Q&A with Dr Mesias Alfeus, AIFMRM’s new Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr Mesias Alfeus, who recently joined AIFMRM as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, has had a remarkable and inspiring academic life-journey. After a childhood spent in a small village in northern Namibia, his studies brought him to South Africa and later took him to Sydney, Australia. Now back in Cape Town, Dr Alfeus is looking forward to continuing his research and making a contribution to closing Africa’s skills gap.

Welcome to AIFMRM, Dr Alfeus. Can you tell us a bit about your life story?

I was born in Namibia and raised by my great grandmother. I was a quiet child, but I was ambitious, and I wanted to be educated. It was challenging for me growing up in the poor village of Okadila, where people used to see me through the lens of my shortcomings. I was often absent from school because of the responsibility I had for herding livestock, and as a result, I failed the first semester of grade one. I remember I would carry my books with me while cattle herding. Sometimes the animals would get into people’s fields while I was studying and I would be beaten for allowing that to happen. But I continued with my schooling and was encouraged by my great grandmother and my teachers when I became keen on mathematics.

After high school, I was awarded a scholarship by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, so I moved to Windhoek to study a bachelor’s degree in pure and applied mathematics at the University of Namibia. Then I went on to my honours and master’s degrees in mathematical finance at Stellenbosch University.

I moved to Australia for my PhD in quantitative finance at the Business School of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), under the supervision of Professor Erik Schlögl. My thesis was on the stochastic modelling of new phenomena in financial markets. After completing my PhD, I was fortunate to secure an academic position doing research on mathematical finance models and lecturing financial mathematics at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

What brings you back to Africa and AIFMRM?

AIFMRM is one of the most reputable institutions in Africa in mathematical finance, with excellent connections to industry, so this is a wonderful opportunity for me to continue my research. I’m happy to join this vibrant team and community that has an international track record in both teaching and research. It’s a thrilling experience to be in such a highly regarded institution and also part of a global community. In some ways, it was a sacrifice to leave my academic position in Australia, but it’s a sacrifice worth making as I’m happy to be back in Africa. Here I can figure out how to contribute to SADC countries in terms of the knowledge gap and try to discover something new in mathematics that will be useful for industry and have a real social impact. Also, my wife lives here in Cape Town, so that’s another drawcard!

What will the focus of your research be?

I’m continuing my PhD research into developing stochastic techniques and challenging the classical assumptions, for modelling new phenomena in financial markets. I feel this is important as market risk becomes increasingly complex in rapidly developing industries. Today’s mathematical theory and standard techniques for modelling risk may no longer be sufficient – we need to develop models that can be adjusted to market changes and new technology. So, I am continuing to deep dive into the classical theory of mathematics to do this.

I am a mathematician by training, but I was drawn to finance because I am eager to understand the usefulness of mathematics in finance. My motivation for undertaking a PhD, and now in continuing my research, is to become an independent and solid researcher and to be well-rounded and confident in developing mathematical models beyond classical assumptions. I feel my PhD training has given me the opportunity to come up with new cutting-edge research that’s useful to industry.

I’m hoping that my research can be a useful guide to policymakers or central banks in making complex decisions around how to control the interbank lending rate for the effectiveness of monetary systems. One nice feature of these classes of models that I’m working on is that one can numerically solve various systems of risks and be able to quantify the level of each component of risk. These models are developed to capture multi-dimensional sources of market risk at once – rather than one by one.

What are your hopes for your time at AIFMRM?

To make a solid contribution to solving real-world problems in finance. And I’m also looking forward to interacting with all students and staff and visiting academics – AIFMRM encourages a lot of academic collaboration. I’m aiming to build my career and my research reputation. Something else I am excited about is that I recently received an invitation from SpringerBriefs in Quantitative Finance series to write a book about my PhD topic, which is a great honour.

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