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June 20, 2011 2:17 am

Diary: Location in a big trading centre proves a boon

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Two years after I completed my Chartered Financial Analyst qualification, I decided it was time to continue my finance education.

I needed a programme that took things a step further than CFA certification and that would help me perform well in my job at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

I had contemplated pursuing an MBA, or a graduate degree focused more on economics.

Ultimately, I found what suited my requirements in the master of finance programme offered by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

It was a big challenge that it was a part-time programme that had to be completed while I did a full-time job.

But this challenge proved worthwhile, given the benefits of being able to apply many of the concepts I learnt in class to my job in portfolio management.

Graduate programmes in business should accomplish three things, in my opinion: give you a great network of students to build friendships with; strengthen your knowledge base; and enhance your career potential.

Before starting the masters, I worried that the relationships I would build in a part-time setting would not measure up against those in a full-time programme.

I had figured that you built close relationships by spending whole semesters, day and night with your classmates.

I was wrong.

In the Rotman master of finance programme, students take all of their courses together as one small class.

The friendships, developed over two years of week nights and weekends, are very strong, both professionally and personally.

We joked at our graduation ceremony that we will probably still meet up occasionally on Saturdays ... just not before 9am.

As I reflect, the degree far surpassed my expectations, and I think that the most valuable part was the way in which the classroom was used.

Simply put, the course designers knew that practical experience has a lot of educational value.

In addition to the academic depth provided by course materials, you can also learn a lot from your classmates.

This was a big differentiating factor for me, relative to other programmes, where students might have less “real-world” experience to share.

The majority of the students are also CFA charterholders or are in the CFA programme.

Some had experience of the buy side and some of the sell side.

Others brought valuable insights from areas such as accounting, law and the corporate sector.

Professors, both from the academic and the practitioner side, did an excellent job of facilitating a learning environment drawing on their own research and experience, and also that of the class.

A few of the courses that we took – including portfolio management and trading risks, and our investment banking course – involved a good mix of lectures and applied simulation to reinforce the material that we covered.

Overall, I found that the courses had a great deal of depth without being too theoretical.

One that I particularly enjoyed was applications of derivatives.

It took a lot of the theory from other derivatives courses and applied it to many of the credit derivatives that have grown in popularity in recent years.

It also examined retail structured notes, and how they are constructed using plain vanilla derivatives.

Toronto is an important banking and financial centre in North America.

It is home to numerous sophisticated institutional investors, and to banks that have earned respect for their risk management during the recent financial crisis.

Having so many financial institutions provides opportunities for students looking to further their careers.

I was very surprised at how many people from my class switched jobs during the two years at Rotman.

This became evident during the first class of our last course.

Our professor was getting to know the class by reading the brief biographies that we had completed before the degree.

One by one, as we went through the list, students needed to give updates to their information.

A vast majority had either changed role at their current employer, or started a new job with a different firm.

Its location in a financial centre has an important benefit for the university itself. It makes it much easier to attract and retain top-quality finance faculty. This is certainly also to the benefit of the master in finance students.

I am happy that I chose a degree that will increase in value as the Rotman Master of Finance becomes well known.

Also, the value of a network of classmates who are destined to achieve success in the financial sector cannot be underestimated.

Pete Dilworth completed the two-year part-time master in finance degree at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in 2011

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