How Claudia Franco transformed finance in the international public sector
Written by Luis Trenard
When you get to the tenth floor of the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) headquarters in Washington, DC, you can come across a robot moving through the corridors, going from meeting to meeting. Everyone looks at him normally and even greets him. At this point you realize that the Bank's Finance Department is not one that you would consider "normal" in the industry - let alone in the international public sector.
However, more interesting than the open spaces, the robot, and the innovation room, is the people that make up the finance team. Among them is Claudia Franco, head of the Treasury Solutions Group, who sits on the IDB's Trading Floor.
Claudia is a woman who transmits happiness and passion when she talks about her work. She studied economics in Colombia, and from there she jumped to work in international development in Washington, D.C. After five years, she decided it was time to embark on new paths, so she started her MBA at the The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which led her to work issuing sovereign bonds for one of the largest investment banks in the world: JP Morgan.
Now Claudia is the Head of Treasury Solutions at the IDB, a role that puts her at the forefront of the industry; but that was not always the case. When Claudia arrived at the Bank, there was no local currency financing as a product, nor a group that supported the debt management of the sovereigns from the Bank's Treasury. She built, from the bottom up, a model at the Bank that years later would differentiate it from the other multilateral institutions.
"My role in finance is a role that was growing and that I built. It really has been a wonderful experience for me. From a business that did not exist, and without a team, I began to assemble something that few understood. Little by little I was putting put it together, mobilizing teams, people and resources," says Claudia with emotion.
For the IDB this was a fundamental change. The Bank began to think about financial solutions, tailored for borrowers. According to Claudia, the Bank "went from offering generic solutions to asking our clients what they wanted and what they needed. We tailor what the Bank can do for you, so you can better manage your debt with the Bank in your loans."
After thirteen years, having converted close to $5.8 billion dollars into local currencies of the region, and in the process of implementing oil hedges in Bank loans, Claudia now has a team of four people, and they are looking for new members. It is a diverse group where there is a female majority.
"My team is very agile. It is made up of three women and one man. We move very fast. We are attentive to the needs of the borrowers, our clients. We articulate their needs and turn abstract ideas into reality," explains Claudia. It is easy to see how proud she is of the team she has formed.
After eight years of working on Wall Street, Claudia decided to focus her technical knowledge to help her country. "I decided to leave JP Morgan because I was recruited to work, along with the Minister of Finance and the Director of Public Credit, on the country's credit rating and Colombia's debt management strategy when the country had just lost its investment grade rating," says Claudia with a big smile.
Claudia had already been able to work with the private financial sector and the public sector for her country through JP Morgan, but she knew she could do more. "There was no doubt where I had to go. I am from the region and I wanted to continue being part of it. I wanted to participate in the development of Latin America and the Caribbean, improving lives, and that's why I decided to come to the IDB."
Claudia says that working for Latin America and the Caribbean gives purpose to her career. "At the IDB, I do the same thing I did at JP Morgan. I am not issuing bonds, but in a different way, I am doing the same. I bring the experience of the private sector to the international public sector for the development of the region."
"My quality of life is a central point for me. My years at JP Morgan and Wall Street were fantastic and they were full of wonderful learnings in every aspect, but my work-life balance here at the IDB is unparalleled."
For Claudia, the fact that she had the opportunity to drop her children at school before arriving at work has enormous value. "There is no money that you can pay me to replace the flexibility I had, leaving my children at school and saying hello to their teachers and friends. That is priceless.” Being a leader in finance, Claudia reflects on her quality of life and rates it as "optimal."
"I have the same level of excitement and challenges that I had on Wall Street, but with a work-life balance a hundred times better. The fact that I can work from home one day a week quietly, is not a concept that exists everywhere."
The energy that Claudia transmits when speaking is contagious. After building a team of finance specialists and designing products that help improve lives in the region, the Wall Street woman turned champion for development says that she "comes for more."
"More is coming. We want to try to work with oil hedges, but within Bank loans, a fascinating project where we would be pioneers." Also, Claudia says that they will continue "working on extending financing in local currency in the most illiquid currencies of the region where there is no market. We want to show that we can."
If you are interested in the work we do in Finance and want to contribute, like Claudia, in the development of the region, visit the following link.