Why an MBA or CFA won’t get you far in a career in finance
Technology must be taken into account in the era of rapid automation, big data analytics and artificial intelligence
When Jeff Ng started his career in finance with a major in computer science more than 10 years ago, the SAS software was all there was for automation.
In the last few years, Ng, who works in information technology (IT) and operations for a major investment bank in Hong Kong, said his focus had switched to building and acquiring big data, and using machine learning to recognise image and voice.
IT had always been regarded as a back office operation in banking, but increasingly banks are looking for programmers or coders, said Simpson Lee, a consultant who specialises in technology at Perrin Watsons, a recruiter.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a huge demand for these people from banks and financial institutions right now, but there’s a trend.”
The financial service industry makes up 16 per cent of Hong Kong’s gross domestic product, employing 230,000 people, according to government statistics. The city has one of the highest concentrations of banking institutions in the world, about 70 of the biggest 100 banks in the world have operations in the city
That said, Hong Kong has been a laggard when it comes to automation, according to KPMG.
“Given its by the scale of transformation in today’s digital world, you can’t just use humans,” said Egidio Zarrella, a partner and head of clients & innovation at KPMG China.
Zarrella also sees stronger incentive from the financial industry in Hong Kong to make the changes now.
“This is something on the mind of senior executives in the boardroom,” he said.
Yet, further automation could put jobs that handle transactions and monitoring operation risks at risk.
“We have been experimenting these past years with the acceleration of digitalising some remaining
activities that were still non-electronic. New disruptive actors like Fintech have forced us to rethink how we can make our offering processes more seamless and user experience-driven,” said Mathieu Jacolin, chief digital officer for Asia-Pacific at Societe Generale.
Already, professionals working in the financial industry are stepping up their game trying to learn new skills to hold onto their jobs.
Dr. Kyle Wong, chief operating officer and founder of Artificial Intelligence HK, said the association had been running AI coding sessions in Central and the response had been ‘overwhelming”.
Going forward, Wong believes that those who want a career in finance must take technology into account. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a qualification as a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) won’t be sufficient.
“Programmers have the tools, but they need to know the problems that the banks and other financial institutions are trying to solve. So I think MBA and CFA are still relevant. However, I do think the syllabus needs to be updated to include more technology elements,” said Dr Wong.
The CFA Institute said in May that the CFA examination would add questions on AI, automated investment services and big data in 2019.
“It’s not useful to have computer scientists who don’t understand the problems we would like to solve. At the same time, it’s not practical either to have finance people who don’t understand how the technology works,” said Ng.