STERN, GABELLI LEADING THE WAY IN UNDERGRADUATE OFFERINGS
But as schools sort through their personnel and ambiguity problems, the industry and the world around them continues to change, pushing them further and further behind.
“We’re always about three years behind the real world, but the rate of change is much faster so the costs of being behind are growing,” says Yermack. “It’s hard to keep up, but I’m determined we’re going to be successful.
To help move things along, Stern recently received an $8 million donation from an alumnus to establish the Fubon Center for Technology, Business, and Innovation, a central hub to support technological innovation in areas such as fintech, business analytics, technology, and entrepreneurship. Part of those dollars will go into hiring new professors for fintech as well as faculty and curricular development in the area, Yermack says.
“I tell our professors, ‘You’re all going to be teaching this in five years whether you want to or not.’ I’m being somewhat facetious, but a lot of people have taken up the call,” says Yermack.
Stern’s launch into the deep world of fintech began at the graduate level when, in 2016, they became one of the first schools to offer a fintech specialization for MBAs. This appears to be the approach taken by many schools: roll it out at the graduate level and let it trickle down.
“We did them simultaneously,” says DeRose at Stern. “We envisioned it as a program that would suit both audiences.”
Today, at the undergraduate level, a Stern fintech track is available, yet courses are still in the making. The track is a menu of 10 electives of which about four or five are currently available as the others are still coming to fruition.
The flagship offering for undergrads, though, has been the “Foundations of FinTech” course which Yermack says serves as an entry portal into fintech. Taught by two finance professors and two information systems faculty, the course covers all the basics. “(The) basics of data science, database architecture,” he says. “They’ll learn what blockchain is, receive an intro to machine learning, and robo-investing. We cover topics for about two weeks each, giving students a working knowledge of concepts and basics that allow them to go forward into their electives.”
The course was offered for the first time in the fall of 2017. The school says with an enrollment of 140 students across two sections, the demand was twice as high as expected, proving that students’ appetite for it is present.
“Number one, they sense the job market is shifting,” DeRose says. “They’re also digital natives who have grown up with technology so using it for financial application is not novel for them. They’re ready to go.”
Beyond the foundational course, Stern’s electives serve to teach how fintech is transforming different financial areas. Fintech entrepreneurship and fintech portfolio management, for instance. Each of the courses also teach the underlying technologies of various fintech applications so students are equipped with those necessary skills.
A SECONDARY CONCENTRATION OPTION AT FORDHAM
Not far from Stern, undergrads at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business now have fintech as a secondary concentration option. Also launched this past fall, the concentration consists of one required finance course and one required informations systems course followed by three elective courses.
Raymar says the courses are an intro into all of the aforementioned topics covered by the broad spectrum that is fintech. “It’s really an intro to all of those topics I mentioned,” Raymar continues. “Applications, some of the computational skills that are needed, things like algorithmic trading. Other buzzwords that come up are machine learning or python is a computer language that is taught. We’re also looking at big data. There are thousands and billions of data coming in everyday and it is too much to analyze by any person. That’s where machine learning comes in. It’s the tech end of fintech.”
Raymar says the intro course also covers topics including payment systems, like PayPal and Venmo, plus other digital financial platforms such as the use of Lending Tree, crowdfunding, bitcoin, and more.
SLIM PICKINGS AT OTHER SCHOOLS
Outside of the track offerings at Stern and Fordham, fintech for undergraduate b-schoolers appears to be scarce. At Wharton, their one course, “FinTech: Business of Finance and Technology” taught by Kogan, who is a visiting professor, is in its second year.
“It’s a course that starts with an overview of what fintech is, the main drivers for it, and some of the effects it has on industry as a whole,” Kogan says. “Then we focus on three silos within fintech — lending, clearing, and trading. We examine the application of technology and look at how tech affects financial services. We examine cases, but most time spent diving deeper into machine learning, AI, and blockchain and the associated tools. We look at how the tools work, advantages and limitations, and then apply them through real world data and through coding.”
The school says another course is in the works; a Wharton/Engineering collaboration specifically on blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and distributed ledger technologies. It’s scheduled to debut this coming fall.
At MIT’s Sloan School of Management, undergrads are invited to enroll in fintech courses at the graduate level. The two courses — Consumer Finance: Markets, Product Design, and FinTech and FinTech Ventures are open to eligible undergraduate students. There’s also two courses outside of finance — Future Commerce and Entrepreneurship without Borders — that touch on fintech topics, the school says.
PITT’S CONSULTANCY APPROACH
Meanwhile, at the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Business Administration, a consultancy approach is being taken to put fintech topics in front of interested undergrads. This semester, a subset of students in a course called “Service Learning in Organizations” are teamed up with a mid-market investment bank in New York City working to identify whether cryptocurrencies can be a viable currency for financing commercial real estate and investigating Generation Z’s attitudes toward cryptocurrencies.
Sophomore Trey DeGeorge, who is a finance major and economics minor, is serving as the group’s project manager. “We’re looking for a way to use bitcoin in mergers and acquisitions,” says DeGeorge. “On top of that, we’re looking into bubble potential as well as debt financing.”
The course is part of the school’s Certificate in Leadership and Ethics program and so the students also incorporate ethics into their consultancy project. “Looking into the ethics and leadership side makes it more unique,” says Jackson Williams, another sophomore majoring in finance and business information systems. “Ever since the mortgage crisis, people have been speculative of banks so we take into account the leadership and ethics implications of it as well.”
About fintech as a whole, Donald Kerr, a finance major with two minors in economics and legal studies, says, “This is our generation. There’s obvious news about bitcoin in the headlines, but it’s not just finance students and business students who are interested. People in general are interested in the tech aspects of finance. Even my friends in humanities and the sciences, they are interested as well. People realize that, no matter what, investments finance will play a role in their lives.”
Other schools say they are gearing up to introduce new offerings related to fintech. The University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is planning a course for next academic year, but said they are not ready to annouce it. And Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business just introduced a new elective this semester that focuses on how fintech and blockchain are disrupting financial systems and impacting business.
IN THE INTERIM, CLUBS AND CONFERENCES
While they continue to ramp up their efforts, many schools are boasting student clubs and conferences in the interim. The Sloan School at MIT, for instance, has both a fintech club and a bitcoin club. This year they’re hosting a fintech conference followed by a fintech hackathon.
Wharton students have a Penn blockchain club and a Wharton fintech club and they too are coordinating a conference this year which will focus on blockchain.
As conferences, clubs, and courses take shape, the market is hungry for graduates who are equipped to do data intensive things in finance and have the technical know-how, while also understanding how their business works.
“They want people who can do data science in finance whether it’s a big company or a small one,” Yermack says.
DeRose says there are three areas where students have the most opportunity. “They can help an incumbent financial institution adapt to the new tech way of doing things, they can go to a tech company such as IBM or Amazon and do fun, creative things with data science and fintech, or they can go to a startup or create one themselves,” she says.
“The overall message is, like the world out there, we’re trying to evolve at the right pace. That means helping our students evolve too,” DeRose continues. “We’re actively adapting. This is unique to us. While most schools are teaching the same old, same old, we have this living breathing thing in fintech. Now we want to nurture and expand it.”