Qualified quantitative analyst Mansa Aidoo dreamed of a career in academia. When an opportunity presented itself at her alma mater, the African Institute of Financial Markets and Risk Management (AIFMRM), she knew it was the right move for her.
You did the MCom in Risk Management of Financial Markets at the institute two years ago. How does it feel to be back?
Honestly, it’s great. I always wanted to work in the academic world, but I thought of going into industry first, making contacts and connections and gaining practical experience. I worked at Nedbank as a graduate quantitative analyst for a year and the experience was very rewarding. But when I thought about what I wanted to achieve and which direction my career should take, it was always academia that beckoned.
What in particular attracts you to the academic world?
I think it is the pursuit of knowledge and research coupled with interacting with students and making abstract theory simple to understand. Many students are struggling with complex fields of study, and I know what it is like because I went through all of this myself. I also helped tutor and counsel students when I was on campus and I understand the pressures many of them are under, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds. I would love to help more students, especially black students, excel in the various fields of finance.
Is there a particular message you have for students who are struggling?
Keep going, persevere and stay strong. There are many people to talk to at the university, and they will all tell you to keep going. I learnt that struggling is normal, and even failing at times is not the end of the world. But you must not let it define you. If there is a particular subject or field of study that troubles you, find someone to talk to or pursue some of the many online tools available. There is so much help for students, and often they only need to be made aware of the various channels. If you are still battling, decide if there is another way to achieve the outcome that you desire – or if you should be doing something else. The important thing is you have to keep learning and growing.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where you grew up and the journey that brought you to the AIFMRM.
I grew up in the Eastern Cape, in Mthatha. My mother died when I was very young, but I was surrounded by my three sisters, my father and later, my stepmother, so there was always a lot of support and guidance growing up. I enjoyed school and from a young age worked hard. My favourite subject was mathematics and I came to UCT to study actuarial science. However, I ended up switching to finance because it was more in line with where I envisioned myself at the time. By the time I did the MCom in Risk Management, I knew I had found the direction I wanted to pursue in my career.
You say you learned much about success from your family. Can you tell us more about that?
My father taught me about perseverance. He was a senior superintendent for the municipality’s electrical department, and his philosophy was that if one door closes, another always opens. I have carried this lesson with me, and it has helped me many times in life.
Do you have a specific field of interest in terms of research?
I am currently looking into a topic for my PhD thesis, possibly in the area of credit risk, which I think is very interesting from an African perspective and especially now. I believe the financial sector has an important role to play in the development of local economies, particularly as we rebuild the economy in the post-COVID-19 world. The financial sector will be able to contribute in valuable ways. Additionally, I am interested in how financial inclusivity and access to finance can be improved and I hope to contribute to the body of work in this area with new research of my own.