The financial sector is undergoing a digital revolution, spurring a growing need for professionals with a knack for quantitative finance, a discipline that draws on mathematics, computer science, and statistics when working with the financial markets.
In quantitative finance, complex mathematical models are used to price assets, assess risk, and predict how the market will move.
According to the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, 77% of banking executives think that technologies like AI will be a major factor in the success or failure of their company.
But entering the world of high-tech finance requires a very specific set of skills, and business schools have an important role to play in training the next generation of finance professionals.
At Nanyang Business School (NBS) in Singapore, the Master of Science (MSc) in Financial Engineering (MFE) is equipping young professionals with the toolkit they need to thrive in high-tech financial roles.
BusinessBecause caught up with two MFE graduates to find out how the program helped them kick-start careers in quantitative finance.
Growing into a c-suite role—Eng Siong Ang
Eng Siong Ang is the chief risk officer for OCBC Bank's subsidiary in Shanghai, China—a role he was offered less than ten years after graduating from the MFE at NBS.
An economist by training, Eng Siong began his career with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, forecasting economic variables in sectors from property to financial services.
When the 2008 financial crisis hit, the economic uncertainty spurred him to upskill.
“There were questions about how banks would have to evolve after the crisis, and how jobs in finance might change,” he recalls. “With all this uncertainty at the front of my mind, the MFE made a lot of sense.”
Eng Siong was drawn to the rigor of the NBS curriculum, which offered a firm grounding in computing alongside more traditional financial topics. One highlight of the program was studying a semester at Carnegie Mellon University in the US.
For six weeks in the US, Eng Siong’s cohort studied topics including financial computing, simulation methods, and advanced risk management.
“We worked with statistical software to solve real-world problems, such as how to price a combination of options,” says Eng Siong.
“There was a lot of hands-on work, and we really had to apply what we learnt in the program to these challenges.”
The MFE also led Eng Siong onto his current career path in risk management. After the financial crisis, risk management roles were in high demand, and he was able to leverage the programming skills he picked up at NBS to excel in the field.
But technical skills were just one side of the coin. The ability to distill business insights from large volumes of data, and present them convincingly to stakeholders, is another skill he practiced during the MFE.
“Over the years as I progressed into more senior roles, I found this to be increasingly relevant,” he explains.
When he first graduated, Eng Siong joined OCBC Bank as a management associate, and the rest is history. In his current role as chief risk officer in China, he oversees all aspects of risk management, including credit risk, asset liability, and market risk.
“The world, and especially the banking industry, is undergoing a digital revolution, with technologies like AI and cloud computing all transforming how we do business,” he says.
“The skills I picked up at NBS provided me with a good basis to navigate this new world.”
Landing the dream job— Sihan Yu
Sihan Yu first entered the world of finance “by accident,” but it turned out to be a huge passion.
After graduating from her bachelor’s in electrical engineering, Sihan joined PwC as a consultant focused on tech projects. But after being assigned to a financial risk analytics team, she quickly developed a deep interest in the topic.
“Over the years I taught myself a lot about financial markets and derivatives, but after a while it was hard for me to learn more on my own,” she says.
If she was going to pivot careers and join the highly competitive field of quantitative finance, she would need a new toolkit—that’s where the MFE came in.
“It offers everything you need in order to be successful in this field, covering mathematics, computer science, and finance,” Sihan explains.
For Sihan, the fact that much of the program was project-based was a real highlight. This gave her the chance to hone her communication, teamwork, and leadership skills at the same time as gaining technical prowess.
One project required Sihan and her team to act as an investment bank, designing a structured product from scratch. This involved everything from structuring, to pricing, to hedging.
“We even came up with a company logo and pitched to our professor who played the role of MD at a hedge fund,” she says.
Throughout these projects, Sihan drew on the expertise of her professors, who provided tips and guidance without offering all the answers—mimicking a real work environment.
When she graduated, she was able to transfer this skillset to her new career. Today, she is a quantitative analyst—known in the industry as a quant—at Standard Chartered Bank, working mainly on derivatives pricing and valuation.
“I am a front-office quant, meaning we design and implement complex mathematical models that allow financial firms to price and trade securities,” she explains.
Quants like Sihan work directly with traders, providing them with the pricing and trading tools required for them to make intelligent decisions.
“I would say I use 80% of what I learned in the MFE in my day-to-day job—it’s a must-have entry point for quant careers.
“People in the industry call us ‘the rocket scientists of Wall Street’,” Sihan says with a laugh. “It’s my dream job.”