Read previous blog: Key skills for success in sustainable finance

Welcome to part four 'Internal vs. external sustainable finance roles' of Jumpstart – A five-part hitchhikers guide to careers in the sustainable finance universe by Ortec Finance’s Climate Science Lead, Dr Bronwyn Claire and UNEP FI’s TCFD Programme Lead, David Carlin.

In the sustainable finance space, individuals have the option to pursue opportunities either within organizations (internal roles) or as external consultants or advisors (external roles). Both paths offer unique advantages and challenges, each contributing to the advancement of sustainable practices in the financial sector. Understanding the differences between internal and external roles can help individuals make informed decisions based on their personal preferences, career goals, and desired scope of influence.

1. Internal roles

Internal roles involve working directly within an organization, such as a financial institution, asset management firm, corporate , NGOs or government department or regulator. Professionals in internal roles are responsible for embedding sustainability principles into the organization's operations, policies, and strategies. This often includes collaborating with various business units to integrate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into decision-making processes. Here roles maybe with a sustainability focus such as Head of ESG or supporting the Chief Sustainability Officer, or providing sustainability advice within a regular strategy, financial analyst or risk management role.

Advantages of internal roles Deeper engagement: Internal roles allow professionals to become intimately involved with an organization's sustainability efforts. This opens up the opportunity to influence the company's culture and advocate for meaningful change from within.  Implementation focus: Internal roles emphasize practical application and execution of sustainable practices. Professionals work towards integrating sustainability into day-to-day operations, investment decisions, and corporate strategies. 
Challenges of internal roles Organizational resistance: Bringing about sustainable transformation within an organization can be met with resistance from traditional mindsets and established practices. Resource constraints: Internal roles may face challenges in obtaining the necessary resources and support to implement sustainable initiatives.

2. External roles

External roles involve providing specialized expertise as a consultant or advisor to various clients, which can include financial institutions, corporations, governments, and non-profit organizations. Professionals in external roles offer strategic advice, conduct ESG evaluations, and provide impact measurement services to help clients align their practices with sustainable objectives. External roles are often with major consulting firms such as the big 4 accounting firms, management consultants such as McKinsey or the Boston Consulting Group, data or software providers like Ortec Finance and MSCI, or may be sustainability specialists like ERM, or local or global NGOs like the UNEP FI. Or consider supporting or being one of the many freelancers who provide specific advice to organizations.

Advantages of external roles Broader Impact: External roles enable professionals to work with a diverse range of clients, potentially influencing multiple organizations and industries.  Specialized Expertise: As external consultants or advisors, individuals often bring unique and focused knowledge on sustainability and ESG issues. 
Challenges of external roles Limited control: External professionals may face challenges in fully implementing their recommendations, as the ultimate decision-making authority lies with the client organizations. Short-term engagements: Consultants and advisors often work on projects or contracts, which may limit the depth of involvement with a particular organization and variability across projects.

Deciding between internal and external roles

The decision between internal and external roles depends on an individual's career aspirations, preferred work style, and desired level of influence. Those who are passionate about driving change from within an organization and are dedicated to overseeing the implementation of sustainable practices would likely find fulfilment in internal roles. On the other hand, professionals seeking a broader reach and the opportunity to collaborate with diverse clients may be drawn to external roles.

Ultimately, both internal and external roles play critical roles in advancing sustainable finance. Internal professionals lay the foundation for sustainable transformation within specific organizations, fostering a culture of responsibility and ethical decision-making. External experts, in turn, contribute by providing guidance and expertise to multiple clients, leveraging their knowledge to influence sustainable practices across the financial industry.

Looking for further guidance on what sustainable finance role might be suitable for you? Use our simple guide below to help you determine whether you’d be most suited to an internal or external role as well the possible career options within either category.

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It's important to note that is a basic guide and does not encompass all potential career paths in sustainable finance. Individuals should conduct thorough research, seek advice from professionals in the field, and consider their own passions and strengths when making career decisions. Sustainable finance is a diverse and rapidly evolving field, offering numerous opportunities for individuals to make a positive impact on the environment and society while building rewarding and fulfilling careers.


Coming up next: 'Making a meaningful impact: The power of sustainable finance careers'.

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