For Professor James Sefton, who will head two new finance Master’s programs at the school, the courses had to be redesigned. “An awful lot happened [during the crisis] and of course they needed to be updated to take that into account,” he said. “Graduates need to learn from our past mistakes.”
Imperial claimed a big scalp earlier this year when two financial experts, Professor Franklin Allen and Professor Douglas Gale, agreed to leave top US universities to head Imperial's new Brevan Howard Centre for Financial Analysis.
At the same time, they announced plans for a new MSc in Investment & Wealth Management and an MSc in Finance & Accounting.
Many others have followed suite, particularly European schools, which have been setting up such programs in droves.
In December SDA Bocconi School of Management, the leading Italian business school, revealed plans for their own master in finance, a collaboration with US-based Fordham University. It is a change from SDA Bocconi's previous Italian offering. Students will spend six weeks in New York, and Fordham’s American professors will fly to Europe to deliver content first-hand.
A band of SDA Bocconi graduates enter the US banking scene each year, but the school envisages closer ties with leading employers. They already have links with UBS, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan.
“Students are going to have a different teaching methodology,” said Professor Lucilla Tealdi, who heads the current Corporate Finance Master. “They will be exposed to American companies and Italian companies working in New York. For them, it will be a transformational experience.”
Prof Lucilla said about 20 students signed up for the new program’s summer test-run. These alumni already work in big banks and financial firms. “We never thought that we would have so much success,” she added.
But elsewhere, the numbers are more depressing. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, 53% of schools surveyed last year reported a drop in applications for master of finance programs. In the previous four years, all schools reported an increase.
This is despite the overall rise of specialized master programs, which have posed a threat to the traditional MBA degree. According to GMAC data, over five years 20% of business school candidates ditched the MBA and opted solely for a master program.
There is more bad news. The annual GMAC corporate recruiters’ survey, which polled 900 business school employers, shows that master of finance graduates are losing their lustre among recruiters. In Europe, only 42% plan to hire such graduates, compared with 49% in 2012.
But some institutions, such as Cass Business School in London, report insatiable demand for master’s courses. Of all the 1,300 students enrolled in Cass masters programs, 1,000 are taking finance modules.
Dr Sophia Taylor from Nottingham University Business School said they have seen an increase in applications for the school’s MSc in Finance and Investment.
A new master in banking and finance has “had very healthy recruitment”, Dr Sophia added. She envisages students going into investment banking or consultancy roles.
Imperial, who expect to take 80 students into a new wealth management course next year, have seen a “phenomenal demand” in applications, said Prof James.
As investment banks have faced reputational challenges, a feast of opportunities has risen in other areas, such as hedge funds and private equity.
Dirk Holshausen from CDC Group, a leading private equity firm which specializes in emerging markets, said its “teams are growing”. The firm, whose portfolio of investments is valued at £2.25 billion, recently returned to direct investing, while maintaining its fund of funds capability.
“Many of my colleagues have MBAs from top business schools around the world, and cover roles ranging from microfinance to direct debt and equity investing, to managing our fund of funds team,” added Dirk.
The need to adapt to changing times has helped these specialist courses gain traction with students – and recruiters. Dr Sophia said that 86% of last year’s class, who were looking for jobs, were employed within three months of graduating.
Asset management is a big area for master of finance graduates, too, agrees Prof James. “We look at hedge funds, bonds, private equity strategy and as well as looking at the big asset allocation questions.”
But he added that money management is getting more competitive.
With so many specialist courses being launched, students are now spoilt for choice. There are also opportunities to take advantage of distance-based learning, which has received rave reviews from most schools. US-based Northeastern University’s Online Master of Science in Finance, and Georgetown University's online MS in Finance program, are considered among the best.
Prospective students are also turning to other professional examinations, such as those which lead to a qualification as a charter financial analyst.
But the CFA Institute, which administers the exams, said registrations fell slightly last year to about 210,000 – although are up from about 170,000 at the height of the crisis in 2008.
Dr Sophia said many of Nottingham’s pre-experience master’s students go on to complete CFA exams. “That gives students an additional grounding. Students are always attracted [to CFA exams],” she added.
Some European schools are in a jubilant mood. This week, new Financial Times rankings revealed that master of finance programs delivered in Europe are considered better quality than those across the Atlantic.
HEC Paris, of France, topped the pre-experience list. Oxford’s Said Business School is the highest-ranked UK institution, while MIT: Sloan tops the US set.
Professor Martin Binks, Dean of Nottingham University Business School, which is in the top-50, said that rankings become more competitive every year.
Jacques Olivier, director of HEC Paris’ MSc in International Finance, said the program is also becoming more diverse – 80% of its student body is from outside of France.
More than a third of the 4,000 pre-experience graduates surveyed by the FT said they also had one or more professional qualification.
For those in today’s finance industry, then, there is a wealth of choice available when it comes to qualifications.
I have met the most competent and diverse batch in this school. These people not only thrive on their own but also makes sure that you are doing it with them. The professors will take your had and walk you through all milestones and make sure you are not left behind. I have found their extracurriculars extremely engaging. There was always a room to have social life after academic life. The only hindrance is the location of the school, it is slightly outside city and living in city is expensive.
Internationality and diversity of opportunities
About my programme I would say it is very international and flexible: we have the opportunity to choose exactly the courses we want. But at the same time, the frame of the campus is crucial in students' life and enable us to create friendships.
Great selection of people
While HEC's MBA is highly selective, I really enjoy the type of people HEC's selects to make sure everybody gets the best out of their MBA experience and networking opportunities. Not only it's an incredibly diverse pool of people (~60 nationalities) but most importantly they make sure to let in friendly empathic and curious people.
Best in France for Grande ecole
A prestigious business school. Languages are important. It is better to have a scientific baccalaureate with excellent grades in high school and good assessments. The courses are well designed as per the latest trends and practicality of learning in stressed upon. Overall, a very good experience.
Diversity and quality of fellow students
Very international and interesting place to be and opens a lot of opportunities, however the administration is very french and facilities are subpar (gym, classrooms) meaning the academic affairs is pretty much useless and lastly we are graded on a curve which can create a toxic environment because of the competition. With that being said the pros outweighs the cons by far.
The quality of the teachers, the campus, the clubs
The school is very international indeed, we have courses with international students and share things with them within the extra academic life (in the social clubs especially). We have great career prospects if we prepare ourselves well - however, the global curriculum is still very finance-oriented, which is a pity for other interesting domains of the company world, which does not rely on finance only. The social clubs are good practice for the management and for now, are quite independent.
HEC Paris awaits you
HEC Paris is really a nice place to do a master's in business. Many classes are useful and interesting (corporate finance, financial accounting, contract law…), some are less - but the curriculum is to be reviewed in the year to come. Regarding the student life, it is incredible, with about 130 clubs, lots of great parties with even greater people. The Jouy campus offers a lot of opportunities to do sports, and you can breathe fresh air every day. HEC also helps a great deal to find an internship or a job.
A dream institute
Enrolling in the HEC MBA was by far the best decision I made for myself. The people and faculty are great, with lots of opportunities to meet people and expand your horizons. Very nice campus where I have had some good running sessions. The alumni network is superb and very helpful. It also has a good support system for entrepreneurs. Would definitely recommend it!