I recently received an email from a ‘banking science’ organisation that had arranged a workshop where practitioners from the financial services industry in London would give an insight into their job. The workshop was specially geared towards PhDs. Since quite a few friends from mathematics and science have ended up in this sector, I thought it was worth checking what the excitement was about. A book which I had read recently also interested me towards this event.
The whole event was well managed and it was surprising to find over two hundred students there who were doing postgraduate or doctoral studies. I was sitting next to a German man doing a PhD in economics and a Spanish man doing a PhD in Biology. Most of the presenters were from the top investment banks (Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan etc.). They had done PhDs in scientific subjects and then switched to banking. A chemistry researcher raised concerns that it seemed that investment banks seemed inclined towards mathematics and physics PhDs. Although the speaker gave examples of how varied backgrounds were welcome, it did seem evident that mathematical PhDs were desirable because of the complex modelling and quantitative analysis involved in the job.
Although most talks were about the London financial sector, there was one presentation about the numerous opportunities in Qatar and other centres that are part of Gulf Cooperation Council. There was an interesting comment by Dr. Jessica James from Citi was that in the banking sector, mathematical PhDs are almost like the classics degrees of the pervious era, a sign of an ‘intelligent’ and ‘useful’ person. She gave a relatively technical presentation on how to make better predictions.
One common piece of advice was for PhDs to take part in an internship program so that they can see if the financial sector is the career for them before taking a plunge. I was particularly impressed by the presentation of a Polish physicist who switched to Wall Street and has a major role in HSBC. I will try to convey some useful advice he gave in my next entry.