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Regular version of the site

ICEF Master’s Programme: Financial Experts Today

Maxim Nikitin, Academic Supervisor of the programme, spoke to the HSE News Service about who contemporary financial experts are and where ICEF Master’s graduates find jobs today.

Who comes to study with us?

The ‘Bachelor’s plus Master’s’ track doesn’t always mean education in the same field; rather, the global trend is the opposite. The Master’s programme is an opportunity to specialize in another field, with the undergraduate degree becoming a good basis. There is no need for the two to be in the same field.

For example, one third of our students are graduates of MIPT, MSU Department of Mechanics and Mathematics, and Bauman Moscow State Technical University. They don’t have a degree in economics, but their knowledge of mathematics allows them master contemporary economics and finance. The combination of knowledge in mathematics, programming, and economics helps them find a place in the world of finance.

Another two thirds are students with a strong undergraduate background in economics, such as graduates of HSE’s undergraduate programmes. They understand that they also need an internationally competitive Master’s degree. And a Master’s degree from ICEF (degree from HSE and a certificate from the London School of Economics) really opens doors to consulting and international banking, and helps them find a job in London.

We have optional bridging courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics and finance for students with mathematical/physics/engineering backgrounds, as well as an intensive course in math that lasts three weeks. The latter reviews the key topics in mathematical analysis, linear algebra, probability theory and mathematical statistics that are used in contemporary economics and finance theory.

Mathematics and finance

Contemporary finance includes a lot of mathematics. When Russian economists began to study finance, most of them had degrees in political economy, with little or no knowledge of mathematics. They mastered the very minimum (at the level of introductory and MBA courses), and they still teach well at this level in some Russian universities. But in order to get to the highest levels, you need mathematics, and to know not only things from textbooks but also from academic papers.

All our staff teachers have PhDs from Western universities (today we have 19 staff lecturers, whereas in 2007 there were five of them); all of them have the necessary knowledge. Mathematical methods are something they know by default.

Every year, we recruit new lecturers and, accordingly, launch new courses. Last year, we employed two new staff members. One of them, Vincent Fardeau, is a financial expert and a graduate of the London School of Economics. He has worked in the U.S. (Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C.) and Germany (Frankfurt School of Finance and Management), and will teach a course on risk management. The other is Markus Gebauer, a graduate of the Toulouse School of Economics who will teach a course on macroeconomics.

Does the country need financial experts? Or where will I find a job?

From the early 2000s until the 2008 crisis, the Russian labour market saw considerable demand for financial experts with current knowledge of economics. When we were launching the programme in 2007, we understood that our graduates would be on the front edge of this demand. However, two years later, when our first students were graduating during the peak of the crisis, we had some concerns. But it turned out that our graduates were much stronger than their competitors. All of the first graduates found decent jobs. Most ICEF Master’s graduates find jobs at top international banks and consulting companies. Thirteen of our graduates work in London today; seven of them went there right after graduation.

Although the employment landscape has changed somewhat over the last year due to a worsening situation in the financial sector in general, a larger share of graduates are moving to strategic consulting; as before, the top employers are the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company. These companies advise other companies around the globe. What does such a start offer a young graduate? After two, three, or four years, almost all young employees from these companies go to study at the best MBA programmes in the U.S. and Western Europe. After these programmes, the doors to any company in any country are open.

Very often, careers start with a right internship, which our students participate in after the first year of study. ICEF has a Career Centre where students get help going through all the procedures in searching for an internship: how to write a motivation letter, how to compile a CV, how to choose a bank or a company for the internship, etc.

Based on my experience, the only problem I want to emphasize is that it’s unreal to combine studies at ICEF and full-time work during the first year of studies. Some of our students have tried to do it, and some of them stopped in a timely manner, while others had very disappointing results in the studies.

New partners

In December 2016, we will sign an agreement on a double degree programme with LUISS University in Rome. This is a private Italian university that offers strong undergraduate and Master’s programmes in economics and finance. Students who are willing to get two degrees will be offered an opportunity to study at their home university during the first year, and then spend the second year in the partner university. There will be no additional fees for tuition at the partner university. Students will defend Master’s theses in the two universities and will earn two degrees.

Apply with no risk

In order to be enrolled in our programme, applicants should pass a portfolio competition. The only requirement for admission to the competition is a certificate of English skills (IELTS 6 or higher or TOEFL). Usually, right after the interview, which takes place prior to exams for other programmes, we tell the candidates about the conditions for enrolment.

If the applicants agree with our conditions, they can relax; if not, their documents can be returned and have enough time to apply to another programme.

Contemporary financial experts: ‘quants’ and investments

Financial experts can be different. I would outline at least two groups. The first group is the people who assess businesses and who are involved in corporate finance they usually have a background in economics. They work at investment banks, business evaluation departments in the Big Four, and in various specialized financial institutions, such as private equity funds.

The second group is so-called ‘quants’. They are involved in quantitative finance. Most of them have a background in mathematics. They know programming well, they write programmes in R, and do various advanced calculations. They work at the same investment banks and hedge funds, but do another type of work. Both groups are in demand on the market today.

Our Master’s programme also provides opportunities for those who are willing to build an academic career. Every year, several of our graduates go on to PhD programmes at leading international universities. Their number could be higher, but most of our graduates want to start working and earning money right away. Our task is to provide all ICEF graduates with the opportunity to find their best career track.

Liudmila Mezentseva, specially for ICEF HSE 
Interview on HSE portal >>