Lara Cathcart

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In this interview I caught up with Dr Lara Cathcart, Associate Professor of Finance and Programme Director of MSc Finance. This year, MSc Finance celebrates its 20th anniversary. Lara talks about its achievements and the School’s commitment to women in finance.

About MSc Finance: 

Tell me about the MSc Finance programme.

Our programme offers a solid grounding in finance and, on top of that, an array of electives that cover finance areas that students would want to go into. Several of our electives are taught by practitioners and there’s a lot of choice, from Real Estate Investment to Advanced Corporate Finance. It’s a well-designed programme that offers the optimal blend of practical expertise and theory.

Why is London a great location to study MSc Finance?

London is a fantastic location, it’s the financial city of the world. We draw on the wealth of expertise from practitioners based in London and it’s ideal for networking events, and attending job interviews and assessment centres.

MSc Finance celebrates its 20-year anniversary this year. What would you say have been the biggest achievements of the programme?

The biggest achievement of MSc Finance is that it’s always maintained a strong ranking, going up in the rankings in the UK and worldwide. The programme is extremely popular and oversubscribed – it has the highest application rate for every place on a postgraduate programme at Imperial College! It reflects the latest in terms of financial trends, thanks largely to a world class finance faculty and a great advisory board of women and men who advise us on the programme’s content.

How has the programme evolved to reflect the current financial industry?

It’s the way the programme is structured. The core courses are more-or-less stable but we update them constantly. Our electives change to reflect current financial trends. If students want to stay in traditional, mainstream finance then they can do that, but if students want to become part of a growing financial trend, they have the option to take an elective to immerse themselves in that particular topic.

Fintech is becoming a popular career choice for students. How is MSc Finance evolving to meet the demands of the fintech industry? 

We have introduced new electives that covers fintech topics including Topics in Fintech Innovation, Big Data in Finance, and Introduction to Algorithmic Trading, an international elective (students in 2016-2017 took the elective in New York), where students learn automated execution, pairs trading and long-short equity trading strategies. Students on MSc Finance have also the opportunity to learn different programming languages including C++ and we are in the process of introducing Python.

Are there many opportunities for MSc Finance students to meet practitioners? 

The MSc Finance programme hosts guest lecturers and speakers throughout the academic year which gives students industry perspectives from the modern business world. In previous years, speakers have included Ralph Sueppel of Graham Capital Management, Boyan Filev of Aberdeen Investment Management and Gideon Smith of AXA Rosenberg.

What’s your preferred teaching style to get the most out of your students?

We encourage students to be engaged in their learning in many ways. Our teaching style is balanced between delivering practical lectures and more traditional lectures with emphasis on theory. Students have the chance to give presentations, code algorithms and look at case studies. Each module has a different balance, and we tailor the teaching style to the content of the module.

On the international electives (Macro and Finance for Practitioners and Introduction to Algorithmic Trading), students are exposed to expert speakers, company visits and experimental learning activities to develop their analytical techniques and quantitative skills. The modules are taught in two parts with the first part delivered online and the second part in an international study trip.

As Academic Programme Director, what aspects of the programme are you most proud of?

We have the best alumni possible on a finance programme. There is a wealth of alumni all over the world who visit us and deliver guest talks on our programme or mentor existing students. Our programme has been running for 20 years so we have alumni who are now Managing Directors, CEOs and Presidents in top companies. Students also have the opportunity to meet alumni on the international electives Introduction to Algorithmic Trading,  which will be in New York this year, and Macro and Finance for Practitioners, which takes place in Dubai.

Women and Finance:

Why would you encourage women to go into finance careers?

Women can have a very successful career in finance. Go into any career you feel passionate about: if you are passionate about financial markets, then it’s a great career and provides a lot of opportunities to succeed. There are a range of careers in finance in which you can succeed, including private equity, asset management, sales and trading.

What is the programme’s commitment to gender parity?

Our gender parity is quite good. We’ve increased it over the years and now 40% of our class is female. Our target is to get to 50% (this target was achieved with the 2017-18 cohort). We’re doing a lot of work to attract females to our programme. Our focus is on talent and we don’t compromise on quality.

The number of women in senior positions in the finance industry is still low. What needs to change?

The perception of finance is that it is a male dominated industry. In the past the industry hasn’t done enough to attract women and then, once you’ve attracted them, it then becomes about keeping them in the system if they opt for more of a work-life balance. When that’s achieved, women go on to reach those senior positions. Companies also benefit in the long run: they get the best in terms of the leaders of the future and they know that diversity in the workplace increases output.

I think things are changing. There is a lot of effort being put into attracting women to finance and the right training to promote women to top positions. There is this realisation that more needs to be done and there is a gain from doing more. Women bring something new to the table, they have a different way of doing business and there are now a lot of programmes on offer to attract women. It’s slow but it is happening.

What skills do graduate women need in a male dominated industry?

Resilience is number one. In any male dominated industry you need to go for it and not be afraid of failure. What makes you successful as a woman are the same attributes that make you successful as a man. Be confident in your talent and skills, and push forward to succeed. Use whatever you have to your advantage: your academic record, networking skills and extra-curricular activities. Use all of these to promote yourself. Take advantage of the various schemes on offer now to progress in the industry. It’s good to be a woman in the finance industry right now.

What opportunities does MSc Finance offer to develop skills in networking, leadership and commercial awareness?

Our programme offers the right skills to get into a career in the financial sector. MSc Finance students take part in workshops covering a variety of leadership skills and professional development topics. The Career and Professional Development Service organises the Finance Careers Programme, and hosts several careers events and fairs. Our Employer Relations team works to bring students closer to potential employers by working with companies from across the globe.

We are currently accepting applications for MSc Finance.

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