Friday, October 3, 2008

MiF First Month

The first Month of the program is over and we had our first exam yesterday! Now that a bit of the program has passed there are a few observations I have made.

1. Classmates are great. With such a large group there are always some people that you just don't match with but the vast majority of people here are terrific. They are driven and ambitious, but also warm and genuinely nice to be around. Your colleagues is definitely the best part of the program.

2. Core courses are (disappointingly) easy. They are basic courses designed to give a good foundation, but thus far our investments course, in which we had an exam yesterday, leaves a bit to be desired. For instance, one component of the course is bond pricing. In bond pricing the concept of convexity is really important, but in our course that is being left to the fixed income elective course. We are masters students are we not? The course should be more complete and more rigorous. We just began the accounting core course and the corporate finance one hasn't even begun. More on those in a future post.

3. There's a bit of a rift between the MiFs and the MBAs. Many MiFs will openly complain about the MBAs and how they seem to be the focus on the school's attention. In my experience the clubs for example do seem to focus on the MBAs and give only a brief mention here and there to MiFs. The problem in my opinion is that the school does not place enough effort into integrating the separate programs into a cohesive community. I will dedicate a future post to this in detail, so now I will just say that the school needs to do a lot more, especially in the months before the program begins.

4. Companies ARE still hiring. This is the reason we're all here after all... Companies are still coming to campus to recruit and there are still jobs to be had. One bank (I won't name it here) came on campus the other day for a presentation and said openly that they are looking to hire in the same volume as last year. I would say though that especially for the big investment banks, (no surprise) there is a lot more on offer in Asia than anywhere else. Brush up on your Mandarin!

More updates coming soon.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I've arrived.

My plane didn't fall out of the sky and I made to to London late last month. I've been meaning to write on my blog for days but the program ties you up fast! Anyway, after staying on a friend's sofa for a bit over a week (and her clearly growing tired of me being there) my flatmates and I managed to find a great flat in a convenient location. We have 2 huge supermarkets, many shops and restaurants, an underground stop and bus stop right in front of us when we look out our windows.

Finding the flat was an adventure itself. We spoke with several agents and saw 7 flats before we finally made a choice. The agents had some very nice places, but wanted ridiculous deposits from us because we are students. We are not able to pay 6 months of rent up front! Anyway, we were lucky that the landlord to our now residence asked LBS to list his place on Portal. One phone call, a quick visit and a few follow up calls/meetings later the contract was signed and the keys were ours. Moral of the story, keep your eyes on Portal when looking for a flat in London!

As I mentioned above, our program has started. I've met most of my classmates by now and I can say that there are many, many fantastic folks. We've only had the introduction day, seminars for career services, and one class (yes, only one - I'm not sitting the statistics or accounting pre-program modules) thus far, so I am going to hold off on writing about my experiences until the program unfolds a bit more.

Until then,

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Summer Reading List

The MiF program begins in less than a month and I've been spending the last few weeks with some preparatory reading. Why do this in my last free weeks of freedom? The job search cycle begins very early in the term and relying only on my coursework to prepare academically for interviews is simply not enough. There are too many things I need to have at least some knowledge of before walking into a meeting with a potential employer, and unfortunately most of them won't appear in coursework until the electives in the second and third term of the program. So, a couple of books have been my companions on my train ride to/from work. They are:

Paul Wilmott Introduces Quantitative Finance by Paul Wilmott
Paul Wilmott is quite ubiquitous in the quantitative finance world and I've been meaning to pick up one of his books for a long time. The recommendation from both an LBS alumnus and professor at the school for this book finally gave me the impetus to click the order button. The book is great in terms of content; it covers all major aspects of quant finance with a fairly practical bent. It sticks to the point and is not overly theoretical. The main issue I have with this book is that the author makes a lot of logical leaps in his topics without sufficient explanation. The leaps may seem obvious to someone with a lot of mathematical training, but this book is supposed to be an introductory text aimed at students (according to the back cover)!

After getting tired of reading sections of Wilmott multiple times to finally discern the meaning, I started reading John Hull's Options Futures and Other Derivatives (my edition is older than that in the Amazon link).
This book is famous among finance students as being a "bible" of quant finance, and I am sad to say that I've owned a copy for years without seriously reading it. I'm reading it now though, and I find the explanations highly logical and clear, a great book. I do find this book more basic than the Wilmott book however; it's a step down in terms of technical rigor. I think this book is a good grounding for Wilmott or other books. So, after reading Hull I'm going to revisit Wilmott, which should then be more accessible.

Any other good quant finance oriented books that you recommend? Do write a comment and give your suggestions. Cheers!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Quitting Time

I've done it.

