COLUMN: CSOM Hinders Finance-Inclined
Published: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 22, 2013 23:09
During my internship last summer at an investment management company, I had the opportunity to speak with a hedge fund managing director (MD) from Notre Dame. We discussed college classes, and he told me that while he loved his job and couldn’t think of a reason to leave, he’d have rather studied something other than finance in college.
My eyes lit up. I, too, have been thinking exactly that.
As I begin my senior year studying finance and economics at BC, I’m having second thoughts about being in CSOM. The vast majority of students in the school are accounting and/or finance majors. Accountants need those undergraduate classes to start a career in the field—the specific analysis is a prerequisite, and CSOM does a great job preparing students for that role.
Finance is different. The hedge fund MD’s reasoning behind his claim was twofold. First, the training one receives on the job is infinitely more valuable than in college—as he told me: “you’ll learn more about finance in your first two weeks than in your entire four years in school.” Now, unless the Notre Dame business school is that bad—which we shouldn’t rule out—that statement is a gross exaggeration.
It does have some truth to it, however. At the numerous finance information sessions I’ve attended, one can count on hearing the same line at every event: “you don’t have to be a finance major to work here.” During an employer visit last week with one of the biggest investment firms that recruits at BC, one of the hosts said that they recently hired a Medieval Studies major from Wellesley. They can do so because they have a comprehensive six week training program for new hires.
I understand the reasoning behind finance courses, and I’ve had some fantastic experiences in the classroom. Investment Banking and Corporate Finance have been two of my favorites. They were both taught by a former investment banker and each gave great insight into the world of finance. I recommend those courses to anyone interested in a finance career.
The issue, though, is how long it takes to reach those courses. CSOM students have to complete the CSOM core in addition to the university core requirements. I have my tour book manual right in front of me—right off the bat that’s 29 courses. 29! And while some of those can count for both—and AP credits help—the fact remains: a CSOM major has very little academic freedom at BC.
Despite being able to take compelling senior year finance electives, I’ve concluded that completing all of the prerequisites isn’t worth it. For example, one of the core courses I’m taking this semester is Organizational Behavior. It’s a perfectly acceptable class that’s somewhat interesting—we discuss how different people fit in at different companies. But in my mind, I’d fit in better by having an increased perspective on the world by taking courses in other subjects—classes that lead to more interesting conversations. The marginal value of the 14th CSOM core course pales in comparison to a first or second class in political science, psychology, English, or any other A&S discipline.
Now, back to the MD’s second point. He believed there are other academic areas, such as economics, statistics, and math, which better prepare an undergraduate for a career in finance. In his specific job, trading for a billion dollar fixed income (bond) fund, he competes with computer programs that process thousands of transactions each second and are run by complex algorithms. By having a better understanding of high-level math, he’d be able to trade more competently and efficiently.
But how will a company know that you’re interested in finance if it’s not your major? Well first, let’s step back and see what Wall Street is made up of—primarily Ivy Leaguers, especially students from Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton. Funny how none of those institutions have undergraduate businesses schools, yet they still manage to produce hundreds of grads that work on Wall Street every year.
The key to working in finance is showing an interest in it, and there are a vast amount of resources at BC to do so. The Investment Club, Finance Academy, and Economics Association all have events dedicated to learning about finance. O’Neill Library has every book imaginable about the subject, and if not, they’ll obtain it through inter-library loan.
The most vital resource, though, is the BC Alumni. The MD from Notre Dame said that networking is more important than anything one did in school. Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, is my favorite example. He obtained a job selling bonds at investment banking giant Salomon Brothers—one of the most highly coveted finance jobs at the time—by chatting up the wives of two MD’s at a British Royalty event. He then went on to become one of the finest bond salesmen in the history of Salomon Brothers.
His undergraduate major? Art History.