Amy Danner began her career at finance behemoths such as JP Morgan before transitioning into a consulting career that took her first to Capco, then KPMG and most recently Accenture. In 2022, she opted for another change — this time into a more impact-focused role. That’s when Danner became project manager at Capital Group, one of the world’s oldest and largest investment management organizations, where she leads large change initiatives and influences cross-functional teams on integrating ESG into their overarching investment approach.
Here Danner shares insights on making such a change, the challenges of navigating a huge organization and why it isn’t her background in finance that she finds the most useful skill in her latest day job.
Shannon Houde: How did you first go about making the move into a more impact-focused role?
Amy Danner: I was at Accenture when I began considering such a move, asking my partners about how I might get involved — such as by writing a point of view or doing some research. While I did that, what was more helpful in my career journey was doing my own research on the side and using that to post on my personal LinkedIn. Doing that I could demonstrate and build expertise with a broader audience, and it actually helped me get my current role at Capital Group. They went to my LinkedIn profile, as most people do, and saw these posts on ESG and knew I was someone interested in an ESG role. Those little things that you might not think are that important really made a difference in my journey.
Houde: Tell us a bit more about your day to day now.
Danner: As a project manager, I am managing work streams within our broader ESG program. Capital Group is looking to integrate ESG not only into our organization but also into our investment processes and investment approach, as well as launching new products. I am managing our client regulatory and reporting work streams, making sure we report based on what the regulators need and creating integration client reporting across our ESG investment process.
When I was in a full-time role in consulting, you’re expected to know everything before you go into the room and talk to someone. Whereas at Capital, I’ve been told many times, it’s OK to ask if you don’t know.
I’m also just starting to get involved in our go-to-market work. That means working with sales and marketing on how they’re going to position new products and services within the marketplace. That’s a new world for me. I’ve never really been involved in marketing and sales before
Houde: How exactly are you integrating ESG into the investment process at Capital Group?
Danner: At Capital Group, we’ve created a lot of tools in order to do that. In terms of the material criteria, there are frameworks for different themes. There’s also a brand-new tool that has been created in-house to capture all those different frameworks. So, the investment analysts will actually go through and use both quantitative and qualitative data to analyze organizations and clients of ours to see if we want to make an investment.
We also have a monitoring process as well which will flag certain organizations based on certain criteria. We will take that information and actually meet with the organization and say we have concerns about X, Y and Z.
That all goes into a whole set of integration reporting that we can share with clients or prospects on how we monitor organizations, and also what we’re doing to engage those organizations in making changes. Clients can see what our process is, and they can see why we made certain investment decisions.
Houde: And what parts of the role do you love the most?
Danner: I really love the people that I work with, it’s just quite a different environment from the one I worked in before. We’re a very consensus-driven organization, so everyone is looking to gather input from everyone in the room. That’s quite different from the consulting world where there’s usually more of a hierarchy and you only listen to certain people. At Capital Group, we’re a little flatter, and so everyone’s thoughts and opinions really make a difference, and we want to hear from everybody. I really like that.
I also really love the culture and the way in which the organization is trying to bring ESG to life, in whatever form that is. I know a lot of organizations are doing that but in terms of valuing the employees, and ensuring we have the right governance structure in place that’s diverse and inclusive, we’re really walking the walk. It’s part of our DNA.
Houde: Where is the pressure to do that coming from? Is it the investor community? The customer? Government?
Danner: We’re a global firm, but a lot of the pressure I’d say is probably coming from the [European Union]. Plus, there’s a lot of scrutiny from clients and distribution partners. But also, the organization is a private firm, it’s a family that created this from the ground up, and that naturally breeds more focus on diversity and inclusion. It’s not necessarily spurred on because of what’s happening externally, it’s just part of the DNA of the organization itself.
Houde: That’s so interesting. What kind of broader trends too are seeing in the investment management sphere or wider financial services sector? What shifts are happening around ESG?
Danner: I’d say there’s two different stories happening, depending on where you live or at least where you invest as the European and North American sides are completely different. At Capital Group, we’ve been working more on the EU side, and a little bit of Asia, and that’s where the real push and draw is. In the EU, if you’re launching new funds, or you’re trying to build partnerships, they’re going to make sure that you’re hitting certain ESG criteria. It’s becoming more table stakes now. So, it’s either you have it or you don’t and if you don’t, they’re not even going to look at you. That’s why it’s a big push for us right now to make sure that we’re meeting those regulations.
We’re a very consensus-driven organization, so everyone is looking to gather input from everyone in the room. That’s quite different from the consulting world where there’s usually more of a hierarchy and you only listen to certain people.
North America is completely different. There’s not a lot of activity on that side for us. Our clients are not asking a lot of questions about ESG. Obviously, the political environment is polarizing on ESG, and there are a lot of headlines about greenwashing, etc. We’re projecting maybe two or three years out; we’ll start making that shift there.
Houde: Tell us about the challenges you face on a day to day basis, too.
Danner: The organization is highly complex, so trying to figure out who to talk to about certain things is always a challenge. I’ve heard jokes from other folks within the firm that it takes you about 10 years to figure out all the different areas and the relevant departments and people as, like any organization, they’re always restructuring. Being new to the firm creates challenges therefore in trying to navigate who to talk to and identify who are the right players.
The other challenge is the complexity of all the data that is required for ESG. There are so many different vendor platforms we have to be in contact with to get all the data we need. There’s not one provider that has everything. We still have to supplement our own research too. So, trying to integrate that into the broader organizational, technical architecture has been a challenge.
It’s interesting actually how ESG highlights data issues that are more broadly experienced within the firm but that we’ve maybe put Band-Aids on. But as ESG is so data-intensive, it really highlights the need to revisit that to make sure you’re meeting all the criteria. It becomes a bit of a monster. And these are things that I don’t think I really realized before rolling up my sleeves in this space.
But the interesting thing is, when I was in a full-time role in consulting, you’re expected to know everything before you go into the room and talk to someone. Whereas at Capital, I’ve been told many times, it’s OK to ask if you don’t know.
Houde: And if someone is aspiring to a role like yours, to what extent can they overcome the lack of a financial background?
Danner: I grew up in investment management so this isn’t new to me. But there are a number of people that I work with who are brand-new. There’s another project manager who just started at Capital Group who has no experience in investment management, but she has project management experience. And I would say that’s more important. If you’re looking for a project management role that touches on ESG it’s about being able to structure problems, create plans, manage stakeholder engagement, and act as connector and translator. Those are the key skills that I use on a day to day basis, more so than investment knowledge.
And if you want to increase your knowledge, LinkedIn actually has some really good learning tools on asset management, investment management and trading which will give you the basics.