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Business Schools Master Financial Technology

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When Faaez Zafar graduated from MIT Sloan School of Management’s master in finance course this summer, he did not opt for a job at a bank or a consultancy. Instead, he joined Risk Ident, a German start-up which aims to stop financial fraud with machine learning, in a business development role in Boston.  

Zafar discovered financial technology through working as a fixed income trader in Pakistan, attracted by the prospect of disrupting the mainstream financial services industry. Goldman Sachs estimates that US$4.7 trillion of revenue is at risk of displacement from fintech start-ups. Zafar says that “As a trader, I used to spend all day crunching numbers and passing my research onto someone else who made a decision for me. In fintech I have greater responsibility.”  

Zafar was also attracted by fintech because it offers fast-moving innovation and a better work-life balance, although he has settled for a smaller salary.  

With more students clamouring for careers in fintech, business schools are teaching their students how to master it through courses on subjects such as blockchain, cryptocurrencies and digital tokens. 

There is “definitely more interest among students” in fintech, says Heidi Pickett, director of MIT’s master of finance program. They often seek to emulate the success of industry leaders through entrepreneurship, for example, digital loans platform SoFi and robotic wealth manager Betterment — both founded by MBAs. “Students want to disrupt traditional financial services and be a part of start-ups that are changing how finance works,” Pickett says. 

At Columbia Business School associate professor RA Farrokhnia teaches a course which marries business, engineering and design to help MBAs develop fintech solutions to problems in payments, capital markets and wealth management. He says that fintech will become a core part of the MBA curriculum because there is strong employer demand for those who can work at the intersection of finance and technology. 

“There is a fintech skills gap among decision makers — the CEOs, consultants and bankers. They grew up in a time when tech was not as prevalent as it is today,” he says. He adds that there are career opportunities at large financial services firms and small start-ups alike. 

Yet as the fintech industry is so fast-evolving, it is hard to develop relevant courses. “Long gone are the days when you could develop one class and teach it for the rest of your academic career,” Farrokhnia says. “Fintech content requires constant updating.” 

Business schools are moving beyond lectures to deliver a fintech syllabus. At Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, the subject has been embedded throughout the entire MBA curriculum. In addition, a mandatory fintech module will be added to the MBA in 2018. The school uses a mixture of workshops with fintech executives and opportunities for MBAs to work on “live cases”. 

John Jacobs, executive director of the Center for Financial Markets and Policy, cites as an example of teaching innovation, a group of MBAs who developed a white paper about using fintech to solve the problem of under-banking in Africa, which was presented to the World Economic Forum last year. 

“Students have pushed us to be more aggressive in our teaching of fintech,” he says. 

Fintech courses can serve as a recruiting tool. After working in communications for a bank, Marc Chalifoux joined the MBA program at MIT to increase his knowledge of fintech. “I see technology as a way to improve people’s lives by helping them make better financial decisions,” he says. 

“MIT is a leader in finance, banking, technology and computer science. I saw the mixture as particularly attractive.”

Chalifoux works as VP for fintech intelligence and innovation at TD Bank in New York and argues that, “The big banks are becoming more like tech start-ups”. He explores partnerships with third-party fintech providers to launch new products. The Fintech Ventures course at MIT — which explores how start-ups use fintech to solve problems — has helped him assess companies.  

For example, Chalifoux’s team helped launch a new mobile payment platform for TD Bank that is similar to Square. “The concept was proven by start-ups before we developed the product,” he says. 

Chalifoux believes career opportunities in the space are likely to grow as firms like his turn to technology to improve the products and services they offer.

 

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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