After more than 20 years, Loïc De Cannière passes the torch as CEO and acts now as the Chair of Incofin’s Supervisory Board. Paul Buysens and Geert Peetermans step up as co-CEOs. Geert, who has co-founded Incofin in 2001 with Loïc De Cannière, has been involved in all phases of the development of Incofin’s platform and contributed to the company’s solid track record. Incofin grew into one of the larger financial inclusion and impact investment fund management companies and manages today more than EUR 1.1 billion. Paul joined Incofin as Managing Partner in 2017. He has a past at GE Capital and Deloitte. We sat down with the co-CEOs to look back on Incofin’s path and in which direction they want to steer Incofin in coming years.
Geert: In 2001, when we founded Incofin, the concept of impact investing had not yet been coined. It has been a real start-up story with strong motivations and brilliant ideas from the beginning, but not always with the organizational model in hand. Incofin has over time made important steps in that regard too, and this is another one.
After 20 successful years with the same CEO, the changes at the top might be seen as the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Would you agree?
Geert: You have to see this change against the backdrop of a changed context. Incofin has grown and the complexity of its activities has increased. More mandates, more products and that required a broadened senior management.
Paul: Loïc’s decision to take up a different role seemed the right moment to take steps to further strengthen Incofin’s management bodies and to hoist a new generation on board. The transition is not limited to the top of the company. Many people are taking up new responsibilities. The exercise is not yet complete and it will be our role to further guide the process.
Geert: It was a conscious choice to focus on our own people to fill the new roles and offer the next generation the opportunity and space to develop and prove themselves.
The Board has opted for two CEO’s at the helm. How will that work?
Geert: It is actually a logical outcome of Incofin’s corporate culture. The Management Board has been always a collective decision-making body. So, the co-CEO structure fits in the culture of shared leadership that has been present at the top throughout. That said, Paul and I have each our specific final responsibilities, and so do the other members of the Management Board.
Paul: I couldn’t agree more that the choice for two CEOs reflects how we do things at Incofin. I am therefore grateful that the Supervisory Board has chosen a modern leadership model based on trust and empowerment. The members of the Management Board bring complementary skills and backgrounds to the table, giving the Board the necessary collective intelligence to work with shared leadership. Our role as co-CEOs is to ensure that the Management Board reaches decisions.
The changes in the organization are accompanied by the implementation of a new strategy. What is going to change?
Paul: I would like to nuance that. It is not so much a brand new strategy as a further refinement of the current strategy. As in the past, it is our desire to have an impact that determined and drives our renewed strategy. Therefore, we want to benefit from economies of scale. Since I joined the company five years ago, Incofin doubled its staff and assets. Now, we want to further increase our impact by doubling the assets under management again in the next five years.
This probably also means an increase in the number of staff?
Paul: Indeed. As we have already indicated, the changes in Incofin’s governance structures will not be limited to the top. That is the reason that we decided to continue investing in our people and in Incofin’s leadership culture as one of the pillars of our strategy. This means that we will not only create new opportunities for people interested in a job with a genuine impact. We will also strengthen our people through capacity building initiatives. For us, it is clear that our people are our greatest value.
Doubling the assets under management in five years is an ambitious target. How are you planning to reach that target?
Paul: Incofin can present an attractive track record, which helps us to convince investors to collaborate with Incofin. It allows us to let our current funds continue to grow. Besides that we are developing new products. We launched in 2021 our first India-focused private equity fund in partnership with Korys and two more fund initiatives are in the pipeline to be launched in 2022.
Geert: To realise our growth ambition our partnerships play a pivotal role. They have turned out to be very successful and we want to further expand on them. We have for example a long-standing and a very fruitful partnership with Invest in Visions in Germany. That partnership surpassed the 1 billion euro mark in 2021 and we are planning to build further on that collaboration. Our new initiatives are also inspired by such partnerships.
Paul: We want to continue to grow as an independent employee owned company, but together with strong partners.
One such fund initiative in the pipeline is the launch of a private equity initiative in the water sector. Is this the start of a broadening of Incofin’s impact mandate?
Paul: We remain focused on financial inclusion on the one hand and on the agri-food sector on the other. We are expanding that focus to the adjacent sectors of nutritious foods and water. This expansion is prompted by the needs we see in the field.
Geert: Especially our initiative to increase access to safe and drinkable water shows that Incofin remains true to its innovative spirit. This is a project in which Incofin is not deterred from taking up the pioneering challenge. It is too important not to; we are talking about a basic good to which 2.2 billion people today do not have proper access. So, we are very thrilled that Danone is launching with us on this initiative and we gather strong support from additional investors.
Paul: In addition, we will look at all our investments through the new lenses of gender equity, climate, and biodiversity.
Geert: Recent regulation has focused mainly on climate change when promoting sustainability. With good reason. But there are also other aspects that deserve our attention. I am thinking of the social element in the transition – something that is really embedded in Incofin’s impact DNA. Biodiversity is another element that is extremely important.
Paul: This is not a plea for more regulation. A certain amount of it is welcome, but fit for purpose is essential. We see a growing interest among investors to make their capital work for the better, to achieve not only with a financial, but also a social return. And regulation should support, not restrict, the development of impact products.
How has COVID-19 changed things for Incofin?
Geert: The Covid-19 crisis has revealed that impact investing plays a vital role. We kept our cool and came through the crisis together with our investees. We did this because we know the vulnerabilities of our end-clients. The crisis has demonstrated our resilience.
The impact investment industry is one of the fastest growing asset classes. What used to be known as a niche investment product is now becoming more mainstream. This in itself seems like good news for Incofin. But have there not been times when it was tempting to deviate from the original impact mission?
Geert: There have been temptations of that nature from outside the company. But actually, that was an opportunity for us to define and develop our own voice more strongly. We have always wanted to make an impact and measure the impact so that we can show that we are succeeding.
You can read more about Incofin’s impact and vision on the future in the recently published Impact Report.