As it celebrates its 20 year anniversary, how is Imperial’s MSc Finance responding to disruption – and preparing young people for a career in an industry where the future is anything but certain?
“The sector is being disrupted. We’re living through the fourth industrial revolution with technology driving this disruption and enabling new challengers to enter the playing field. Young people coming in need to know that the financial sector is complex and it’s highly competitive. But it’s also very attractive.” So says Alex Michaelides.
And he should know. Professor Michaelides is Head of the Department of Finance at Imperial College Business School. He also teaches on the School’s MSc Finance – a programme that in 2018 is celebrating 20 years at the vanguard of finance education.
A changing world of finance
Change driven by technology is infiltrating the financial sector, re-writing rules and paving the way for new players and new models of financial mediation that are lowering costs. And obliging big blue-chip investment banks and other incumbents to re-think how they do business.
The background to all of this is an uptick in the global economy, with unexpected growth in stock and currency markets around the world.
This could augur well for consumers and businesses. Equally it could lead to complacency of the order that preceded the crash of 2008.
This is the climate in which the MSc Finance has successfully operated for two decades, says Professor Michaelides. The programme has “kept up and negotiated change as it happens.”
And it’s also, of course, the challenge facing the industry today.
“So many things are changing at the same time right now. You have things like Bitcoin reducing currency and capital costs and fintech making things cheaper essentially. This is good in terms of financial inclusion, but challenging for regulators and for the large investment banks who have to react and adapt in real time.”
The future, he says, is impossible to predict. But is unlikely to become less complex any time soon.
So how can graduates going into a career in finance prepare to manage in times in uncertainty?
An MSc for today and tomorrow
“This is an MSc that prepares you for a career in finance now and for what the future holds,” says Professor Lara Cathcart, Academic Programme Director of Imperial’s MSc Finance.
The core modules equip students with the theoretical grounding and skills needed for the main careers in finance like corporate finance and investment and the array of electives offers further specialism from private equity, to quantitative trading.
A string of new electives has been introduced to capture emerging trends in financial technology; from big data in finance and machine learning, to cryptocurrencies and algorithmic trading.
“The electives offer the flexibility to specialise and pivot to take advantage of the AI revolution.”
There’s an additional advantage, says Dr Cathcart, that comes from the Business Schools being embedded within the university, and Imperial College ties to London’s business ecosystem.
It’s great being part of the College. We collaborate with the maths and computing departments and our students benefit from that. And some electives are delivered by practitioners in the city, so what they are implementing in business is reflected in the classroom.
A new FinTech Network of Excellence has been inaugurated at the start of 2018 that spans Imperial College, leveraging inter-departmental expertise and synergies to offer insight into complex areas such as cyber security.
And it’s precisely this kind of innovation and pushing of boundaries, says Morgan Stanley analyst and MSc graduate, Maeva Montagnier, that really prepares students for working life in finance.
The programme is very fast paced and technically intense. Between the core modules and electives, I managed to get a broader understanding of how everything fits together which is quite hard to come across in this industry. It takes years.
Citi Vice President, Pavlos Dolas, agrees. He graduated from the MSc Finance in 2001, transitioning into finance from a background in engineering.
“The MSc gave me skills and knowledge in finance and econometrics that are totally aligned to what I’m applying at Citi. It was a direct conduit to my career.”
Both believe that the financial sector has plenty to offer ambitious graduates looking for a career that is demanding and can be competitive.
The rewards, says Lara Cathcart, are there.
It’s very varied. You can do all sorts of things from using your sales and technical skills to using your quantitative and programming skills. Finance is a wide industry and you can progress far in it.
Perseverance and staying power are key to finding the right balance between professional progression and personal satisfaction. That and the ability to be flexible and to “go with the flow,” says Pavlos Dolas.
“It’s a very competitive industry, and it’s a global game despite what happens at individual country levels,” says Alex Michaelides. “It’s globally competitive and talent is everywhere.”
And that extends too to securing a place on the MSc programme.
“We get a lot of applications from a lot of very talented young people. Academic excellence is part of it, but not all. You have to demonstrate that you have the drive and ambition as well as the talent to lead the change that is shaping this industry.”