BY GINO GRILLI
BOLOGNA – Home to more than 480 overseas banks and the largest financial center in the world, the City of London is a top destination for SAIS students looking to make their mark on the world. As part of the first SAIS Europe career trek of the academic year, SAIS Europe students, led by Career Services Director Meera Shankar, visited some of the City’s largest financial institutions.
Students met with SAIS alumni and their colleagues at JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Fitch Ratings, ING, Aberdeen Asset Management, Goldman Sachs and PIMCO during their two-day trip to Canary Wharf and the City of London. The companies featured were chosen for and by students to provide a broad overview of the subsectors within the financial services industry including: sovereign and debt credit risk, wealth and asset management, hedge funds, credit/debt ratings agencies, and bank stress testing.
Stalwart banking institutions like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have been a part of the finance trek to London each year, but companies are shuffled and added for each trip depending on students’ interests and industry trends. Less common names like Aberdeen Asset Management and ING, were some of the new names on the agenda this year.
Though some students came in with experience in the financial sector, many viewed the trip as a way to explore potential career and internship options. First-year European and Eurasian studies student Benji Newman approached the trip as a way to find out if the sector appealed to him. He found the opportunity of a global career with HSBC, in which one could work at a bank’s offices worldwide, as enticing and an extension of his love for travel.
The most appealing industry subsectors to students were the credit and sovereign risk departments at JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, and Goldman Sachs. Credit and sovereign risk analysts monitor political developments, business activity, and economic indicators and interpret their meanings in the context of M&A and investment decisions. In these departments, Newman said, “Numbers aren’t gospel, they may point to one thing, but my knowledge and intuition tell me this.” This approach to looking at finance, as opposed to mere number crunching exercises, was what generated the most interest from those without deep quantitative backgrounds.
Those with industry experience like Jenna Burton, a second-year MAIA student, were impressed by the visit to Fitch Ratings and its introduction to a side of global finance she hadn’t previously considered. The alumni who spoke pointed out the direct applications of the international economics curriculum at SAIS to the work Fitch does in evaluating the status of states’ debt and credit ratings. Students interested in Fitch need to be aware that completing SAIS’s four core economics courses are not enough to be considered at Fitch, but it is possible to gain employment there through completing addition economics courses at SAIS, Burton pointed out.
In an industry that may be perceived as a bastion for the MBAs and CFAs of the world, graduates of an MA program like SAIS bring a unique breadth of knowledge to these firms. Director of Career Services at SAIS Europe Meera Shankar neatly pointed out that SAIS students “bring expertise in complex matters that don’t necessarily fit into the boxes that MBA graduates fall into”. She noted that former students hold positions ranging from managing directors to associates at some of the firms they visited. One characteristic that is frequently praised is the strong research skills that SAIS graduates bring.
Mark Andrews, a MA/MBA student at SAIS Europe, echoed this sentiment, “anyone can be taught to run a valuation or the necessary quantitative skills, but it was encouraging to see that employers seek an MA degree for the substantive value it provides”. He hopes that credit risk will put to use his technical business skills in combination with an industry or regional focus.
Aside from the presentations and sessions, students got a chance to spend lunch with the credit risk team at JPMorgan Chase and meet with Johns Hopkins UK Alumni chapter at a cocktail hour. While the trip was of a professional nature, Mark Andrews said he really enjoyed being out of the SAIS bubble and being able to relate his classroom experiences with a career he can picture himself in.
To students who didn’t attend the trip but are interested in careers in the financial industry, Andrews recommended researching and finding the firms that matches an applicant’s interest interests and values. With the sheer number of applications these firms go through (for what might only be one position), he emphasized the importance of stating why you’re applying to this company and why your degree is useful to them. Students also stressed the need to apply early for the applications due in late November and cast a wide net amongst the firms they are interested in.
For more information on the trek, the alumni, and the firms visited, you can browse SAISWorks for past trek notes or contact the SAIS Europe Career Services office.