Anne Clarke Wolff said that she owes her 34-year career in banking to “serendipity.”
She first started working as a consultant for banks that were “heavily driven by econometrics,” something she studied as an undergraduate. It wasn’t until she enrolled in an MBA program at Northwestern that she began to get an understanding of what a career in finance might look like. “I didn’t grow up in that community, so I had no idea what investment banking was versus sales and trading. I thought it was all about being a retail stockbroker,” she said.
After she completed her MBA, Wolff used the interview process to discover the different opportunities a career in banking and finance could offer. She was immediately drawn to the investment bankers at Salomon Brothers: “What I loved about the people from Salomon was they were all whip smart. But they were all different. And they brought a great view of what excellence could look like.
“And so my career choice was really what I call the ‘beer test’ — when you interview with 30 people and you could have a beer with every single one of those people. That tells you something.”
Wolff joined Salomon Brothers in 1989, working her way up to a managing director position over the course of nine years. In 1998, Salomon Brothers was acquired by Citigroup and Wolff worked in fixed income capital markets and then as the head of national corporate banking. “I had three or four really different great roles up through Citigroup. I was at a phenomenal seat through both of the mergers that created Citigroup, which was just an opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.
Her feelings about Citi changed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. “When you look at the team that had come in to lead Citi at that point, [CEO] Vikram Pandit and [CFO] John Havens, I think they just had a very different view of what Citi was and what it could be. So I used that as a chance to leave rather than watch them dismantle what I thought was unique about Citi.”
She went to JPMorgan in the summer of 2009, and said that CEO Jamie Dimon gave her the opportunity to learn from one of two completely different areas of the industry: asset management or transaction banking. “I knew from Citi that transaction banking was where the banks really make money, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn that part of the industry.”
Over the next two years, Wolff said, she helped JPMorgan rebuild its entire treasury sales function. Then Bank of America came calling, offering Wolff the opportunity to get back to a broader client-facing role. “They gave me the opportunity to rebuild all of global corporate banking. And it was relatively early on in their international growth and expansion, so it was a fun opportunity,” she recalled.
Wolff ran the then-$8 billion global unit, with teams in 45 cities across 30 countries. She was also responsible for Bank of America leasing, with dominant positions in aircraft leasing, renewable energy and equipment financing.
Leaving the bulge brackets
After nearly eight and a half years, in 2020, Wolff was promoted to chair, global corporate and investment banking. She stayed in the role for just shy of one year. Over the years, she had become increasingly disillusioned about big banks, especially their lack of diversity on several fronts.
“I tried to change the industry from inside the three biggest banks and I failed. I could be allowed to be a champion for women. I could be allowed to champion how we could go about covering clients in different ways. But you just get to a point where you realize that if you still think there’s potentially a better way to do things, you have to go out and try something different,” Wolff said.
“Most of the people who leave Wall Street do not leave because of the job, they leave because of the politics and the constraints of the larger firms,” she continued. And for women, she said, the reasons for leaving are more complicated than just frustration over office politics. “I’ve counseled women at three different firms over 33 years. It’s either a lack of opportunity, lack of appreciation, or compensation disparity so that they know that they’re not being treated equitably. And it’s also lonely. I think for many of them it just feels really lonely. And when you’re in the child-rearing years, it can be convenient for men to think that’s why they leave, but I think it just forces the question to the women: If I am miserable, why am I leaving my family and paying money for childcare to be miserable?”
In 2021, Wolff founded Independence Point Advisors, an investment bank advisory firm. “I just saw this enormous gap where the opportunity and the momentum, at least in the advisory businesses at the big banks, felt like it was on the decline,” she said.
She wanted the makeup of the firm to resemble what had attracted her to Salomon Brothers: talented people from different professional backgrounds, a diversity of thoughts and experience, a transparent culture, and people who really enjoy working with clients.
A new type of investment bank advisory firm
IPA works with large companies such as Ford and Walmart, as well as early stage companies in the sustainable energy space. Its advisory services focus on impact and ESG, and currently has 25 employees who have worked with more than 60 clients, many of whom have used their services multiple times in the capital markets. Among some of their current clients is a female-founded plastic recycling company that IPA is raising money to help scale; a company that’s a key partner to one of the largest data center companies in the world that needs to scale its backup generation; and an Israel-based company that has an energy storage solution.
What Wolff is particularly proud of, and what she believes will help bring some much-needed diversity to Wall Street, is the firm’s internship program. Now entering its third year this summer, the program recruits and trains underrepresented students from across the U.S. who may not otherwise have a shot at working on Wall Street. “We are trying to figure out how to get to the root of making change on Wall Street by incubating the next generation of talent and focusing on underrepresented students across the U.S.,” she said. The overall demographics of the IPA intern program are 58% female, 22% Black, 19% Hispanic and 19% first-generation college students.
IPA runs three distinct cohorts during the year. Each cohort has between 10 to 40 students who spend 10 weeks working on a variety of issues including financial statement analysis, presentation techniques and interview preparation. The winter/spring program is typically an opportunity for a few top performers to gain additional experience while at school during the year. Students can spend one to six additional months with the firm, with some of them working at IPA’s corporate and bank partners during that period. “The banks hire interns to feed themselves. We’re hiring interns because we want to push them out into the world,” she said.
Wolff said that the firm “broke even in our first two years, which is unheard of in our industry.” Looking forward, she wants to build a scalable investment banking advisory model that incorporates the talents of the younger generation who will have to address the problems surrounding climate change and the need for energy transition. “How do we capture the clients who want something different? Who realizes that they’re part of the solution? If you can show a corporation that their good intentions have real economic lift, I think they remain as excited and committed as we are. And then this model not only thrives, but it takes off.”