I wouldn’t say that my pursuit of a Master’s degree at ICEF is related to a certain profession, like, say, becoming a banker or a consultant. I was more interested in the professional aspects, such as financial economy, where I saw some promising areas for myself. I was previously a student at MIPT, and finance was quite a new field for me and very intriguing. The decision to abandon an academic career doing research into mathematical physics, which I did at my previous institution, and, instead, pursuing finance was not that hard to make: I had worked with world-class academic advisors and we put out joint publications on mathematical physics. However, ICEF offers a whole range of opportunities for development in several professional areas related to finance, about which I had dreamed. I was convinced that it would be the place I could decide my career path and get the know-how that could help me proceed ahead in life.
Were your expectations met?
Absolutely! The Financial Economics programme has a wide profile. It is quite universal. Alumni of this programme are sought after at banks, as well as at consulting firms, and in the ‘real sector’ of the economy, and financial knowledge is still quite useful for this particular sphere. You learn the basics, and then get to choose your area of focus and start ‘digging’ your way in the right direction. I only chose my area of expertise – commercial bank asset and liability management – when I was finishing up my Master’s degree. And I made this choice with my eyes completely open. So, my education played a key role in how my career planning went.
How effective was the practical knowledge you received?
When I graduated from ICEF in 2011, my knowledge was more than enough for successfully passing the interview process at various levels. That said, knowledge is the ticket to finding a job but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a successful career. Professional success is driven by one’s ability to find quick solutions, establish relationships and effectively and clearly express one’s thoughts. That first year of work really brings one down to earth in that you fully understand that experience cannot be taught. It can only be attained and lived through, and you need time for this, as well as decisiveness in order to deal with personal crises.
Which courses and teachers had a particular impact on your choice of specialization and future career prospects?
Practical courses are the major strength of ICEF. I acquired all of the necessary and practical know-how for the workplace, including the very useful Investment Analysis course, where you learn about how companies are valued for mergers and acquisitions. My particular professional focus deals with managing assets and liabilities, or ALM (Asset Liability Management). This was a revelation for me when I took a special course on commercial bank risk management, held by Dzhangir Dzhangirov, the head of Sberbank’s Risk Management Department.
How did you end up working in Sberbank’s Treasury Department?
Back in 2011, the Treasury Department at Sberbank didn’t even exist as it does now. Instead, there was a tiny unit consisting of 20-25 employees, where they independently and rigorously looked for suitable members to join the team. And, of course, they were in contact with ICEF.
Following my request, Dzhangir Dzhangirov introduced me to the ALM team at Sberbank. I was very eager to meet people engaged in this particular field.
Two days after I sent my CV to Sberbank, they gave me a call and invited me to an interview. The first interview took 4 hours: it started off in quite an official, formal way, and ended with some tea with my future colleagues. They later told me that, in their search for a new team member, it was very important to find out how a candidate presents themselves as a person along with their character, in addition to being a professional with an ICEF diploma. They wanted to know the candidate’s plans and their ideas about life, so that they would feel comfortable among like-minded colleagues, etc.
Over a five-year period, I went from being a senior economist to head of the transfer pricing unit under Sberbank’s Treasury Department. Two years ago, I moved to another department, and now I manage products for individuals, as well as deal with the pricing formulas for the bank’s products in general.
What does the Treasury Department at Sberbank actually do?
The Treasury organizes the management of the bank’s assets and liabilities, which, on the one hand, helps to ensure Sberbank’s financial stability, and, on the other hand, bolsters its financial standing through hedging risks on its balance sheet, making sure pricing mechanisms are more effective, using funding sources effectively and distributing financial results.
Knowing about risk management, financial market instruments, and macroeconomic issues serve as a good basis for working in the Treasury. With this, you can quickly get acquainted with the bank’s internal ‘financial kitchen’.
In addition to holding a diploma, what else might help in finding a job at a major bank?
The ability to convince a firm’s HR that you are a promising employee. And this is directly related to the ability to present yourself. Presentation skills are extremely important at major firms. A candidate should be able to prove that they would be an asset for a company, as well as show that they would develop their career there. So, you need to know how to ‘sell’ yourself, and this means clearly stating your ideas, knowing how to be communicative, and being a critical thinker.
You take an active part in the life of ICEF, including its Career Kitchen project. What would you like to see changed in the learning process so that it would be more effective and up-to-date for the demands of the current market?
In all honesty, I think ICEF graduates should remain financial experts and not be turned completely into programmers owing to the current Data Science Boom. ICEF does a lot to introduce students to the industry and I would like to see this approach developed further, by inviting more experts from various fields to present lectures, master classes and seminars. I think this would really be useful for students in identifying their future specializations. It also means that there would be more productive and talented specialists working in positions where they would be extremely valuable.
Sonya Spielberg, for the HSE portal