On Internship, Future Quant Develops the Excel Skills Needed to Do Just That
Ryan Tom, Now a Sophomore, Taught Himself to Build Formulae in Working for Lender
Ryan Tom’s sense of humor is so dry, you could use it for sandpaper. And given that Asset Based Lending LLC is a hedge fund that specializes in loans to builders and other real estate investors, that might have played a small role in his landing an internship there as a Stevens Institute of Technology freshman.
Still, ask him what he’s most proud of from his internship, and he’ll quip “not getting fired.”
“I came in the door, I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know anything about real estate, I didn’t know how to use the one program I was expected to work on,” said Tom, who’s studying Quantitative Finance at the School of Business. “But by the end of the summer, I was working on these two big projects that were both being implemented by the company.”
It’s safe to say that’s what was expected of Tom when he was hired. He said his internship was a credit to Stevens’ strong reputation in the business community for students who are hard workers able to use technology to solve problems.
The Stevens connection
“I heard about the job through some students who worked as interns there before,” Tom said. “So I handed my boss my résumé, and he said, ‘I don’t need to see this — when do you want to start?’ It was all because of my Stevens experience, and how well Stevens students had performed there in the past. Even if they don’t have any specific experience with Stevens, knowing that we have that specialized set of skills definitely helps.”
Now a sophomore, Tom is beginning to take more advanced courses in the Quantitative Finance curriculum, though like all Stevens freshmen in the program, he got Bloomberg certified in his first semester and has been using high-tech financial analytics tools in the university’s Hanlon Financial Systems Lab. The most valuable tool in his kit now, though, is Excel, which Tom got a crash course in over the course of his work with Asset Based Lending.
“I came in not knowing how to use Excel, to which my boss told me, great, that’s what you’re doing all summer,” Tom said.
After spending a few hours on the first day creating simple formulae in Excel, Tom kept working at it, until before long his work was changing how the company did its accounting.
“It reminded me a lot of my Stevens classes, where we do a lot of presentations, so you do a lot of work in PowerPoint,” he said. In those cases, he said, it seems like an easy step, but the deck quickly becomes “a mammoth monstrosity” that needs a lot more work: “That was kind of the same experience I had in learning how to build Excel formulas. You get a couple formulas wrong here, and the whole summary page blows up — so you take another hour and get it done.”
Building a predictive model
During his internship, Tom worked on the operations side for the lender, which specializes in providing high-interest rate loans with short turnaround times for investors who flip properties for a living. He played a key role in rewriting the company’s attribution systems to better forecast revenue.
Because of the company’s payment structure to lenders and its high upfront commissions and fees, its best months for funding new loans and growing the business actually looked like its worst months, making it hard to track expected cash flow.
“I was working with our accounting system to get a better understanding of where our money was coming from why we had different income in other areas, and changes like that,” Tom said. “I also started working on a predictive model to understand what amount of money we’d need in our hands in order to fund all the loans coming up in the short term.”
That was especially important because the company, with about 20 employees, is not a large bank, so keeping its own loan costs low is imperative. And in a high-risk business like house flipping, seizing and selling the property generally results in a net loss for the company.
If it sounds like a lot of responsibility, that’s because it was. Tom’s role had him working directly with the controller and chief operating officer to accomplish his goals.
Hit the ground running
“They throw a lot of responsibility at you, and it’s learn as you go, there’s no formal training or anything,” Tom said. “That’s part of the fun of working at a small startup.”
That ability to hit the ground running is another trait typical of Stevens students, whose courses emphasize the kind of applied learning that prepares them so well for working in industry.
“You can find Stevens alumni working just about everywhere, and even if those people aren’t doing the kind of work you’re interested in, they can help you get a valuable foot in the door, and employers know from hiring them that Stevens students and alumni are great workers,” Tom said.
He may have felt in over his head when he started, but Tom impressed his managers enough to keep him on Asset Based Lending's payroll part-time as he continues his undergraduate work.
“Seeing the company make changes to its entire accounting system based on the work I did is incredible,” he said.