We asked our summer intern Lars Ballhausen to tell us about his experience at FS Impact Finance.
What have you been doing since you joined FS Impact Finance in June?
During my time here I mainly worked in the areas of strategic business development and microfinance investing.
When I arrived at the beginning of June, I worked with Michael Crayne, one of the investment managers. I started my work by drafting an investment proposal for a microfinance institution (MFI) in sub-Saharan Africa and was able to gain an insight into the work of an investment manager by conducting my own research and analysis. I evaluated the financials of the MFI in question and analysed its external environment by assessing the political environment and macroeconomic factors as well as the banking and microfinance sector. I could at a later stage use this knowledge again when I worked remotely with another investment manager, Joy Gundran who is based in Myanmar.
During the second part of my internship I worked with Derek Campbell and later Torsten Becker in the area of business development. I conducted strategic research and analysis for the set-up of a new venture capital fund with impact investing focus in Africa. I then worked on a potential new private equity fund in Asia. My tasks included identifying the most promising geographic markets under consideration of factors including economic growth, addressable market size, legislative barriers and opportunities, as well as development status. I furthermore investigated market and investment trends and evaluated the impact potential as well as the financial viability of the ventures. Moreover, I assessed the level of competition in the sector and identified potential market gaps. At last, I synthesized my analysis and presented the results.
At the end of my internship I also had the chance to take part in a virtual due diligence after I supported the Seed Capital Assistance Facility team with finishing up two SCAF proposals.
What were you able to learn during your internship?
I gained an interesting insight into the microfinance sector and the work of an investment manager. The internship allowed me to apply and especially enhance skills I previously acquired in an academic setting. I had taken courses in international relations and economics, but the internship taught me about in-depth analysis in these areas and gave me a practical application for my theoretical knowledge. The biggest learning effect was combining all the different external factors to see the big picture.
I was also able to use my accounting knowledge from university as I worked with financial statements of MFIs which frequently contained irregularities as we used the newest, not yet audited statements. Therefore, applying a thorough understanding of the statements with attention to detail was needed to spot anomalies and mistakes. Beyond applying my accounting knowledge, I learned about financial analysis and the different ratios which have special relevance for MFIs.
During my time analysing opportunities for new funds I learned a lot about quantifying potential and markets, as well as integrating widely different sources and aspects into my analysis while keeping a clear structure to come to conclusions. Presenting my results to supervisors taught me about structuring large amounts of information and synthesising my analysis and data into a coherent story.
How has the corona crisis impacted your internship?
The virus especially impacted the beginning of the internship as I was supposed to start in May for a 3-month internship. However, due to the corona situation and the circumstances during that time at FS Impact Finance the start was moved to June in mutual agreement.
Apart from shortening the internship, I am fortunate for having been given the chance to complete the whole internship in the Frankfurt office. This gave me the chance to meet my colleagues in person and experience the atmosphere in the office. It also allowed for an open and informal exchange with colleagues who I would not have directly encountered for my work.
Unfortunately, because of Covid-19 I was unable to take part in a due diligence trip to Africa or Asia. While I had been looking forward to this experience, the crisis offered other opportunities to learn for which I am grateful. The analysis of the current external environment and future trends became more complex but also interesting due to the crisis. While analysing the financial situation of MFIs or their external environment the question whether developments are due to the crisis and more importantly whether they are permanent arose frequently. At last I was even given the chance to take part in a virtual due diligence and was able to gain insight into how the operation of our business copes with the crisis and finds solutions.
What did you especially like about your internship?
I especially enjoyed working with the people of FS Impact Finance. The team is dynamic and international, and I had the pleasure to meet many different personalities with interesting and diverse backgrounds. Drawing on their know-how and getting to know them was an invaluable experience.
Furthermore, I appreciated the level of confidence my supervisors had in me. I was given the freedom to largely work independently and my supervisors entrusted me with interesting, complex and relevant tasks. These tasks gave me the chance to challenge myself and learn. My learning process was in particular enhanced by the open feedback culture I experienced, including both ideas for improvement and constructive criticism as well as appreciation for notably good results. I thoroughly enjoyed my internship here at FS Impact Finance and can only recommend it as a challenging, educational and enriching experience.