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“The main key to career success is apply yourself to the job”

Fedor Novozhilov, Head of Credit Risk Management at Sberbank CIB Risk Department, ICEF graduate and lecturer in master’s course Risk Management, about what makes his course special, how to become a risk officer, make your boss happy, excel at an interview and find your own bible.

- How useful do you think the knowledge you received in your student years has proved career-wise? How did doing a degree influence your career path?

I have competed three degrees in my life. One in Physics and Mathematics, another in Financial Economics (ICEF) and a third one in Law, which I did remotely at the University of London. The first two, compared to the law degree, were similar in that they had given me a solid knowledge base for my further specialization to build on. The special courses at ICEF – and among them Risk Management – were an asset, they offer knowledge of the core branches of Economics and Finance. But, no matter how many extra courses a school is able to offer, meeting the students’ hands-on training needs will always be challenging, as there are as many sub-trades as there are trades. This means you’d better choose a trade you know your education will fit best. The students of my group at ICEF, for instance, ended up in different sectors including finance, fiscal services, structuring, teaching, pharmacy services and petroleum industry. The knowledge base as solid as here allows one to enter the workplace in any field of economics.

- What was it that you valued most in ICEF?

What allows me to refer to ICEF as my beloved alma mater is that its door is open. The faculty staff tend to follow their students’ progress even after graduation. How theory meets practice in real-life economics is what me and my former lecturers have been discussing many times. As far as I see it, the close link between academia and industry is the standard which is attributable mostly to Western universities. ICEF was the right choice for me, a life-changing one.

- How did you go about starting a career in risk management?

Like many Physics and Engineering majors, I realized that exact sciences were just not my domain. After I did my bachelor’s degree, I was choosing between NES and ICEF. I opted for ICEF because the training that it offers is more hands-on, giving more opportunities to tap into your future trade. After graduation, I was eager to try myself on derivatives market, and the best places to do this at the time were Troika Dialog and Renaissance Capital. I signed up for an interview at Troika and its Risk Department took me onboard. The job was like a movie, with never-ending phone calls, calculations, hustle and bustle, boisterous talks with traders and sales people – the experience one can only dream about.

After Troika was sold to Sberbank, the scale and pace of work increased dramatically. To survive the transformation, Sberbank entrusted risk management operations to Dzhangir Dzhangirov, who managed to build a strong team of risk officers in almost no time to deal with most sophisticated transactions. Narrow experts in Risk Management appeared back then. All of them share teaching of the eponymous course on ICEF MSc Programme.

- Can you tell more about risk management?

Risk management is a very vigorous sector and is present in all activity portfolios of a bank. In addition to financial knowledge, to the foreground come IT and data science as more and more processes become automated. I was more into Russian and British law, though. The convergence of IT and data science offers a vast amount of growth opportunities. Our course tells students where in risk management their data science knowledge, mathematical modeling skills, even start-up evaluation skills may come as most helpful and essential.

- What makes Risk Management a special course?

This course aims to give an in-depth understanding of the ins and outs of risk management. It identifies approaches to and specifics of each item of risk management; it shows how large financial corporations handle their risk management tasks by example of real-life and simulated cases. One such case is Sberbank Risk Department. We are using it to provide a detailed coverage of every single item of risk management so as to form a holistic picture of how banks operate their risk management tasks.

This 32-hour course contains modules such as credit risks, market risks, banking book risks, retail risks, and new economics (investing in start-ups and technologies). But we can’t remain seized of the developments within academic disciplines alone, so we designed the course to involve the practical and personal experience of its lecturers. 100% practicing experts, each of our lecturers is in charge of this or that risk management portfolio, operating real-life cases and sharing the essentials of their work in class. Our instruction materials make use of adapted multimedia presentations that feature the risk assessment algorithms currently in use by Sberbank, while many of our cases – both positive and negative – have been covered in business media sources.

- How can students and fresh graduates get employed by Risk Department?

Those who take the course stand a good chance of doing a traineeship with us or being employed permanently. In a global perspective, a classical and yet least preferred path is by passing a CFA exam. I learned about CFA and its importance from older peers when I was doing my bachelor’s degree. Mentioning CFA in your resume, even if you only passed Level 1, gives the green light to an interview at any financial unit including Risks. CFA is seen not only as a yardstick of the quality of knowledge — passing this test, which is truly immense, requires a hefty amount of knowledge — it is a yardstick of your zeal and willingness to excel professionally, learn more and be able to tackle challenges on your own.

- What helps climb career ladder and what would be the professional traits you value most in your new recruits?

The main key to career success is apply yourself to the job. No matter the professional field or company you are working for, there will always be employees doing personal chores during the workday. Don’t be like them. By structuring your work time so that most of your physical presence in the office is real work, you will learn your trade faster than others. You will be able to handle challenging tasks within shorter timelines, get noticed by your boss, get promoted, and become an asset the employers will be fighting for.

As a department manager, I often interview job candidates. Some of them may have 10 to 15 years of experience and still be worthless, failing to answer even questions pertaining to their core duties and lacking flexibility of thinking. It is therefore important to understand that in every workplace you will be consistently facing the tasks requiring your independent learning skills – something you should be cultivating in yourself from your first day at work.

- What are the must-have skills for the job seekers you are interviewing?

While some positions require candidates to have, in addition to hard skills, preciseness, communication skills and an eye for detail, there are jobs for which I need someone with ample derivatives experience and preparedness to deal with red tape. Since the profiles we put on our job advertisements often reflect the image of an ideal employee, I use live interaction to test candidates. There are some whose personal traits overweigh the lack of professional knowledge.

- How can a newly recruited employee succeed in their career?

Make your boss happy! I learned this maxim from older peers who worked for the Big Three when I was a bachelor student. You shouldn’t forget that you and your interviewer are in the same boat. You are seeking a good job and they a good employee. Ask you interviewer clear, confident questions about what they expect from you. Then, get your act together. It’s important for your boss to see you are fulfilling the tasks they entrust to you, be it profit generation, a pretty presentation or a tick on the list of in-house tasks. Keep your boss satisfied and they will do their best to retain you and show their appreciation, as the tasks they have in stock are many.

- Is there anything you would like to see ICEF offering apart from your course?

I would suggest a week-long course with tentative name “Find Your Favourite Book”. Soft skills are seen as a major asset by HR managers at many hi-end companies. Without underestimating the importance of fundamental education, soft skills are crucial to self-efficacy. The world has produced a variety of books in self-improvement, soul-searching, and managing (and many of them are, indeed, helpful) but finding the so-called ‘bible of your own’ is still very difficult.

My course could be like this. Day One: Go online and source the titles of 500 nonfiction books. Mark 100 that look most interesting to you. Read brief summaries of the 100 books in just 3 to 5 minutes each and shortlist 15 you like best. Read the 30-minute summaries of these 15 and select one book you feel like reading in full. One good book can change your whole life. Why should we ‘force’ book searching on students? Simply because they will never get around to doing it on their own. It is in student years that people need to find their own bible, a bible to unveil new horizons of life.

- How can this help them grow professionally? 

Life is not limited to your profession only. And books are as contributing to your mindset and world outlook as are your social circle and competencies you get instilled with at your university. They help one establish a harmony between the various components of success and happiness.

Sonya Spielberg, specially for HSE