New degree to plug skills gap in financial services sector

The financial industry is crying out for graduates who have a multidisciplinary skill set and are able to think both practically and strategically.

“At the moment, it can take anywhere between 18 months to two years for graduates joining the industry to get up to speed,” said Nicolaas Schutte, CIB Risk COO of Barclays Africa. “This means that organisations have to invest considerably in training to get new recruits to a high performing state.”

Schutte was speaking at the launch of the new Master’s degree in Risk Management of Financial Markets at the University of Cape Town (UCT) last week. The degree, which will be offered for the first time in 2016 through the African Institute of Financial Markets and Risk Management (AIFMRM), has been designed specifically to plug this gap.

AIFMRM lecturer, Obeid Mahomed said he and colleagues at the institute spent more than a year talking to industry to identify skills gaps in order to design an academic intervention that matches their needs as closely as possible.

“Most graduates come to the job market with a lot to learn as technical specialists in either accounting or mathematics. This means that financial institutions are putting a lot of effort into upskilling and training staff in areas such as business context and regulatory frameworks. We have created a degree to equip professionals with a combination of expertise that will set them apart,” Mahomed said.

He said thinking around risk management has evolved significantly following the global financial crisis of 2007/2008 and that there remains a growing need for savvy risk managers able to understand and navigate increasingly complex financial markets.

Finance expert Sven Ludwig, senior vice president, risk management and analytics EMEA, at US software giant SunGard, recently wrote that financial systems were becoming more complicated around the world, with many experts warning that an increase in regulations and tighter financial controls would result in greater complexity in the financial world.

“Though many industry participants are under the impression that the banking industry is becoming simpler, the opposite is the case. Moving forward we foresee a battle of sophistication,” said Ludwig in his white paper Impact Study 2015 – survival guide for banks: the battle of sophistication.

According to Mahomed, training professionals in financial sophistication is one of the aims of the new degree. The degree is uniquely interdisciplinary, spanning the fields of finance, mathematics, computing, regulation and governance.

“From a financial markets perspective, for example, since the prices of liquid financial instruments are determined by demand and supply, they do not obey precise rules of behaviour with well-established analytical solutions.”

“Consequently, we often have to resort to numerical techniques to solve financial problems. With the unpredictability of human behaviour driving economic phenomena, the study of economics is far more complex than the study of repetitive phenomena in the physical sciences,” Mahomed said.

The degree also has a novel structure in that it is a professional master’s degree. Students will be assessed through a series of research projects, as opposed to the traditional dissertation requirement. Mahomed believes it will provide the necessary edge for professionals in the competitive and complex financial global landscape.

“It teaches a combination of maths, finance, and regulation and it is put together in a way to provide realistic expertise, which is what is needed to achieve success in this industry at present and in future,” Mahomed said.

“Graduates from this programme are likely to always be in demand. Such a multidisciplinary, transferable skills set will ensure that there will always be a position for them in most financial organisations,” Schutte agreed.

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