Three specialised degrees empower sought-after graduates in financial services

For anyone wanting an exceptional career in the financial services sector, the African Institute of Financial Markets and Risk Management (AIFMRM) in the Faculty of Commerce at UCT has developed something of a reputation as the go-to place.

“Financial services is an innovative and dynamic industry, and our graduates are highly sought-after,” says Professor David Taylor, director of the Institute. “The demand is partly because they are ready for the world of work the day they walk into their new job.”

Speaking at AIFMRM’s careers fair at the beginning of the second semester at UCT, Professor Taylor stressed the intense, practical nature of the Institute’s specialised degrees. “These Master’s degrees certainly don’t follow what we jokingly refer to as the CPF model – cram, pass, forget. The programmes offer advanced specialist skills that equip graduates to perform in all areas of the financial services industry – and lead to successful, productive careers.”

Established just four years ago, AIFMRM offers three postgraduate degrees: an MCom in Risk Management of Financial Markets, an MPhil specialising in Mathematical Finance, and an MPhil specialising in Financial Technology – all of which were developed in association with industry and as a response to skills gaps in industry.

Admission for all programmes is highly competitive, with a minimum requirement of an Honours or four-year equivalent degree. Professor Co-Pierre Georg says, “We usually have over 600 applicants, but only select 60 in total for the three degrees. However, this should not discourage students from applying. We look at each applicant individually. Their academic record is important, but marks are not the only screening mechanism – we assess each person on their context and what they can contribute.”

The Institute emphasises entrepreneurial thinking and diversity in student selection. “We value entrepreneurship and anyone who is trying to make the world a better place – our focus is not only on getting graduates jobs but on empowering graduates to create jobs,” says Georg.

He adds that it is essential to understand the diversity of South African society in order to build products for South Africans. For prospective students, this includes diversity across background, gender and area of undergraduate study. Students from the faculties of science, commerce and engineering often make successful transitions to finance, he says.

Obeid Mahomed, a lecturer at AIFMRM, addressed the question of whether the choice of each of the three degrees limits graduates to specific areas within the financial industry. “Everything is possible, and nothing is compulsory or limited,” he says. “It depends on your passion and interests. Graduates from all three degrees fit in everywhere in the industry and they may move from one role to another fluidly.”

Mahomed outlined the skills needs of the financial services industry and highlighted that graduates are equipped to perform well in all facets, including government and regulatory bodies; financial services encompassing banking, insurance and savings; broking; consulting; corporate finance; private equity and FinTech.

The careers evening included a panel of current and former students who gave insight into their experiences. Katlego Kopeledi says his AIFMRM degree led to a marked shift in his thinking. “The difference between my undergraduate finance degree and my Master’s is that now my understanding has evolved to a point where I can explain complex things in a clear and simple way. I can sit down with managers and talk through their portfolios.”

Prospective students asked questions around how those from different academic backgrounds had coped with the change to studying finance. Andrea Pearse, a current MCom student, studied mechanical engineering as her undergrad degree. She says, “The maths from engineering certainly helped, but what is more important is that as an engineer you can think logically and creatively. The MCom will teach you to think differently and to problem solve, which is a huge advantage.”

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