By 2015 Linh Trinh had clocked up about two years’ experience as an investment analyst in his home country, Vietnam, and was working in Kusto Investment Management’s Ho Chi Minh City office.
Now Linh has taken his career to greater heights. He’s moved to Singapore and landed a job as a quantitative researcher at a financial data prediction company that uses cutting-edge machine learning technology.
How did he manage to successfully change careers and change countries? It was all down to his decision to enrol in the MSc in Quantitative Finance (MQF) at Singapore Management University (SMU). This one-year full-time programme aims to groom the next generation of quantitative finance specialists – people like Linh – by providing the tools they need to comprehend the complexities of financial markets.
“I chose the MQF at SMU because I wanted to expand my financial skills and get a more quantitative-focused job,” says Linh, who graduated in late 2017. “Singapore is one of the main financial hubs in Asia, so I wanted a Masters that was based there and would give me the opportunity to work in a more sophisticated market.”
Linh was also looking for a highly technical degree. “I have worked in funds management and I have the CFA, so a generalist Masters in Finance wouldn’t have added much to my skills,” he explains. “The MQF appealed because it deals with many different specialist areas – from banking and finance, to statistics, computer science and financial mathematics.”
Specific topics covered in the programme include stochastic processes, investment and risk analytics, pricing and hedging, and quant trading. Upon completing the degree, MQF graduates will be able to tackle practical problems in derivative pricing, risk management and algorithmic trading.
The quality of the faculty members at SMU, many of whom boast finance industry experience, impressed Linh. “SMU’s teaching style is very practical, because the theory is supported by the lecturers’ expertise from the workplace,” he adds. “This meant we could ask them questions about working in finance and get career advice from them. They were helpful and approachable, and always motivating us.”
SMU professors also encourage MQF participants to play an active part in “open discussions” during the class, says Linh. “You don’t just sit there listening; you’re encouraged to give your opinion and debate issues with your classmates and the lecturers.”
The smaller case study groups that Linh took part in were another highlight of the MQF programme and gave him the chance to work closely with other participants. “These are well designed because they simulate the kind of real-life problems that you encounter in a quantitative finance-related job.”
During some of the case studies, for example, participants use programming languages (e.g. MATLAB) to test the strengths of trading strategies against historical data and to solve other financial problems. “I have an undergrad degree in maths, love anything that involves numbers and logic, and know some C++, so it was great being involved in these assignments,” says Linh.
Classmates from other backgrounds also benefited from the exercises. “The people who were new to programming would first read the code of the best programmer in the group and learn from them. That’s why group work at SMU is such an effective and interactive way to build new skills,” says Linh.
The MQF programme attracts people from a range of countries, experience levels and job sectors. “My class included the head of a trading division at a major bank,” says Linh. “I benefited from talking to him and the other more senior people. They shared their industry knowledge and their insights into how to pursue a successful career in financial services.”
Linh says he learned many new skills during his degree. “In particular, my expertise in managing large data sets and my programming knowledge are both now helping me on the job.”
His soft skills also improved. “I’ve become better at making presentations, because I did so many of them at SMU. And the diversity of my SMU class means I’m used to taking several perspectives into account and working alongside people from different backgrounds. That’s helpful now that I’m working in Singapore, which is a diverse financial centre.”
Linh secured his current job at as a Quantitative Researcher about a month before completing the MQF programme. “Employers in Singapore and globally are impressed by this qualification, without which I wouldn’t have achieved my career change,” he says. “I’m pleased to now have a really innovative role, which gives me a lot of freedom to develop new equity trading ideas, and test them using new technology.”
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the country’s central bank, has earmarked quantitative finance as a growth sector within local financial services. “Because it’s highly technical and well-established, the SMU MQF is an effective way of getting the skills you need to break into this expanding field,” says Linh.
To make the most of the MQF programme, Linh says you need to know what kind of job you are aiming for when you finish – for example, risk management, quant trading, portfolio management, or programming. “That’s because at future interviews you must come across as focused, knowledgeable and passionate about your next job. If you can combine that with your new technical skills, you’ll go far.”