For the past year-and-a-half, AIFMRM graduate Bandile Mbele has been working as a Fixed Income Strat in Morgan Stanley’s institutional securities group at their headquarters in New York. He lives in an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and loves Italian pasta takeaway for dinner. While, in many ways, he is living the dream now, the journey has not been an easy one.
Bandile Mbele, 27, remembers where he was when he received the call that would change his life and put it on its current trajectory – working at one of the world’s top investment and financial services firms. He was playing video games early in 2019 when a friend called from the US, asking him if he was interested in studying a master’s in financial engineering at Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. Even though Bandile was working as a graduate trainee at Old Mutual Specialised Finance, he knew opportunities like these did not come around often. His answer was a decisive “yes”. His friend recommended him for the programme, and his application was accepted.
“It was so exciting; it was my first time out of the country, and I got to fly to the United States! Of course, two days after setting foot on campus, everything was shut down because of COVID-19!” says Bandile. “When I got there, it was so busy, and then just like that, it was empty. There was no one on campus.” He spent the rest of the year studying mostly from his room but managed to meet some of his classmates. But he has a top-rated degree to show for it – and obtained an internship at Morgan Stanley.
This led to his current position as a strat (strategist) on Morgan Stanley’s Agency Mortgage-Backed Securities Desk, where he has long days but finds the work very rewarding. “It’s really a financial hub. You meet so many smart people from all over the world, learning how to solve problems in different ways. In South Africa, we have diversity, but this is next level. All of us are trying to help the bank make better decisions; I’m really enjoying it.”
The money is good, too, though Bandile notes that the cost of living in New York is high, but he is able to put money aside as well. He has a hybrid working schedule, which means some time in the office and some working from home – but this is likely to change in 2023. He has made friends from all over the world, played casual pick-up soccer games and discovered a penchant for Italian pasta, particularly a vodka-flavoured fettuccine from a local eatery.
It may sound like he is a long way from home – Durban in KwaZulu-Natal – where he spent his formative years with his parents, who both worked for Correctional Services. But in many ways, he is still surrounded by what he loves the most – numbers and mathematics.
Bandile recalls how some of his first memories as a toddler were the posters of numbers that his mother put up for him in his room. “It was something my mom tried with me; I think to get me comfortable with numbers. I also remember, as a small child, having a special thing about numbers, like the number two. If I was playing with toys, I’d take the second toy aside and take it out of play; I don’t know why! I have no issue with the number today!” he laughs.
Bandile’s special relationship with mathematics continued in high school, where he ended up doing Advanced Programme Mathematics by himself, with self-study, to avoid incurring the cost of taking the subject at school. At the University of Cape Town, while studying actuarial science, he also won the class medal for first-year mathematics. Even now, when he finds time, he plays around with mathematics, as a hobby, purely for enjoyment.
When he thinks back to mentors who have helped him along the way, he mentions Professor David Taylor at AIFMRM, whom he met while doing the MPhil in Mathematical Finance. He recalls stimulating conversations with Professor Taylor, which opened his mind to the possibilities within the field of financial mathematics. “I recall him saying to us that what we studied need not influence our career. He told us not to box ourselves in, not to limit ourselves, and that there are so many different routes we can take with these tools we’ve been given.”
Bandile is currently on a 24-month STEM Optional Practical Training programme, and he is not sure what will come after that. He may return to South Africa or continue working overseas. “I do miss home, my family, and friends, but I am learning a lot here, so I am not sure what the future holds.” It is clear that for this young man, the sky’s the limit – whether it is in the Southern or the Northern Hemisphere.