MScs in Finance - an alternative way into banking

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A Master of Science (MSc) in a finance-related subject can remove the tarnish of rejection and restore your allure for banking recruiters.

MScs in financial subjects are far from rare. Most are billed as courses in international banking and finance, or money, banking and finance.

In the UK they are offered by institutions as various as City University Business School, London Guildhall University, the London School of Economics (Accounting and Finance), plus universities or business schools at Salford, Durham, Stirling, Birmingham, Liverpool, Southampton and Reading. Courses typically last a year.

Unlike a Masters in Business Administration (MBA), the possession of an MSc in finance will not catapult you into an associate position. MSc holders start in the same place as other graduates: at the bottom, as trainee analysts.

However an MSc may increase your chances of success in getting on to this first rung. Most importantly, it is a route out of the wilderness that exists once the &quotmilk round&quot and recruiting season are over.

Nadia Capy, in recruitment at Deutsche Bank, says: &quotAn MSc will buy you another year - it puts you back into the 'fish bowl' on campus and networking with banks during the critical milk round process.&quot

The knowledge of the banking industry gained during an MSc course will also mean that you can address recruiters in their own vernacular.

Tim Hughes, deputy director at the ISMA Centre at Reading University, says: &quotOne of the main advantages of an International Securities Market Association (ISMA) MSc course is that it will make you better able to market yourself.&quot

A vague aspiration to work in a bank is not enough. In the words of Professor Richard Dell of the MSc course in International finance at Southampton University: &quotThe intellectual barriers to entry in the City of London are getting higher and higher.&quot

The first barrier comes early on. All banks ask that recruits choose where they wish to work.

Selecting the right division, and developing an understanding of its activities, are therefore crucial to success. However, if you come from a non-financial background, it can be hard to hit the ground running at quite such an early point (applications to be an intern must be made by January in your second year at university).

A postgraduate course in a financial discipline will buy valuable extra time in which to limber up.

Nida Raza, a graduate trainee at JP Morgan Chase, is a case in point. Having studied physics and space science at UCL, she applied to at least 50 banks, made it to an internship in one, yet failed to get a graduate offer.

&quotI was naïve. I knew that I wanted to go into investment banking, but whenever I had an interview it became clear that I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do,&quot she says.

Nida took the MSc in international securities, investment banking, at the ISMA Centre in Reading and gained a place as a trainee in debt capital markets at JP Morgan.

&quotBefore the course, I didn't know that debt capital markets existed,&quot she says.

An MSc can also be a means back into the campus &quotfishbowl&quot for those that have been out of it for many years.

This was the experience of Abid Mian who, having spent much of his career as an engineer, decided to make the shift to finance via an MSc in mathematical trading and finance at City University.

The MSc enabled Abid to find employment with a supplier of derivatives trading systems.

The fee for getting back into the fishbowl is not small. The MSc courses at the ISMA Centre cost 11,000 (E17,700).

In common with other institutions, the Centre requires that students achieve a 2.1 or equivalent in their undergraduate degree, thereby excluding anyone with a 2.2, for whom getting into investment banking is harder, anyway.

It should, however, be noted that an MSc in a financial subject is no cure-all for a deep-seated unsuitability to banking.

If your failings are not related to a lack of knowledge, but to something else, you may leave the course no better off, and 11,000 poorer.

Amanda Whiteford, in graduate recruitment at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, says: &quotIf you're not a good team player, you're unlikely to make it through the application process, with or without an MSc.&quot