The master in finance is a degree for students with little or no work experience in the industry. It can act as a springboard into the world of finance, with most candidates starting their MiF to boost their career opportunities, acquire specialized finance skills, and increase their earnings. It is still a lucrative industry, despite the current turmoil in banking.
While MBA programs for more experienced professionals are struggling with a slump in demand, by contrast, competition for places on MiF programs is rising, with median applications per seat increasing from 3.9 to 5.2 in 2022, on the back of strong international interest, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which runs the GMAT business school entrance exam.
“A combination of factors is driving demand, but particularly the lost opportunities in response to the impact of the global pandemic on exchange and travel options,” says Alexandra Barnett, director of recruitment and admissions for graduate masters programs at London Business School. “Undergraduate students have not been able to be as globally mobile, they have had more limited opportunities to grow their social and professional networks, and have experienced a digital delivery of education.”
Additionally, says Barnett, job vacancies have fallen, and employment has risen recently. “A masters is the perfect opportunity to practice not just your hard skills, but also to focus on your soft-skill development and prepare for a global workplace.”
But how are graduates of finance masters programs faring on the job market at a time of economic uncertainty, a round of job cuts at investment banks, and the fallout from the banking crisis, following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank?
“Employment outcomes still show that the finance sector is buoyant. It’s not without challenge, but the skills our graduates have are in demand, and they are securing roles. We have weathered previous global financial crises,” says Barnett.
She was referring to the Masters in Financial Analysis at London Business School, which trains those students looking to excel as a financial analyst. Some 94 percent of them are employed within three months of graduation, by companies such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, and achieve an overall average salary above £59,000.
Given that graduates do face uncertainty in the job market, what skills would ensure long-term success in their career, and how can they acquire these while studying finance?
“Students who are able to ask creative questions that incorporate the why’s and what-if’s, and not just the what’s and how’s, are well positioned for long-term success,” says Urmi Samadar, assistant dean of the master of finance program, at MIT Sloan School of Management in the US. “Actively participating in classroom discussions, considering alternative positions, and participating in team-based projects that stimulate multiple perspectives, are helpful in developing these skills.”
Regardless, he says MIT Sloan’s finance masters students have been consistently successful in the job market, with 100 percent of those seeking internships and full-time roles securing opportunities.
But it does take work to land a competitive job offer. “I think that a large part of the skills you need are learned on the job. But no one in your job will have time to explain to you how a futures contract works, or how financial markets work. You need to have learned that at university,” says Zeno Adams, the executive director of the Master in Banking and Finance (MBF) at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland.
This is reflected in the rising demand for the MBF course at St Gallen over the last three years. “My feeling is that many candidates look very carefully at which program can help them get attractive jobs in the financial industry,” says Adams. St Gallen’s graduates are hired by leading banks including UBS, Goldman, Deutsche, Citi and Julius Baer, the wealth manager.
“I think that university education is much more than an investment to increase your value on the job market, but many of our students see it this way,” he adds. “I am often surprised that many know exactly what they want and that graduating from our program will help them get there.”
The rise in demand means that competition for a place on a top finance masters program has increased. “Selection has become harder for us. Previously, we would select students that we think would qualify for the MBF and reject the others. Currently, we have to reject a high number of students who we think are generally well qualified and would fit into our program,” says Adams.
Back at LBS, the advice for prospective students is to ensure that you bring your authentic self to the application process. “Much like recruiters, we screen thousands of potential applicants, but we do look beyond the CV. The application process is a chance to reflect on your personal narrative,” says Barnett.