Interview with Anne Bouju, Project Finance & M&A Analyst at Finergreen

12 min de lecture

“Financing renewable energy projects is not just a choice for us [at Finergreen]; it’s part of our DNA, shaping the very essence of the projects we choose to support.” Anne Bouju is a Project Finance & M&A Analyst at Finergreen, an advisory boutique dedicated to energy transition. A dual-degree Master’s graduate from EDHEC and Mines Paris, Anne joined Finergreen in 2023 after varied internship experiences in both M&A and Private Equity.

In this interview, Anne touches upon her academic and professional experiences. She also explains what project finance entails, the specificities of Finergreen, and shares advice for students looking to pursue a career in the sector. Happy reading!

Hello Anne, nice to meet you and thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Please could you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Certainly, thank you for having me. I’m a former student from EDHEC, where I completed a dual master’s degree in collaboration with Mines Paris, specializing in climate change and sustainable finance. During my gap year, I interned at Tikehau Capital, Golding Capital Partners in Munich and Deutsche Bank in London. These internships provided me with a comprehensive view of various infrastructure deals, particularly in the EV charging sector. I acquired significant modelling experience and a nuanced understanding of risks associated with infrastructure financing.

Outside of work, I have a passion for travel and playing the violin. With work experiences in Germany, the UK, France, and living in Mexico, I’m fluent in four languages. Recently, I undertook my end-of-studies internship at Finergreen, contributing to the Project Finance and M&A team. This opportunity resulted in me securing a permanent position as an Analyst within the firm.

Did you intentionally shape your career trajectory towards project finance, or was it a path that you discovered through your internships?

It all came together for me. I really enjoyed the infrastructure deals from my past experiences and found satisfaction in structured financing and Excel modelling during my internships. That’s why I opted for project finance—a perfect mix of modelling and interesting deals. That’s more or less how I ended up in project finance in my career.

Let’s talk about project finance. How might you describe project finance to someone who doesn’t have a clear idea about what it entails?

In a nutshell, project finance is a type of financing used to finance infrastructure projects with a long lifetime horizon, ranging from 20 to 40 years. For instance, telecom infrastructures, roadways, public infrastructures such as schools or buildings. The term infrastructure is very broad, it can range from roadways to jails. At Finergreen, we focus on  renewables energy deals involving solar plants, wind farms etc.

The particularity of this type of financing is that it involves a high level of debt to boost your project’s Internal Rate of Return (IRR). Moreover, it operates under a non-recourse financing model, meaning that in the event of project failure, banks cannot turn to the project initiator’s balance sheets for guarantees. In conventional company investments, assets on the balance sheet serve as collateral, providing recourse in case of bankruptcy. However, in project finance, this dynamic differs. The process initiates with Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), which lack initial balance sheets. Consequently, when making an investment, there is no initial collateral to claim.

Similar to any financing approach, project finance typically involves modelling future cash flows based on the terms and covenants outlined in various contracts. The objective is to identify the optimal financial outcome while adhering to all constraints and aligning with everyone’s preferences to achieve the best possible yield.

What are the main funding sources for projects, especially when collateral is unavailable? How do you assess and select the most appropriate financing options for various project types?

In project finance, the primary choices are between debt and equity. The dynamic lies in optimizing the debt-equity balance. While equity investors aim to increase their equity internal rate of return (IRR) by incorporating more debt, lenders, usually banks, seek to minimize debt exposure to mitigate risks. As financial advisors, our task is to harmonize these divergent interests, maximizing the use of debt within the boundaries of bank constraints to ensure prudent risk management in project financing.

Could you walk us through the step-by-step process of project financing for a sustainable development project? Starting from the moment the client knocks at Finergreen’s door to the moment the project is completed.

The project unfolds in three key phases. First is the preparation phase, where an information package is drafted for potential banks, contracts are scrutinized, and project conditions are gathered. Financial modelling is then undertaken to compute future cash flows and optimize debt size while adhering to the expected covenants, including sizing and other constraints. The second phase involves consultation, where suitable banks are identified, and a competitive environment is created through Q&A exchanges. The final stage is execution, encompassing due diligence, a thorough review of the financial model, technical assessments, and the eventual signing of documentation to complete the transaction.

In the initial phase, you mentioned reviewing contracts. Which aspects do you pay attention to?

Contracts are essential to large infrastructure projects, as they set out roles and responsibilities between parties over the project life, as well as the financial terms for each party. As financial advisors, we don’t possess strong views on the contracts from a legal perspective, but we rely on our market knowledge and internal benchmarks. Our clients usually have existing agreements and contracts in place. They rely on us to secure the optimal financing structure from investors while working with those existing contracts, which we have to understand and analyse. Throughout the process, we work directly with the client and the investors and lenders on these aspects.

Could you elaborate on your key responsibilities and tasks throughout these steps?

Certainly. My role spans all stages of the process. I actively support the team and participate in calls, learning extensively from senior members. My main tasks involve reviewing contracts, translating them effectively into the financial model, sizing the deal, and preparing presentations for investors, banks, and other stakeholders. Essentially, I orchestrate the entire process to ensure smooth execution according to plan.

Have you had the opportunity to present to banks and investors as an analyst, or is that something typically done at a more senior level?

Yes, I have presented during weekly calls for smaller updates. However, major presentations for the entire transaction are usually led by more senior team members, providing in-depth details to investors and banks.

What would you say is the most challenging part of your day-to-day job?

