International College of Economics and Finance

"ICEF’s MSc Degree Prepares for So Many Career Tracks"

"ICEF’s MSc Degree Prepares for So Many Career Tracks"

Denis Bondarenko enrolled in ICEF’s MSc Programme in 2020 after earning his bachelor’s in Economics from St. Petersburg State University. Currently a trader with Sparkland Trading (Dubai) – a company with extensive experience on crypto markets – Denis shares how his master’s study levelled up his tech skills, what adds value to ICEF Career Services, and why crypto traders are attracted to Dubai.

Where to study to become a finance techie

While a school student, I started learning Chinese and have been to China a couple of times, including on exchange with Beijing University, one of the world’s top schools for mathematics. During my time there, I focused on technical disciplines and became more confident that my master’s study should be in the domain of mathematics.

While comparing the suitable MSc degrees, I discovered ICEF’s Master's in Financial Economics as one of the best programmes of its kind. I joined for Open House and was very much attracted by the idea of being taught in English by the faculty with internationally recognized PhD degrees from the world’s largest universities. I found ICEF’s pool of courses to be a good match for my career goals.

As someone with a strong background in mathematics – I studied at school with significant mathematical content and hold a bachelor’s in Mathematical Methods in Economics from St. Petersburg State University – I was looking to strengthen my math skills as my competitive advantage and to start a career in banking and finance. ICEF seemed a perfect fit for me: its programme offers quite a number of mathematics courses, including Stochastic Calculus, all with intellectually demanding contents. Econometrics is taught during the first two semesters and is followed by Financial Econometrics in the third. Financial Econometrics was the course I wanted to learn in greater depth, and there were two more – Macroeconomics and Microeconomics – that had largely improved my tech skills.

What adds value to ICEF’s MSc degree

My master’s study did live up to my expectations. I think I fit in well with ICEF’s learning concept: it prepares students for long and illustrious careers. The intense study with significant mathematical content and the non-trivial models and theories are all part of the process to equip us with the skills for handling complex tasks on volatile financial markets. Studying at ICEF is different in that you have to cope with large amounts of homework, but in the end become proficient with sophisticated macro- and microeconomic models, stochastic computing and econometric tools. Those courses really leveled up my target skills. ICEF’s Master’s in Financial Economics is pursued mostly by people from technical backgrounds, including graduates of physics and mathematics degrees. 

This MSc degree is also a common choice among Math & Mechanics majors who wish to build careers as quants or traders. It’s wonderful that this degree prepares for so many career tracks. It boosts your brainpower to a level where complex models are no problem and you perform just seamlessly – the skills exceptionally useful in a demanding workplace or when you need to be flexible. 

I can safely say that those who make it through Stochastic Calculus become a special breed of extraordinary ability 

Besides, the graduates of MSc Financial Economics are the preferred job candidates. In the summer before I enrolled in ICEF, I was looking to do an internship and sent my resume to the Big Four, got rejected, but received the offer – even several – in October as a master’s student of ICEF. ICEF students enjoy a strong career support from ICEF Career Services, which gives them access to truly worthwhile job opportunities. Victoria Pralich, who manages ICEF career services, is doing a very important job. I was able to establish contact with all employers whose job postings reached me via ICEF career center.

How to transition from consulting to trading

Soon after enrolling in my master’s study, I started a job at Experian – a data analytics and consumer credit counselling company with offices in different countries – where my role was to mostly analyze financial institutions in terms of credit risks and reporting. Much as I wanted to get into risk management as a technology-intensive area, my job didn’t give me any serious insight into its technical side, it rather introduced me to the processes within a bank.

Even though I had a demanding study schedule, I managed to combine study with work quite alright. Did home assignments in the evenings and, luckily for me, many classes met on Saturdays. I tried to get the most from lectures by studying them on my own and consulting with peers – this helped to maintain sufficient level of knowledge. 

This master’s degree cultivates a very important skill: self-learning

By the end of my first year of study, I started to look for a job in a more technology-intensive environment. I could work as a quant in a risk management group and do model calculations or evaluate derivatives and other instruments, but I didn’t find any jobs in quantitative finance at the time, so I thought it might be a good idea to try myself at EY and learn best practices of corporate interaction. But, my job at EY offered too little challenge to my technical abilities. I started looking for a new one and was lucky to have been taken aboard by Sparkland Trading to the position of a trader.

What do crypto traders do in Dubai

Since Sparkland Trading is based in Dubai, I had to move to the UAE. The company engages in high-frequency trading, processing thousands of crypto transactions per minute. Our algorithms trade on most major exchanges and help to increase market liquidity. Crypto markets are still in their infancy and need to be streamlined in many respects. Cryptocurrencies having a liquidity problem makes people stay away from crypto markets as highly unstable and posing high risk of losing money. 

We are working to make markets more efficient, and by trying to attract more people to the cryptocurrency industry we act as market makers. I finally found a career that fully uses my technical skills. It’s about creating state of the art algorithms and I feel very passionate about it. 

Even though the UAE is considered a crypto-friendly country, it is not as crypto-friendly as, say, Singapore or the Caribbean Islands. The reason why many businesses choose to be incorporated in Dubai is because the UAE has zero income tax. Sparkland Trading is, however, trading globally, we aren’t focused on any local organizations and are working with the IT infrastructure providers all over the world, all our communications take place outside of the UAE. Your location is not so important in trading, you aren’t confined to it in any other way than legally. 

Since I’ve joined Sparkland Trading only recently, I am planning to develop in my current role. The project we are working on is conceptually challenging and involves a large number of variables. I still need time to fully figure out how this whole thing works. I’m not looking to make long-term plans. My plan for now is to stay in crypto trading for a couple of more years to learn its ins and outs and to become proficient in trading.