In the Finance Industry, Change Comes Quickly. Staying Ahead is Stevens' Specialty
Working Alongside Corporate Partners, Faculty Announce Significant Restructuring of Graduate Finance Programs
As Bob Hudak was building the corporate finance advisory practice at Mizuho, he had an opportunity to reflect on just how much was changing in the financial services investment banking industry thanks to rapid, continual advances in technology.
“As I saw the world and the financial markets becoming more complex, there was a need to do more sophisticated quantitative financial analysis to understand risks and potential outcomes,” said Hudak, a managing director at the global financial institution. “You could now provide CFOs, treasurers and business development officers with much better analysis, and allow clients to make more informed decisions, through the use of these new statistical and mathematical tools.”
It’s what led him to the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology, where Hudak now sits on the board of advisors to the school’s slate of financial programs. There, he offers input that helps shape the direction of these programs, ensuring graduates are prepared for this fast-changing, technology-intensive industry.
The school has just announced significant refreshes to its Finance and Financial Analytics master’s programs, guided by input from Hudak and the other members of the board, who represent a diverse range of roles at some of the largest players in the industry.
“When I meet with Stevens faculty, they always ask what the current skill set needs are,” Hudak said. “And I’ve been delighted to see that not only do they listen to my feedback, they evaluate and continue to make changes to give the students that relevant and comprehensive education.”
Agility in anticipating industry needs
The curricular changes are partly a response to changes in industry — a credit to Stevens’ agility in creating and maintaining its programs — and partly a result of a strategic hiring plan designed to diversify its finance expertise, said Prof. Suman Banerjee, academic coordinator for the master’s program in Finance. In just the last five years, Stevens has hired professors who are thought leaders in corporate finance, machine learning, accounting, risk, financial innovation, portfolio design, economics financial analytics, currency risk and international finance.
“Our real strength is the diversity of our portfolio — whether you want a traditional finance degree with that technology infusion, or something deeper like Financial Engineering,” he said. “Our strategic hiring has helped us expand our breadth without hurting our depth. We’ve got the right program for our students, no matter what their career interests might be.”
Among the new faculty hires is Dr. Emmanuel Hatzakis, whose 20-year career at the largest financial services companies offers a different kind of perspective on the changing landscape.
“We’re directly across the Hudson River from Wall Street, so all of our faculty have great connections to industry,” said Prof. Hatzakis, director of the Finance and Financial Engineering programs. “And we also maintain close ties to our alumni, who are invaluable in providing regular feedback on the new skills that are needed on the Street.”
The ability to draw in industry advisors like Hudak and Claire Mezzanotte, group managing director and head of structured finance at DBRS Morningstar, is one way Stevens ensures the real-world value of its finance programs.
Mezzanotte advocated for a larger emphasis on structured finance in the curriculum, which is being addressed through new courses in M&A, corporate restructuring, risk analytics and others.
“A fundamental understanding of structured finance — one that combines quantitative and qualitative analysis — will be beneficial in many ways,” she said. “I expect the Advanced Data Analytics and Machine Learning course to help students develop useful skills, as the ability to understand, handle, use, analyze and report on data is extremely important. It touches everything we do.”
Pairing data analysis with business skills
Also critically important to both Mezzanotte and Hudak is a focus on business skills like presentation and communication — something that can be easy to lose track of in a tech-intensive curriculum, but one Stevens is addressing through a prerequisite course and a capstone consulting opportunity.
“Understanding how to present data in a manner that is digestible and useable by senior leaders is a crucial element to working with analytics,” Mezzanotte said.
Hudak specifically identified international finance as an area of need for Stevens’ graduate programs, which led to Prof. Ying Wu developing a new course based on a class she teaches at the undergraduate level.
The course is different each year, Dr. Wu said, because she surveys students on their backgrounds and career objectives at the start of term, then customizes her plan to meet those needs.
“In the undergraduate course, I spend a lot of time covering fundamentals, but at the master’s level, we’ll be able to introduce more technical matter and more analytics, which we know is something they want and need to solve problems at work,” she said.
She plans to continue to involve guest speakers from industry — a key feature of the undergraduate course — and hopes to get students involved in writing, not just reading, case studies.
“My objective, long term, is to have a library of case studies developed with our business students that are accessible not just to Stevens, but to universities around the world, which will raise our profile and that of our students,” Prof. Wu said.
Meanwhile, Prof. Majeed Simaan created a course, Advanced Financial Risk Analytics, in which students will use their foundational knowledge in capital markets, risk, predictive modeling and statistical learning to explore new applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence in solving problems.
“We’re not just looking at the markets, but also operational issues,” Dr. Simaan said. “For instance, moving to machine learning could be a challenge for banks. Machine learning might apply ZIP code data in determining whether someone gets a mortgage, which would run afoul of regulations. So we’ll look at some techniques that allow you to think about and deal with these issues.”
Unique focus for a business school
Prof. Simaan is an expert in risk who uses quantitative finance tools, machine learning and textual analysis in studying financial problems. That’s a unique perspective for a business school, said Dr. Ionut Florescu, director of the Financial Analytics program.
“Dr. Simaan’s course is going well beyond what the industry is doing currently,” Prof. Florescu said. “He’s introducing new techniques that companies aren’t talking about now, but will become prevalent a few years down the line — which further demonstrates how our courses are truly cutting edge.”
That’s a point Hudak readily agreed with. The Wharton MBA grad is a recruiting captain at his alma mater, and he said a Stevens education is on the level of Wharton’s.
“What impresses me most about Stevens faculty is their desire to ensure students have all the skills needed to both compete at firms of choice against graduates from other top schools, and also have success throughout their careers,” Hudak said. “I’m very proud of my Stevens affiliation and truly enjoy seeing how successful these students are when we hire them at Mizuho.”