Qualified for a brighter future

by Grace Chan

Mark Seasholes, associate professor
Department of Finance, School of Business and Management
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photo: Edde Ngan

Tried-and-tested business programmes provide finance practitioners with a professional edge

People that invest in boosting their skills and qualifications are sure to reap the benefits as the economy improves. Considering the growing demand for business executives with a finance background, a postgraduate degree in this field can increase a person's career prospect significantly.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's part-time Master of Science in Financial Analysis (MScFA) and Master of Science in Investment Management (MScIM) programmes, launched in 1996 and 2002 respectively, are highly regarded by finance professionals and prospective employers alike.

"Our programmes can be completed within 18 to 24 months and students embarking on their master's degrees now should find that the economy has greatly improved by the time they graduate," says Mark Seasholes, associate professor, Department of Finance, School of Business and Management, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

Professor Seasholes notes that, following the economic crisis, there has been a significant increase in demand for well-trained professionals with a thorough understanding of financial markets and their underlying mechanisms.

"With enhanced financial knowledge and skills, our graduates will be able to return to their companies to make a greater contribution, or find better prospects elsewhere," he adds, explaining that the two programmes aim to help students become better managers, giving them a competitive edge.

Good grounding

Aside from the banking and finance sector, three other areas are in dire need of knowledgeable finance professionals, points out Professor Seasholes. These are the corporate finance functions within corporations, chief finance officer (CFO) offices involved in acquisitions and financing, and treasury offices dealing with risk management.

"Financial analysts and risk management specialists are now playing increasingly important roles within companies," he says. While the former are responsible for estimating the business potential or financial value of projects under consideration by their companies, the latter help to identify and manage risks.

The MScFA programme, concentrating on corporate finance and security analysis, is designed for executives that are working or planning to work in the finance industry or related functions. Focusing on asset and risk management, the MScIM programme on the other hand is aimed at finance professionals wanting to acquire advanced specialist skills in these two areas.

Both degrees require students to complete courses on accounting, economics, quantitative and computing skills, asset valuation and financial derivatives in the first year of study.

Students are allowed to move freely between the two programmes in the first year of the curriculum. Once they have elected a stream to continue in, they can still choose to specialise in either one concentration or two.

Practical context

Professor Seasholes notes that the MScIM programme was slightly more popular than the MscFA programme in the past, but the interest this year was evenly divided. "Risk management and corporate finance are areas of growing importance," he adds.

Both programmes prioritise applicability and practicality. Elective and specialised courses covering the latest business knowledge and developments in financial markets are also offered. A number of these are taught by experienced practitioners and experts in the field.

"The latest topics and issues in the field are scrutinised, either via case studies or through online or classroom discussions, homework assignments or projects," Professor Seasholes explains. "This enables students to apply their newly gained knowledge in a real business context."

The subject matter is also designed to help students prepare for the Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) examinations, incorporating relevant revision courses.

Students can choose from two different schedules for core and required courses—Saturday classes only, or evenings plus Saturday afternoons—depending on their working patterns.

Professionals working in sectors from corporate finance or restructuring, hedge funds and venture capital to insurance companies, accounting or legal firms and regulatory bodies can take the opportunity to upgrade their existing skills and refresh their industry knowledge, says Professor Seasholes. One additional benefit is the opportunity for networking, mutual learning and experience sharing that postgraduate study offers.

Students tend to have an average of seven to eight years of work experience, an honours degree from a reputable university and a good Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) score. More than half of them hail from the finance industry and about a third in information systems and general management.

Applicants are subject to a strict selection process. Those short-listed are interviewed on their current jobs and ultimate career goals. "We had a four-fold increase in applications for our last intake, and again aim to admit 100 to 110 students for the 2010-11 academic year," Professor Seaholes remarks.

Added value

  • Increased demand for well-trained finance professionals
  • Master's programmes produce finance experts with management skills
  • Flexible, part-time studies cater for working professionals
  • Strong emphasis on practicality and applicability

Taken from Career Times 15 January 2010, A14

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