Interview: Ashwin Sunderasan Balaji (Chem-2016)

Could you explain the program you’re currently enrolled in?

I just graduated in December and will be moving to San Francisco for an Investment Banking gig in the city. Will be doing Mergers and Acquisitions there.
I’m graduated with a Masters in Finance in the Quant track (option 3) at Olin Business School in Washington University in St.Louis. When you want to do a Master’s in Finance, you have three choices
1. Financial Engineering
2. Masters in Finance /Masters in Corporate Finance
3. Masters in Quantitative Finance/ Mathematical Finance

Financial Engineering – Mix of Programming and basic finance. Huge focus on programming. Career outcomes include working in Hedge Funds, Trading companies, Banks where you program financial trading strategies, work with data service providers like Bloomberg, Markit etc.
Masters in Corporate Finance – Core focus on Corporate Finance – Career outcomes include Investment Banking and most finance roles in any company (e.g. Apple, P&G etc.)
Masters in Quant Finance – Combination of Math, Finance and programming concepts. Career outcomes include Portfolio Management, Hedge fund roles like Financial Engineering, Trading, Wealth and Asset Management.

A huge factor to consider while pursuing a Masters is if the degree is the STEM. STEM designation, in essence, means you can work in USA for three years without the need for an H1B as opposed to just one year for a non STEM course. Usually, Only Masters in Corporate Finance is a Non Stem course.
I chose Olin because of the Syllabus and the small class size. I wanted to get into Investment Banking (Usually a corporate finance degree is needed). Olin’s quant program gave me all the corporate finance courses along with the quant courses. When you have quant courses, it becomes a STEM degree, and that was pretty much the plan. An indirect Corporate finance major with STEM Designation

What made you decide to pursue a career in finance What are the challenges in pursuing such a career?

Like most kids, I walked into engineering without much thought. So, while I was exploring options in other fields during school, I had the opportunity to work with Credit Suisse in their Back-Office Investment Banking over the summer. That was my first dive into finance and loved it and decided to stick with it.
Challenges usually involve the steep learning curve and the jargon, which must be learned in very little time as you are competing with people who have been doing this from high school. Also, having a passion for this. Anyone who is in this field for the money will burnout in a few years given the stress in most roles.

What are some things about your career path you wish you knew in college, in retrospect?

More finance roles in general. I wish someone told me the different types of roles in finance and accounting. The only role I was exposed to during high school was that of a Charted Accountant but that is just rubbing the surface of the different roles that are there.

What should one do in college to help their career as a CFA or in finance?
(Advice other than the usual textbook reading)

Read.Read. Read. Keep up to date on Finance news through the Wall Street Journal, CNBC etc.. Watch free online news from which will keep you updated on what’s going on and also get you used to the jargon. Open a paper trading account and try out trading. Will help you understand the market and what each number means. Go out and do a lot of courses online like on Coursera. Network with people and learn more about the different roles

What skills should one develop to follow the career path you’ve chosen? Do include courses, internships etc.

Ideally, an internship is the best way to find your interests and gauge where you stand and what you want to achieve. Have a finance internship. You will automatically learn what skills you need to excel in the career path.

How can one be sure that a certain career path is right for them? What is a good way to make that decision?

You can never be sure. You have to try it out to see if you like it. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I advocate internships during any college break.

How does one effectively transition from engineering to a career in finance and analytics? How important is work experience in pursuing higher in finance? What’s the ideal duration of work experience?

The ideal way to transition into a career in finance is

1. Have a finance internship. Ideally between 3rd and 4th year.
2. Give the CFA level 1 either between 3rd and 4th-year summer or the following year.
3. If you get a PPO at your summer and you like it, work for some time and finish your CFA or at least level 2.
4. If you love your job and can see growth opportunities then stick to your job. Most of them do an MBA Finance after two years of work and get amazing opportunities after that.
5. If you don’t get a PPO, you can do an interim job while you do your CFA and get into an MBA finance program
6. You can also decide to pursue a masters in finance and jump directly into the USA job market

What are the job opportunities in a career for a CFA in India? How do they compare to an international standard?

From what I saw, job opportunities in finance coming straight out of engineering is limited. Even roles in big banks like Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs are usually Backoffice jobs. Usually, need an MBA for the creamy layer of jobs. The international Job market has more roles in the front office and has more exposure. You will be competing with people who have just an undergrad in Business (Finance) and end up in the same role as them although you have a Master’s degree.

How useful is the technical college you gained at college in your career now?

To be honest, not a lot. Engineering has given me an analytical thought process and programming skills. The math does definitely help, but that’s pretty much where it ends.
Some advice, if you are in it just for the money, do not switch. You’ll regret it down the line.

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