I took the plunge and did what has been the hardest thing in my preparations for leaving from LBS - I gave notice to my company. This time of year is peak season for my company, and I was quite afraid of what their reaction would be. Despite worrying about it for weeks however, it really turned out to be a non-event.

I of course wanted to keep my relationship with my employer as friendly as possible in my final weeks and leave on good terms, but I also wanted to be compensated for my remaining paid holiday days.

So, I had the chat with my boss and and told him my intentions, and that I was very sorry for the bad timing. Instead of him being angry, he congratulated me; it didn't seem to bother him. I think he understood that it's already done - that I've made the decision and there was no way to change anything.

To smooth things over, I agreed to work until the last day possible, the day before I leave for London. It's really no problem as the only thing I need to do is pack my luggage, which will not take much time.

They will pay me for the paid holiday as well, so it really has been an ideal outcome. I guess what I can tell readers is that leaving your company isn't something to worry so much about, it won't be as bad as you think.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pre-course Modules

MiF offers pre-course modules on statistics and accounting for incoming students who do not have much experience in those areas. The modules will cover a good foundation for use in the core courses and electives, and do so in just a few weeks.

The modules this year will run in the evening in the first few weeks of classes. That will be a busy time for incoming MiFs with our 3 core courses, club activities, networking, preparing for interviews and adjusting to London. I really question if running the modules concurrent with the fall term is the best policy, but perhaps running them before the start of term would be too difficult.

Why? Not everyone is required to attend them. There is a short exam for each module to determine if we should attend or not. In April the exams were made available to us on Portal, the LBS intranet, for us to complete at home. The problem is that with some 140 members of the graduating class, it takes time to grade the tests. In fact, we just received our results this week. It's now only a few weeks before people will begin to arrive, and it would be unfair to make people hold off on making travel arrangements until this late due to the possibility of being required to come early and attend the modules. So, it seems that the program had no choice but to hold the modules concurrently.

So how about me, will I attend the modules? I studied accounting and statistics both as part of my undergraduate, so I did well enough on the exams to opt out of the modules. So my evenings of my first few weeks will be filled with many things, just not studying accounting and statistics.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Follow Up Comments to a Classmate's Blog

A friend and future classmate, Agent Kermit who writes the FINANTIC blog in my links section, posted answers to questions he received from a reader. His answers are top notch and I think great reading. I have a few comments I'd like to make as well, which is the nature of this post. The original question is in blue, AK's answer in italics and my comment in bold. Also, like AK wrote in his blog, remember that I have yet to go through the program, so what I write here should not be taken as any kind of gospel. Enjoy!

a. How good is MiF, LBS? I mean without an opportunity to intern with an iBank / hedge fund what are your chances of getting into a bulge bracket ibank?

I think doing an internship increases your chances of getting into a bulge bracket i-bank or a hedge fund considerably. This is specially the case if you do not have any work experience in the type of firm you want to work at. LBS MiF program has a requirement that you have at least 2 years of finance experience, but they are pretty vague about that requirement. You could have been working for the IT group in a commercial bank for 2 years and still be admitted to MiF. Operative term being "could have been" since LBS admissions solely makes the decision.

If you think you do not have the right amount of experience, or if you want to make a significant career move, I urge you to consider the MBA program instead. It's a 2 year program, and you have great chance to do an internship between years 1 and 2.

When I go to London, I will root for LBS to support pre-MiF internships since I've gone through a lot of trouble securing this internship, and also getting the administrative stuff done (such as visas). Oxford MFE program on the other hand, provides help for their students to get an internship before the program starts without even asking for it.

I fully agree that if you think you do not have the right experience or some other edge to make you attractive to the recruiters, then an MBA is better. Going in to the MiF without direct experience is a higher risk as these is no internship period, but this can be offset by other things you do. Can you speak a language in high demand like Mandarin or Arabic for instance? This kind of thing can help you land a job even without an internship. This approach is certainly not for the faint of heart though.

b. In your blog you had mentioned that only 30% - 40% of the MiF students get placed through the milk rounds. The rest have to find jobs on their own. This does make me feel extremely insecure. Does this mean that the school does not support the students in anyway?

That's the number I've got from a current MiF student. I think it's more empirical than a rock solid number. But yes, since the timing of milk rounds is a little awkward, not many MiF students get a job offer. Reminder, the first milk round is mainly for full time job offers and takes place sometime around November. Second milk round is around April/May and is mainly for internship opportunities. If you are an MBA student that calendar makes a lot of sense. You do the May milk round for an internship during your first year, and the Nov milk round for a full time job just when you start the second year.

