Ian Chong, now a Fixed Income Analyst at REDD Intelligence, knew that having the right Master’s degree would be critical in determining the success of the career switch he was aiming for.
Chong wanted to shift into a role that was more analytical and idea-driven, such as being an analyst at a research house, but he didn’t think his Bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance gave him the right foundation to make such a move.
“I wanted a postgraduate degree that was professionally orientated and would better prepare me for the demands of a career in investment research, as well as the CFA designation,” he says.
The MSc in Applied Finance (MAF) from Singapore Management University (SMU) met all his requirement of a postgraduate degree. Being able to graduate in 12 months in the full-time format was appealing. “SMU has a reputation for being very current and industry focused. A lot of effort is made to ensure you can apply what you have learned in a professional setting. This was important as I wanted to get my feet on the ground and start looking for a job as soon as possible.” explains Chong.
He also liked SMU’s proximity to Singapore’s financial district, which made it easy to network with alumni or other finance professionals after classes.
The SMU MAF programme is coursework-orientated and aims to prepare students for market-facing roles. It also follows the CFA syllabus closely. Chong says this enables students to develop a solid grasp of investment research and evaluation techniques, regardless of their work and academic backgrounds.
As part of the course requirement, Chong had to develop integrated financial models for companies across several different industries, as well as appraise their value to equity and bondholders. Many of the programme’s modules also involved challenging tasks that need to be completed in groups. “The programme takes in students from varied academic and professional backgrounds. The group work pushes you to build rapport with others who have different skillsets and viewpoints. I’ve emerged a stronger team player with a widened view as a result.” shared Chong.
Amongst the modules offered (ranging from financial markets in Asia, to fixed income and equities, to corporate finance), Chong particularly enjoyed the electives on private equity and advanced corporate banking. “These were taught by seasoned industry practitioners who have more than cut their teeth in the industry. They had lots of war stories and invaluable tips to share.”
One quality of the SMU MAF that really stands out for Chong is its emphasis on applying academic learning to real-world situations. The university’s highly qualified faculty play a big role in this.
“Having professors who have held diverse leadership and technical positions through challenging times like the 2008 financial crisis really drives home the contrast between what you learn as part of your academic pursuits and the realities that industry professionals face.” emphasized Chong. “It always helps when someone who is teaching you the subject has real-life anecdotes and observations to help bring you up to speed.”
Chong recounted the advice of the professor who taught corporate banking, whose mantra was that bankers did not lend to financial statements, but to businesses. “I now apply this daily in my job as an analyst. I’m always seeking to understand the company behind the numbers.”.
To balance the ‘hard’ critical, analytical and problem-solving skills, the programme also places emphasis on ‘soft’ people and communication skills. “SMU has no shortage of opportunities for you to polish your public speaking skills and string together coherent points on the fly.” acknowledged Chong. “It’s definitely helped me to manage this pressure and I’m now much more confident.”
Not only did the relevancy and coursework give Chong a solid headstart in his internships and full-time job, he passed both Level I and II of the CFA on his first attempt.
Apart from helpful SMU alumni who were willing to share tips and catch up over coffee or after-work drinks, Chong was also impressed with the assistance of the career services team in his job hunt. “There were a few occasions where the career services officer contacted me to recommend jobs. They even offered to help prepare me for the interview.”
Chong highly recommends the SMU MAF to anyone wanting to break into a front-office position. “The programme is a rigorous one, designed to provide you with abundant opportunities to learn and equip you with skills relevant to the real world.” he concluded.
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