Now is an exciting time to launch a financial services career. Stricter regulations and fresh reporting standards are being enforced to avert another global economic collapse. Challengers in the financial technology—or ‘fintech’—space are reshaping the sector as cutting-edge technology from machine learning to blockchain disrupts everything from wealth management to payments.
“While still early and low by comparison to other sectors, fintech is a buzzword and a real option for MBAs,” says Charles LaBelle, INSEAD’s associate director and head of financial services employer engagement for Europe and the Americas.
He cites the INSEAD alumni who founded fintech companies TransferWise, Prodigy Finance and MPOWER, and notes that others are joining startups such as Carta. “Our MBAs are realizing the potential of this emerging sub-sector.”
According to INSEAD’s 2018 employment report, 15 percent of recent graduates worked in financial services, either as new hires or former employees returning to their firms.
INSEAD is one of many business schools that are changing their curriculum to ensure relevancy in an industry in flux. INSEAD has introduced new electives on bank management, fintech and ethical decision making over the past year alone.
MBA programs are teaching finance skills for a changing world in which banks, venture capitalists and asset management firms are embracing digital disruption. Meanwhile, many of the schools’ forward-thinking graduates are launching their own financial technology companies, or joining them. For instance, Cambridge Judge Business School MBA alumni Goncalo de Vasconcelos and Tom Britton established crowdfunding platform Syndicate Room.
“We are in constant conversation with the business community to ensure our curriculum meets the evolving needs of the sector,” says Beth Briggs, assistant dean of career services at NYU Stern School of Business in New York City.
One example of this is Stern’s expanding fintech offerings, which have grown from an initial blockchain course in 2014 to 12 distinct fintech courses planned for 2018-19.
Stern’s most recent employment report showed that 26.2 percent of full-time MBA students accepted investment banking jobs. The school’s strong alumni base and close proximity to Wall Street helps with finance recruitment. Briggs says alumni “act as ambassadors within firms” and provide training to help current students prepare for internships and full-time roles.
Post-MBA career prospects in the financial sector
Career prospects look good for those who can keep pace with the changing skills required in the financial sector, but also those who have the bread-and-butter banking skills: technical understanding, quantitative abilities like corporate finance and valuation, and strong interpersonal skills such as communication, and a collaborative spirit.
“We also find that financial service employers, particularly banks, like to see that students have prior experience or are passionate about specific industries, such as tech, media and energy,” says Stern’s Briggs.
“This is an indication that they will understand clients’ needs and recognize potential opportunities in the marketplace.”
Banking did lose some of its appeal in the aftermath of the Great Recession, but the industry remains a key employer of MBAs, with the proportion going into finance jobs above 50 per cent at some schools including Renmin University of China School of Business in Beijing. On average, 30 percent of graduates from each of 50 top business schools work in finance, Financial Times data show.
The banking sector is retaining its luster by offering new kinds of jobs—such as roles developing digital strategies—and becoming a better place to work by addressing concerns about excessive workloads and mental health. Lloyds Banking Group, for example, created a resilience course that drew thousands of employees.
The changes have been driven by the rise of Big Tech employers such as Amazon and Google, which have attracted MBA graduates with their entrepreneurial culture and offer of good work-life balance.
Briggs says there has been a recent growth in career opportunities in finance. Large consumer banks, for example, are increasingly launching new programs and initiatives to address shifting customer needs and seek MBA graduates with strong product management, analytics, or design skills, even if the they do not have experience working in banks.
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Traditional financial institutions such as bulge bracket banks, private equity and asset management firms remain a strong draw for MBAs, according to INSEAD’s LaBelle. But he sees growing financial job opportunities in other industries such as healthcare, with many corporations running leadership development programs specifically for MBAs. One example is the four-year postgraduate Esprit finance program at GlaxoSmithKline, which is for MBA or finance master’s graduates.
At Cambridge Judge in the UK, a quarter of MBA graduates went into finance, according to the school’s 2018 careers report.
Margaret O’Neill, head MBA marketing, admissions and careers, says the school has retained its value to financial services employers by conducting innovative research, reviewing the curriculum and bringing practitioners into the classroom to ensure that what it teaches is relevant, current and cutting-edge.
Judge’s finance concentration is led by Robert Waldrop, director of the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, and focuses on new trends such as passive asset management, alternative lending, blockchain and digital ledgers.
The school also runs a digital transformation course on re-thinking how organizations are led through ground-breaking digital innovations, including AI and neural networks, the Internet of Things and big data. These are exciting times, indeed.