I don't know how much support you get from the school. The people (MiF staff, alumni and current students) I've talked to sounded pretty calm about the whole process, since everyone gets placed one way or the other. Career services is pretty good and they start working with you even before you get a foot in London. They publish resume books, and try very hard to get you placed. But at the end of the day it's up to you to network your way into a decent job, or to present yourself to the prospective employers.

Also remember that many if not most MiF's are not after the jobs available in the milkround. The milkround is mostly for associate level positions, i.e. for fresh post-graduate degree holders. As MiFs tend to have prior finance experience, taking this kind of position would actually be a step down for them; many classmates are already at the VP level. These students find their jobs through recruiters and by networking with alumni.

c. You had recommended that it is always better to do an intern before joining MiF. How long should the internship be? How to go about getting an internship with an iBank? I am currently staying in India. What are the chances for me to get an internship with bulge bracker bank in one of the leading financial centres? ( In my knowledge, it is quite limited... :) Do give your views on this.

i-bank internships are hard to get. Here's why. Their internship applications close sometime in mid to late december. Even if you apply in Round 1 to LBS, you may not get a decision by then. And let me tell you that telling people you have an admission offer from LBS places some weight on your application. So do your best, apply as early as you can, even before the R1 deadline. That way you may apply to i-bank internships before they close.

How long? - I don't know. 2 months should be the bare minimum I think. It depends on the organization you are interning with, and they tend to determine the duration most of the time.

Internships are great if you can get them, but without the use of the career services office and milkround (which incoming MiFs unfortunately don't have) then they can be hard to come by. Finding one really comes down to your skills in networking and honestly, being in the right place at the right time. You might think that this difficulty can cast a shadow on your overall job prospects, but I think the lack of an internship will not kill your chances. Focus on finding your edge if an internship doesn't materialize, just like I mentioned above for the first question.

d. I have also read that networking is one of key aspects for getting a job in an ibank. With a 1 year program, and placements starting within the first few months of joining LBS ( MiF), how can one possibly network and get a job?

I am definitely not the right person to answer this question right now, but maybe within a year I'll have some first hand experience to share with you.

Here are what I know so far. There are school trips to NY, Hong Kong etc. I think it's important to attend those, since every time an employer shows up at the school people would be circling him like a flock of ants. I don't think that's the right way of networking your way into a job.

LBS has a ton of clubs for different interests, you can see the complete list link omitted. You should use these as tools to meet people in the industry that you normally would not be able to.

Networking is what you make of it. As AK said on campus presentations are not the best place usually because everyone in the room will swarm the poor guys/gals from the companies. I think the clubs are a great, perhaps the best way to network. Get involved! Helping to organize a club event often puts you face to face with potential employers. Also, remember that when you become a student you are given full access to the alumni database. Pick up the telephone.

e. I firmly believe that the courses that LBS offers is great. But will the coaching for the first few months at LBS MiF suffice to crack the technical ibanking interviews?

We'll see. But the assumption is you already come from a finance background anyways.

Also, there is nothing to stop you from a bit of self study before you come to London. Any professor who teaches the subject you have interest in can recommend a good book or 2 to crack open in your free time.

f. I understand that LBS has a terrific brand name. But somehow the finer details of the MiF course make me feel a bit sceptical.

Note: AK didn't adress this comment specifically
Like AK said above, most people involved in the program and current students are pretty calm. We were sceptical too, but talk to current students/alumni and you'll see that things really do seem to work out. The placement rate is very high for a reason, and I can say from first hand experience that LBS has weight with recruiters. At a job fair I attended a while back, my conversation with an HR person for a leading i-bank changed markedly as soon as I said I'm enrolling at LBS.

Hope this helps,

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

LBS Alumni Party in Tokyo

This post will read like an advertisement for LBS and the LBS community but so be it, my affection for the place just made a big jump.....

A few weeks ago the LBS Alumni Club here in Tokyo organized a get together for incoming MBA, MiF, and other students. The first part of the evening was a Q&A session where we could ask alumni about all of the questions we have but couldn't find the answers to. Very useful and very kind of the alumni of course; we talked about finding a flat, costs in London, where to find health care etc.

The real reason for my ebullience however was the after session at a nearby pub. The alumni found an English-style pub nearby, took us there and even subsidized our shenanigans (i.e. they paid more than their fare share of the bill). I've always found that you can really have great conversations with people whenever alcohol is in the mix and this was no exception. Alumni, classmates, students from other programs, partners, etc - everyone was great fun to talk with.

I know it's cheesy to say, but this event really makes me believe that I'm making the right choice in heading off to London.