International College of Economics and Finance

“ICEF offers an atmosphere you just want to dive into”

At Citigroup Investment Banking, ICEF MSc programme graduate 2010 Sergey Kurdyukov worked his way up from a trainee to a vice president. We interviewed Sergey about things to know about banking career, where to invest, and how to avoid missed opportunities.

The family-like ICEF

After I earned my bachelor’s degree in Economics from HSE, I wanted to learn more about finance services as a more hands-on domain. I was choosing among different master’s programs, and among them those at HSE and NES, and there were several reasons why I chose ICEF. In the first place, because its program is English-taught. I knew I wouldn’t be able to land a good job without decent English language skills. Secondly, quality is beyond doubt. I have known the majority of ICEF faculty staff since I was an undergraduate student. And, last but not least, the family-like environment that I like so much at ICEF. Family-like in the sense of the concern about your progress, not parent-child relationship where the child needs to be indulged.

I got enrolled in ICEF due to the high rating I had earned while doing my bachelor’s degree at HSE, and I enjoyed a 100% tuition discount. I only had to pass an interview in English to get enrolled.

Career path at Citi: from trainee to vice president

My first year of studies at ICEF was followed by summer internship at Citi’s Moscow-based investment banking division. They offered me a job which I was free to take up once I received my master’s degree. That internship took place in the summer of 2009 when the economic crisis was at its highest. But, surprisingly, our unit was doing fine and that summer was a good time for me to start my banking career. At the time of crisis, investment banks, too, face a lot of challenges – debt restructuring, investor search for businesses with difficult financial standing, cheapening, and therefore more lucrative, assets, to name a few.

You don’t have to change companies to grow. I have been working at Citi for 8 years and I never felt bored. My range of duties have been growing and so have my level of responsibility. At the very start of my career, I mostly worked on my own doing a lot of analytical work. Later, I assumed supervisor responsibility, which meant having to follow up on the analysts’ progress. Now that I am a Vice President, I am more into project coordination, deal arrangements, and client interaction. A cardinal change, occupation- and lifestyle-wise, happened when I went to work, for a year, at Citi’s London-based office. In London, deals are normally managed by bigger teams with subordination as strict as that in the army. As a result, you don’t always manage to meet your end consumers, i.e. clients and managing directors. Nor are you free to get feedback on the work you’ve done. In Moscow teams are smaller, providing a swifter and more streamlined progress of the deals, and enjoying greater responsibility. Here one should be able to work on their own, learn fast, and be willing to take on more responsibility. I remember my first working day here. I was negotiating a deal and it made a big impression on me. I can safely say now that I find working in Moscow more appealing, and this is one of the reasons why I came back.

I can’t say I have reached a point after which I cannot go any further. Citi is a place that gives you plenty of room for professional growth. If at some point I realize that I have done for Citi all I could, I might consider a career other than banking.

Things to know about banking career

At all the stages of your banking career, be it analytics or presidency, you work with people. So, the first and foremost requirement is the ability to adjust to the needs of a particular person or entire team. It’s important to be flexible and respond to each particular situation adequately and in a prompt manner. One day you need to be a good performer and another a good decision-maker. People don’t have to be made responsible for where you have slipped. The higher you climb the career ladder, the more important it is to be able to delegate responsibility. If you focus more on following instructions, you are unlikely to climb higher than the position of an analyst, while your good self-organization skills and the ability to delegate will never pass unnoticed. Also, it’s important to love what you do. In the beginning of your career, work is what is going to take up nearly all you time. Analysts may have to spend up to 16 hours per day at work. Many work on weekends. Working in a bank does take a toll on your free time.

As someone who interviews job candidates on a regular basis, I can say that there are several strengths we are looking at. Hard skills alone, or technical knowledge of financing as ICEF people would put it, won’t suffice. Essential are also decision-making skills and being able to act adequately in challenging situations. Tackling a task straight away can be difficult, indeed. Still, the ability to follow the ‘right’ pattern – by asking the ‘right’ questions, reviewing mistakes, hearing others’ voices – is, undoubtedly, an asset.  Also, it is important that the candidate is able to build emotional rapport with his team, which I believe is a talent not everyone is endowed with.

Besides, one shouldn’t underestimate the role of coincidence. Together with education, the efforts you put in to attain your goals comprise your core assets for making a breakthrough. Whether you make it or not is almost always a matter of chance. It’s important that you are prepared to take it and grasp at the opportunity before you. In my case, it was my friend who advised me to file my CV with Citi. Until then mergers and take-overs were just words.


Where to invest?

I very much like the statement my boss would repeat time and again – that bankers sell two types of capital, one being financial and the other human, and that it is the human capital that underpins the entire investment banking system. Human capital is understood as the ability to give the right answer, maintain the dialogue, build trust with customers. It is about having the experience worth sharing. I am convinced that investing in yourself and your family is very powerful – in your and their education, health, experiences, and proficiency. This would be the way to view also financial investment, where any investment analysis means new knowledge, losses – invaluable experience, profit – good emotions, startups – interesting people. In this sense, doing a course at ICEF is a very good investment, I think.

Anastasia Chumak, specially for HSE ICEF