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How to get among the 1% of quants without a finance degree

Investment banks are hiring more students with liberal arts degrees these days, but it stands to reason that quant jobs are excluded from this trend. After all, a lot of quants come armed with PhDs in maths or physics and even then the competition for jobs remains high.

Our own figures support this view; of the 5,200 quant profiles on the eFinancialCareers CV database, less than 1% of people possess a degree outside of maths, science or engineering. But what about that 1%? How can you cut it as a quant without a mathematical background?

Stephen Booth, who until a recent career break was global head of fixed income derivatives at Aberdeen Asset Management and prior to that head of quant and derivatives at Royal London Asset Management, has a degree in Oriental Studies from Oxford University.

He is still reluctant to describe himself as a ‘quant’, however. He pointed out that he was basically a fund manager who knows enough to manage a team of quants.

“In my case I had top grades in maths and physics for my A-levels,” he says. “A basic understanding of calculus and statistical methods is necessary to grasp many of the concepts involved in quant approaches.”

He said that he also taught himself to code, largely because he wanted to programme his own computer games as a kid. Being IT literate is key, he says. Learn how to use Excel and VBA at an advanced level and get familiar with tools like MatLab and FinCad. It also helps to take a qualification like the CQF, he says.

John Fawcett, CEO of ‘quant community’ Quantopian – which allows wannabe quants to pit their skills against one another – admits that “education and experience in rigorous mathematical problem-solving” is integral to any quant resume. Failing that, they need to build up a track record; Quantopian pitches itself as an indirect route to a job by allowing inexperienced quants to show what they can do.

Essentially, this seems like a chicken and egg scenario – getting a job requires experience, but getting experience usually requires a maths or physics degree.

One senior quant at a Chinese futures company – who incidentally has a PhD in physics from a top US university – says that going through the internship route is a possibility for those without a quantitative degree. What employers want to see, however, is that you have the potential to become a qualified quant. This could be a maths background in school, or winning maths or science competitions. Even then, however, the chances are slim.

A senior director at a quantitative hedge fund in Beijing is more blunt: “It’s nearly impossible. Why would you waste time on such a small possibility?”

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