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FINTECH: Elite Business Schools Are Teaching MBAs About Bitcoin's Blockchain — This Is Why

And executives are flocking to courses on the disruptive digital ledger

Sat Nov 12 2016

There are few more thrilling topics in the world of high-finance than blockchain, the digital ledger that emerged with the cryptocurrency bitcoin. Advocates tout the blockchain's potential uses in revolutionizing the way money is moved around the world by slashing the costs and time required for cross-border transfers, remittances and corporate payments.

So as we’ve previously reported, it should be no big shock that the world’s best business schools are rushing to roll-out content on the subject.

That adoption, however, is gathering pace, as the world's biggest financial institutions race to adopt blockchain technology to lower administrative costs, create quicker settlement time and provide revenue opportunities through innovative products and services.

Nothing signals this shift more than NYU’s Stern School of Business, which launched this summer an entire fintech MBA elective that explores blockchain and digital currencies in-depth.

That program roll-out follows a host of similar moves by top-ranked schools, such as Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, which offers the Innovation and Cryptoventures course.

The wider fintech curriculum — which includes peer-to-peer lending, financial data analytics and entrepreneurship — will have to be taught at every business school, argues Professor David Yermack, chair of NYU Stern's finance department, because employers will demand it.

That's because while many executives see the value proposition for blockchain, decision-makers have insufficient understanding of the technology, says a report from Accenture.

"Providing education to employees and executives continues to be critical for the near-term," says Richard Meszaros, connected commerce lead at Accenture Digital.

That explains why NYU Stern launched a two-day executive course on bitcoin and the blockchain in 2015. Others have since followed suit. Cambridge University’s Judge Business School plans to plans to offer programs to executives on blockchain’s disruptive potential this year.

“Think of somebody working for a bank — the big worry for you is that you have a bunch of legacy IT systems, and there are five people in a loft somewhere who are picking away at one of your core profitability measures,” says Raghu Rau, professor of finance at Cambridge Judge.

If demand is high from employers, it’s veracious from b-school students themselves. Matt Applegate is VP at Wharton FinTech, a club of MBAs with a bent for the sector. He says Wharton School students are excited about blockchain and the club is actively engaging with companies in the space, including BlockCypher, a blockchain web services start-up, and Blockchain, the bitcoin wallet.

Such ventures as well as the incumbents betting on blockchain are opening up new career opportunities for b-school students, says Richard Bland, head of finance careers at London Business School.

According to HEC Paris, a top French business school, fintech start-ups like GoCardless now vie with investment banks for digitally skilled, entrepreneurial recruits. Their growing appetite for MBAs was on full display at HEC Paris' second annual Fintech Talent Fair last month, which featured start-ups like PayinTech and large financial institutions such as Bloomberg and BNP Paribas.

William Kunter works for N26, a German app-only bank that's backed by Peter Thiel. He says the start-up, which has 200,000 customers, 140 employees and this summer raised $40 million, is hiring business school students for internships and full-time posts.

“We’re always looking for good candidates. We’re well aware that the success of a start-up really depends on its ability to hire the best and brightest,” he says.

Many of these fintech start-ups were founded by MBAs, including Stanford University graduate Nick Hungerford, who launched online wealth manager Nutmeg, and INSEAD MBA Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of cash transfers business TransferWise.

Christian Catalini, assistant professor of technological innovation at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, who launched an intensive three day course on blockchain for MBAs, says such programs help students turn entrepreneurial opportunities into high-growth start-ups.

Marieke Flament, a London Business School MBA, founded the European business of Circle, a US fintech start-up that lets people instantly send payments — and GIFs and emojis — in a message via the blockchain.

She says the network was the most valuable b-school asset in launching Circle Europe. “I have a network of people who work at Google and Amazon — the best breed of superstar companies — and entrepreneurs. That is hugely valuable.”