impact Investments, where she leads Direct Investments. PG Investments is a fund focused on debt, equity and fund investments in the financial inclusion, energy access, affordable housing, healthcare, education and agriculture sectors. Previously, she worked as an Assistant Vice President for Deutsche Bank‘s Global Social Finance group where she led the group’s clean energy and South/Southeast Asian financial services social enterprise investing activities. She also worked as an Investment Associate at Grassroots Business Fund and Centinela Capital Partners and an Analyst at Citigroup Corporate Investment Bank. Amy has worked across Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. She holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in International Affairs from the Lauder Institute from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Science from Carnegie Mellon University.
Can you tell us about your interests and professional background in public finance and emerging markets?
The desire to create tangible value add has consistently played a large role in my career trajectory. This led me to start my career in public finance; I saw the opportunity deliver solutions that had the potential to address social needs. Helping identify investment solutions that help government and municipalities build infrastructure leads to societal benefits for individuals. While public finance was a definite tool for social gain, I personally felt it was too far removed from direct impact. That desire to get closer to the impact while leveraging skills I learned from being a financial services professional in public led me to join the catalytic new field of impact investing. Impact investing is an emerging field where investments are made for a dual benefit; positive societal benefit as well as financial return. The emerging markets in particular are an exciting place to investigate impact investing, as many innovative new business models are emerging to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges in those underserved geographies. Companies in those areas are oftentimes undercapitalized and underserved; so I try to understand the unique bespoke risks that these institutions carry, manage the perceived risks and create investor returns while doing so.
How did you come to join PG Impact Investments and what are some key projects you’ve overseen as Vice President?
Generally, I lead direct investments for PG Impact Investments, leading debt and equity investments into companies. One transaction in particular that’s been interesting and hopefully catalytic for the industry is a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that is going to be collateralized by receivables from rural off-grid consumers in Kenya. There are businesses that sell and service solar home systems that are affordable to purchase because the systems are coupled with mobile financing plans. The concept seems so simple but it’s really hard when working with these customers because they’ve never had access to credit and aren’t considered credit-worthy. It is very expensive to implement this strategy, particularly when paying for the systems upfront and then getting dribs of payments on an ongoing basis – it takes a while to get the financing plans to recoup the costs. We’re buying a package of these receivables; creating a structure that understands the unique risk profile of the consumers and prices it in a way that is palatable to the business as well as the investment market. We hope to create a structure that will be replicable for investors and other businesses.
What are some main challenges you’ve faced in your life and how did you overcome them?
I’ve been very lucky to have worked with supportive colleagues, have great mentors and be in an environment where meritocracy wins. My biggest challenge has sometimes been myself; my own willingness to take risks has hampered me from making a leap of faith or making a desire a reality. Upon realizing that, sometimes I have to reinforce it in myself that I have the ability to take measured risks. This is what I have to say for all young professionals out there – don’t let yourself be your own enemy and take on that capacity. If you fail or make a misstep, these are wonderful lessons for the future and it’s better to learn them for the future. In the earlier days, I was a lot more cautious and I hope I could avoid or take the lessons I had from that period onward.
Going forward, what are some of the opportunities and challenges facing public finance?
Being a professional in the public finance space’s main challenges lie in the fact that the structures that you operate in and the financial engineering you do has become a little more commoditized over time. It has become harder to be competitive as products are similar. A lot of the innovation that occurred a few years ago has stagnated now so it’s challenging becoming more differentiated. Sometimes you think the pricing and being able to provide the competitive value-add is harder. There’s an opportunity now that’s emerging, which is that people perceive that public finance is a form of impact investing and they are trying to understand how using environmental outcomes and social returns are a KPI for public finance success could be a way to leapfrog that challenge.
What is your advice for individuals interested in transitioning from finance careers to impact investing careers?
Really understand where your prospectus sits on the “impact” spectrum; this spectrum ranges from pure philanthropy to impact investing, to ESG/responsible investing to traditional finance. Depending on where you sit along the spectrum and where you feel you have the biggest opportunity to provide value, you need to ensure your values are aligned with the mandates of the organization.
Also, it’s important to remain resilient. Impact investing is a thin market so recruiting is hard but one thing that I think is valuable for individuals who want to enter the space is on the ground experience. That can be hard when you’re getting technical with the numbers and analysis, but you don’t actually see what the companies and clients look and feel like on the ground. If there is the opportunity to go to for example Guatemala to work for an impact accelerator there or work for an actual social enterprise in Kenya, coupled with the financial experience from the banks, it makes you a much more viable candidate.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
My mother had a massive impact on me. She was an immigrant and came to the US for her studies; she was able to really, through the skin of her teeth and despite not speaking English, get a law degree and become a successful professional in her own right. Having that example of a woman who had much less than I did be able to leverage the system, use education and believe in herself was always a very wonderful impact on me.
What are your favorite books, websites, films, and/or resources?
I do love historical fiction and am currently in a World War II bend in historical fiction. I also like to read dystopian novels; in terms of other areas, what I find really helpful are the two magazines I read the most – The Economist and New York Magazine.