"10 years ago, everyone we hired had an MBA or CFA. Not any more"

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Shary Mudassir has been in banking a while. He joined RBC Capital Markets in 2009 and worked his way up from an associate on the capital markets rotational programme to become a managing director in global equities trading. Like plenty of people in finance, he has an MBA, but he also has something more: an MSc in predictive analytics which he took while working at RBC. For Mudassir, this is the future.

When he joined RBC nine years ago, Mudassir says 90% of people joining the equity trading unit typically had either an MBA or CFA. Now, he says a similar proportion are math, science, engineering or technology (STEM) majors.

“It’s a complete reversal – I joined in 2009, and RBC at that time was just ramping up the electronic trading side of things, taking a very traditional model of trading stocks over the phone with clients and moving to an automated approach to using technology for trading stocks,” Mudassir says. “We were part of a global team that was able to use software engineering while being involved in trading.

“As time has gone on and the bank has evolved, more and more business has shifted to the electronic, algorithmic style of trading, and for the last three-and-a-half years, we’ve been incorporating AI and machine learning.”

Mudassir should know. He's a director in global algorithmic trading for RBC and is building out the bank's algorithmic trading strategies for its equities platform as the bank is busy opening artificial intelligence labs in Toronto and Montreal. As such, he's at the forefront of the new move to introduce AI and data science into everything from compliance to the trading floor, including the opening of a new AI workspace later this spring.

While there are still plenty of CFAs and MBAs around, Mudassir says it's STEM expertise that is now lacking. And the only way to bridge the gap is to hire students. “Not enough people are doing this work in Canada," says Mudassir. "You have to create and build that resource pool internally by recruiting students with a STEM or engineering background.

“Our focus is broadening beyond one or two desks on the equities side – we’re building that out.”

The shift away from traditional MBAs and CFAs is symptomatic of a broader shift in the nature of trading, says Mudassir. “The business has evolved from requiring effective operators to builders and creators who can analyze large data sets using statistical tools and use that analysis to build trading platforms.

“We need people with a tech and STEM background who can continuously monitor the performance of these systems to further enhance them,” he says. “The entire lifecycle has a technical quantitative component to it.

“The push to become a digitally enabled bank of the future comes from up high – we’re focused across the bank on hiring technically inclined talent to supplement the finance talent we have.”

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