"The International Finance Corporation needs innovative minds and fresh people to challenge us"
Many paths lead to the financial sector of multilateral cooperation – Senior Insurance Specialist Martin Buehler had exactly the right profile and knowledge to join IFC at that time. In this interview, he tells us more about his background and his work today.
Blog series about careers in finance with multilateral organisations
In this blog series, we take a closer look at finance profiles in the multilateral field. We hear from individuals about how they came to work for the International Finance Corporation (IFC), what they expected to find, and which candidates are in demand at IFC today.
About Martin Buehler
- Two years of University in Berne; English, History and Economics
- Swiss Insurance Diploma
Current position: Senior Insurance Specialist at IFC in Washington DC
Most significant jobs to date
- Zurich Insurance in Zurich and Schaumburg, Illinois (19 years)
- Winterthur Insurance, now AXA, in Berne (5 years)
How did your career path lead you to work for IFC?
I joined IFC 16 years ago, towards the end of my career path at Zurich Insurance. I worked there for 19 years in different positions, eventually leading my own team, and could have stayed there until retirement.
Joining IFC was a sheer coincidence. I contacted a former colleague who worked as a head-hunter, and told him of my interest in any kind of international job. When he contacted me about a job with IFC in Washington, I had absolutely no idea about this institution. At the time, I was the kind of industry specialist that IFC was looking for.
Tell us about your current role and responsibilities?
I currently work as a Senior Insurance Specialist at IFC. This is not a position for someone needing to prove anything to themselves or to others in terms of amassing staff or power. I am a facilitator and advisor, working with teams globally on my subject matter, insurance. Business origination typically happens in the region, with the people on the ground. We have offices in 115 countries that are very close to the private sector. If they come across an insurance matter or engage in insurance-related business, upon deciding that this is something for IFC, they use me during the process for subject matter technicalities. I am one of three insurance specialists; my colleagues all have similar profiles.
From your perspective, what advice would you give someone interested in working in finance at IFC?
In the past few years, an economic background has been in high demand at IFC. Understanding the bigger (macro) picture is essential to enable IFC to implement meaningful platforms. A quantitative background is also helpful, having the ability to crunch numbers and understand models. One also needs intercultural sensitivity; knowing how to behave in a different culture is crucial.
Working at IFC is probably more about who you are than what you can do. I believe that whatever your profile looks like, we try to read between the lines and determine if a candidate would fit the organisational culture. As a young professional, working at IFC is a total win-win situation. You get exposure to working with amazing people, and IFC looks good on your CV, while we like to work with bright minds that challenge us.
What motivates you about working at IFC? Are there also less pleasant days?
The real highlight for me is working on the ground directly with the people. When we assess projects that IFC wants to invest in, we visit the site and speak to employees. And that includes each and every one – from the doorman to the assistant to the CEO. That way, you get a true insight into an organisation. I am also motivated, knowing that my work impacts the world by investing and developing profit with a purpose.
The downside of my work is undoubtedly the long handling times and the bureaucracy. As in many large organisations, projects at IFC have to go through a long confirmation loop. This requires patience, which is not always easy. But it is worth the wait because sustainable investments are the final result.
Finally, for me, it is about bringing the organisation forward. Unlike companies in the private sector, working at IFC is not about how you can achieve your own goals, but rather how you can collectively achieve the organisation’s goals and serve its purpose.
It’s not about you as an individual – it's about the function and what you can bring forward to the team with your knowledge.
What skills are particularly important in your position, and what should candidates bring with them if they want to pursue a career in finance in the multilateral field?
For my position, it is important to have an overview of everything happening in the insurance world. This not only concerns my projects, but also my teams which are spread all over the world. I consult with colleagues in Brazil, Argentina, Tanzania, Peru, Nepal and many more! This certainly means that I must be flexible in many ways, be it when it comes to time schedules or working patterns. Furthermore, cultural openness is key not only in my position, but in every position within multilateral organisations such as IFC.
Another point that might be a bit obvious but a very important one is speaking various languages. Not only will this help in your application, but also day-to-day when working with people on projects or on the ground.
I would say that a quantitative background and economic understanding are essential in terms of hard skills. Candidates should be able to crunch numbers, understand models and find the information behind the data. If you want to invest in a certain market, you need to understand how a solid market works.
Most importantly, candidates must have innovative minds and dare to challenge us. We face many challenges and want to focus on new areas such as inclusion, diversity, gender, climate, cities, water and supply of natural resources.