The most challenging aspect of my daily work, in a positive sense, revolves around refining the financial model to accurately mirror real-world dynamics and achieve the optimal valuation. It’s intriguing to witness how investors respond to the valuation and the diverse calculations they bring to the table. The challenge lies in finding the right balance that aligns with both investor expectations and our client’s desired outcomes.

On a related note, is there a negotiation phase, and at what level do you typically get involved?

While I may attend high-level negotiation meetings, I don’t directly engage in the discussions. My role is more about analysing and challenging offers, emphasizing competition to best explain to the client how the different offers valuation and conditions may impact their financial transaction. It’s an analysis involvement rather than direct negotiation.

Thanks for that insight. Shifting gears back to Finergreen and its focus on sustainability, how do you ensure that the projects you work on have a positive environmental and social impact?

Finergreen relies on a fully independent team with extensive experience in the dynamic market. Our commitment to the energy transition industry is deeply ingrained, ensuring that the projects we endorse have a positive impact is integral to our identity. Since our inception, we have been dedicated to expediting the growth of renewables, particularly in developing markets with increasing demands for dependable and sustainable energy solutions. Financing renewable energy projects is not just a choice for us; it’s part of our DNA, shaping the very essence of the projects we choose to support.

What factors contribute to Finergreen’s specialization? Is it primarily the network, the clients, or the investors that set you apart in the field of the energy transition and renewable energy?

It’s a combination of everything. Starting as specialists in the energy transition has allowed us to build an extensive network of investors eager to contribute to this field. Working exclusively on transactions within this domain means that our network, clients, and investors are aligned with our focus. This specialization not only enhances our network but also impacts our modelling practices. Dealing exclusively with these transactions enables us to be highly attuned to market practices and factors, facilitating quicker and more accurate translation of real-world information into our financial models.

Alright, thank you. Let’s shift to a question that students often ask. What educational background and skills do you consider essential for someone interested in pursuing a career in project finance at a boutique like Finergreen, and how can one gain relevant experience?

Ideally, a robust educational background includes a postgraduate degree in engineering and business from institutions like EDHEC, for example. This profile is particularly valuable, covering both modelling and analytical skills, which are substantial aspects of our work at Finergreen. Exposure to finance-related courses further enhances understanding of the field and negotiation processes.

In addition to education, possessing a genuine interest in modelling, proactiveness, and meticulous attention to detail are pivotal. Given the intricate nature and scale of models, precision and curiosity are key attributes. In terms of gaining professional experience, undertaking internships in finance-related roles or even working on the client’s side with developer companies, such as solar or wind developers, can be a valuable starting point. This hands-on experience offers insights into the financing aspects of projects, providing a well-rounded perspective crucial for a successful career in project finance.

As an analyst, could you share more about the balance between your professional and personal life at Finergreen?

Absolutely, I have a fantastic balance. Despite Finergreen being an IB boutique, there’s room for personal time. I, for instance, play the violin, and they’ve been supportive, allowing me to attend orchestra rehearsals every Monday. As long as the team is informed and the work is done on time, it’s encouraged. Many colleagues engage in activities like running at lunch. While there are occasional periods of heightened workload, overall, the balance is well-maintained.

And now, another question often on students’ minds: what time do you typically finish work as an M&A analyst?

Generally, on an average day, I wrap up at around 8:30pm in the evening, which is quite standard in this industry.

Let’s talk about the recruitment processes here at Finergreen. What kind of offers do you have right now? What is the process for getting recruited here?

In Paris, we hire one to three interns, twice a year, generally in winter and summer depending on our needs and the schools agendas. We try to hire various and diverse profiles from different schools and universities and there is a balance between gap-year students and end-of-studies interns. Finergreen puts its best efforts in training the interns who are an integral part of the team for the six months they spend with us. In order for interns to have a good vision of the business and have the chance to be part of a mandate from the beginning to the end, we don’t offer summer internships or apprenticeships.

The structured and thorough selection process lasts about one month, from posting the offer to the final acceptance and includes two interviews covering both fit and practical cases, each lasting about one hour. After two successful interviews, the interns will get an offer letter.

Imagine that I’ve completed my studies, and am doing a 6-month internship with Finergreen. If all goes well during the internship, could there be an opportunity for a full-time offer afterward?

Certainly, and at Finergreen, interns are truly valued. Throughout your internship, you’ll have the remarkable chance to participate in our highly regarded in-house financial modelling training. It’s a highlight of the internship, allowing you to construct a model from scratch and acquire extensive knowledge about modelling and related skills. Given the substantial investment in this training,  Finergreen intends to retain talent post-internship. While we are actively hiring, the specific opportunities depend on our current needs.

What’s something that you love about Finergreen? Are there team bonding activities or anything specific that stands out for you?

Everyone is incredibly friendly, and there’s practically no sense of hierarchy. The atmosphere is collaborative, and people are always willing to help. The colleagues are truly amazing, super nice, and always ready to assist, even if they’re busy. The organizational structure is excellent, extending from top management. When you’re working on a deal, everyone is well-aware of what you’re doing, and they check in to see if you need more tasks or even if you need fewer. Even at the intern level, you feel highly involved in the team, and they treat you with the same consideration as an analyst, which is really cool.

To wrap up, could you share a piece of advice that you’ve received and that you would like to pass on to other students?

Absolutely. The best advice I’ve received is to be proactive and genuinely love what you do. With that mindset, everything tends to fall into place.

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