AIFMRM student wins prestigious competition

A student from the African Institute of Financial Markets and Risk Management (AIFMRM) at the University of Cape Town has won an elite FNB DataQuest competition – where data science was applied in a banking industry environment.

For Rachel Swallow, entering the FNB DataQuest competition was all about an opportunity to practise what she had just learnt in class the week before. She never thought she stood a chance at winning, which allowed her to have some fun with the challenge without feeling any pressure.

“I loved the competition,” says the 23-year-old, currently studying towards an MSc specialising in Data Science (Financial Markets stream). This interdisciplinary degree is offered in collaboration with the departments of Statistical Sciences, Computer Science and Information Systems, but is administered and convened by the Department of Statistical Sciences. “It was so interactive and brilliantly set up with breakout rooms and smaller groups as well as lecturers on hand for any question we might have.”

The competition was part of a four-day event held from 17 to 20 May 2021, combining masterclasses, lectures and the competition. Over 200 participants could select to take part in one of three challenges. These included Money Management, Collections and Ongoing Risk Management. Rachel says she chose the latter because it seemed the most interesting and she had just learnt about it. The task required her to identify the customers, using the dataset provided, who are less likely to default on loan repayments and find a way of ensuring the probability of default of the population is less than 10%. Participants had to come up with a solution and pitch it to a panel of judges.

“The Institute is very proud of Rachel’s achievement,” says AIFMRM’s Director, Professor David Taylor. “The FNB DataQuest event is an excellent space to push boundaries and find unique solutions. It is really useful to those interested in a career in data analytics and combines an engaging competition with wonderful learning and networking situations.”

Participants had four days of lectures as well as online meetings with other teammates and fellow students. Lectures included presentations by industry leaders on topics like the future of analytics, design thinking, data visualisation and analytics and the financial context. Coaching sessions, as well as one-on-one meetings with experts and team members, were encouraged, allowing participants to “meet” others in industry and other universities.

“It was really cool,” says Rachel. “Even though it was a virtual event, everything went so well and the talks were fascinating. In class, we don’t always get to see how theory is applied and used. The sessions were very interactive, and we got to engage with others on a personal level.”

The competition changed Rachel’s prospects too, and she has subsequently signed on for the FirstRand quant programme in 2022. Even though she used to think she would go into medical technology – as a type-1 diabetic, she experienced first-hand the benefit of technology and how apps could improve people’s lives. This led to her undergraduate degree in Mechatronic Engineering. The competition, however, opened her eyes to the options posed by the financial data science world. “It is a bit different, but here too, I can see how data science can help people make more informed decisions.”

Rachel says, “AIFMRM is a fantastic institution. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I did not come from a financial background but the class, the lecturers, and all the resources and support provided are excellent. Everyone is invested in your success, from giving you interview skills to making sure you can pitch well at presentations. It all goes into a very well-rounded professional.”

For producing the winner, AIFMRM and the Faculty of Science split R50 000. Rachel, as the winner, received R25 000 – which the future financial expert is prudently saving.

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