Q & A with James Sefton

Professor James Sefton, Chair in Economics and Programme Director for MSc Investment & Wealth Management and MSc Finance & Accounting shares with us his plans for the two new Finance programmes at Imperial College Business School

Prof James Sefton
Chair in Economics

Tell us a bit about your background

My career started as an academic in the economics department at Cambridge; my early research was based around Green Accounting, the pensions debate, and generational economics.

I then went to work for UBS for about 10 years advising clients on portfolio risk management and conducting research on investment strategy. Following this I moved to one of the largest hedge funds, Winton Capital Management and helped them develop their business in equities.

When the financial crisis hit, Wintons pulled back in this area and so I went back to work for UBS for a short time, before returning to academia here at Imperial. The opportunity then came up to develop these courses and I was able to use my experience and my academic background to develop some very unique courses.

How does your industry experience help you in developing the course and advising students on their future careers?

I have a fairly unique experience being both an academic and a practitioner for a very long time and I hope that I can bring that experience to bear on the development of this course.  In particular, during my time at UBS, I was part of one of the big institutions that everyone wants to focus on at the moment, and I was there during one of the most interesting and most uncertain times in financial history: the financial crisis of 2008. I saw how these different institutions work and how the different parts are brought together. In the good times, up to 2008, I saw their strengths, but I also saw their weaknesses. I’m going to use that experience to inform how this course is put together.

Tell us a bit about the new Finance courses offered at Imperial

The idea behind the MSc in Investment and Wealth management, is that it’s going to leverage off the strengths of imperial, so it is going to be very strong on the academic fundamentals, which has been a hallmark of the MSc Finance course. However it is going to have some special focus and I think its unique in being the first course in the UK to have such a strong focus on wealth management. We’re going to

very much look at the asset allocation problem, and also management of wealth over the lifecycle, particularly of wealthy individuals. Also we’re going to focus on the idea that a lot of people will be moving into the buy side and into asset management themselves, so we’ll look at the management of both equity and bond portfolios, risk control and various investment strategies.

The MSc in Finance and Accounting, is going to do the same basic core as the MSc in Finance and Investment and Wealth Management, so it’s going to be strong on the fundamentals. However the focus of this course is going to be slightly different. It will spend more time on advanced valuation techniques, on corporate finance, and it’s going to look at management and business accounting, and tax strategies and tax planning. We’re more focused on the skills required in terms of management consultancy, in terms of financial markets, capital markets, and also in terms of running a treasury department at a big large corporate. Also as part of this course there will be the electives which will allow students to specialise in areas where these skills can be applied, for example in enterprise risk management, private equity, or other types of alternative investments like real estate for example.

What careers can students expect to move into?

The MSc Investment and Wealth management does what is says on the tin; it is aimed at placing strong students in the institutions on the buy side within the finance sector. So we are looking both at the main asset managers, the large insurance funds, as well as the slightly more niche market – the hedge funds, the private equity, or some of the other alternative investment management firms.

For MSc Finance and accounting, we are focusing more on the corporate skills, the valuation skills and so we’re thinking very much towards placing these students within consultancy advisory roles, within research roles in investment banks, within the capital market groups, either boutiques or investment banks, and then there are the large accountancy firms of course, and the big corporates – the financial departments within the big corporates.

What makes these programmes special?

In terms of the other aspects of the courses, we have a very vibrant, thriving Finance department here, and we had some big news recently with the setting up of the Brevan Howard centre after a substantial donation, and there are some very well-known academics who are taking places in this centre.

Then there’s the many events that take place at the School: the Research Seminar series, the Business School events including the Business Insights series where the most eminent people in their areas come and talk about their experience and give advice to students about how to get into this industry. We have an Alumni speaker series, where Alumni come and talk about their experience and how being an Alumni of Imperial helped their career. There’s also a speaker series on Private Equity and Venture Capital that is run as part of these courses, as well as relevant guest speakers invited as part of each course. Sometimes students even hold focus groups and invite speakers on their own, and we encourage that as well.

Why should students apply to these programmes?

I think the MSc Investment and Wealth Management is a relatively unique course; it’s modern and it was designed post financial-crisis, so that has informed the emphasis that we’ve put on content. We are going to teach students that they have to be aware of the history, how financial markets work, and that it’s important that we learn those lessons, as well as how to innovate on the back of it and push the industry forward.

The MSc Finance and Accounting will bring a slightly different student into the department – those with more of a business analysis and accounting background, and that’s going to be interesting as these students will develop and move into more of the corporate parts of the investment banks and into the professional services industries. This programme will give them that strong Imperial academic foundation as well as being informed by what’s happened in the markets recently.

Why should students choose Imperial College Business School?

Imperial College Business School is of the leading institutions globally, but we also have a strong relationship with the other departments in the college; one of the best mathematical departments, a very strong engineering faculty, a leading medicine faculty and, one that’s playing a huge role in finance and big data: computing.

Students get a chance to see the collaboration and how finance does impact these various industries as well. They can take part in the seminars that are going on in the other faculties, and sometimes develop links with those other faculties. We encourage those cross-departmental links and often bringing speakers across to the Business School too.