The quest for quants

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"It's a black art," says a banker who doesn't want to be named. "Propeller heads," says a recruiter. Quants really know how to frighten people.

It's no wonder when you see the job specs: "Strong mathematical/modelling skills, theoretical mathematical concepts, excellence in numerical techniques, derivatives modelling, discriminant analysis."

And these jobs are breeding. "We've got heaps of quant jobs," says Emma Cassidy at recruiter Bluefin. "They're mostly for risk management in investment banks. Half our risk placements are quant jobs. There's a big push to use people with maths skills to do modelling," she adds.

The head of quantitative research at one US investment bank in Sydney confirms jobs in the sector are replicating faster than bacteria in a petri dish: "The quant world here is strong and healthy. All banks have BIG risk management teams, with skills ranging from highly mathematical through programming to financial marketing."

Harman says the impetus for growth comes from a need for greater professionalism in the sector, and for quants' involvement in an increasingly broad array of financial functions. And rather than being the arcane stuff of introverted egg-heads, he claims most of it is relatively simple and work is appealing due to its variety.

What makes a quant? A master's degree - and doctorate - with a maths focus will help. Cassidy says the more degrees you have the better. She tells us: "A quant with a PhD and five years' experience would get about AU$150k and bonuses of 50% and above."

The head of quant research says degrees alone are insufficient, however. And he contests the view that pay is so wonderful, describing it as "derisory". He adds, "It's so bad I'm thinking of throwing it all in and becoming a journalist."

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