Ben Harrington-Lowe, an Associate Director at Macquarie Group in London, knew he wanted a master’s degree that would enhance his finance skills and make him a better manager.
There was a problem, however: “I was originally looking at an MBA and had even done some GMAT revision, but on top of the course fees, most programmes required taking a year or two off work. For me, that huge additional expense wasn’t worth it.”
Harrington-Lowe didn’t like the idea of part-time MBAs either, as most involved weekend classes. “It’s very hard to suddenly switch from work to study for just two days. And you can’t go too deep into any topic for that short a period.”
He soon turned his attention to Master in Finance programmes, which he saw as more relevant to his job in the banking sector. But he needed an Executive Master in Finance (EMFin) that was flexible enough to let him continue his successful career at Macquarie, a bank that he’d been with since 2006.
The degree contains six modules (each lasting two weeks), spread out over 18 months. This means you can study at one of the world’s top business schools while staying in your job, says Harrington-Lowe, who graduated in 2015.
Five of these modules take place at INSEAD’s Asia campus in Singapore, while one is held at the Europe campus in Fontainebleau (France), giving you an experience of two very different global business environments. All students study core finance and accounting modules and there’s a range of other topics on offer — from private equity to financial negotiation.
“The return on your investment is much higher.”
For EMFin graduate Himadri Bora, a Principal at private equity firm Start Consult in Dubai, this course structure made all the difference.
“If I hadn’t found the INSEAD EMFin programme, I probably wouldn’t have even done a master’s. The opportunity cost of stopping my job would have been too great, especially since I was already 10 years into my career. Taking a big break gets harder the more senior you become,” explains Bora.
Shweta Gandewar, Assistant Director of Asia Pacific employer engagement at INSEAD, says the EMFin is designed to meet the practical needs of working professionals like Bora and Harrington-Lowe. “We let you experience campus life but with no loss of salary, so the return on your investment is much higher.”
This flexible “work-study” arrangement is also popular with finance sector employers, says Gandewar. “Compared to taking a larger break from work, it’s much less risky for employers to allow you stints of two or three weeks, so it’s not uncommon for them to sponsor our EMFin students.”
Gandewar also describes the INSEAD EMFin as “intensive learning”. “You’re all thrown together in a new country — most of our students aren’t from Singapore — for a condensed period, so you’re immediately working closely with your classmates on assignments and sharing valuable business knowledge with them.”
This gives the course a lot of “momentum”, adds Bora. “At the start of each module everyone arrives all charged up to get things done in the allocated time. No matter where you’ve just arrived from, you want to take full advantage of your time at INSEAD, and that creates a great atmosphere both inside and outside the classroom.”
Harrington-Lowe agrees: “Module-by-module concentrated learning really appeals to me. You get to be away from work for a couple of weeks and totally immerse yourself in the course. And you work day after day with the same people, which enhances the whole experience. You have more time to debate concepts in class, for example.”
He also enjoyed how each day was structured, but says you need to “work hard” to deal with the demands of intensive learning at INSEAD. “There’s typically a morning and afternoon session. Each one starts with theory, followed by a discussion and finally a real-life case study. And when the campus day ends, you need to dedicate time to working on presentations and studying for exams.”
INSEAD EMFin students should also make sure they leave their day jobs in good shape each time they head off to Singapore, advises Harrington-Lowe.
“It’s important to put a lot of effort into planning for being away — it’s not like taking a one-week holiday. Do extra work in advance to cover your time-off and get your colleagues up to speed. This will ensure you’re not pulled back to the office while you’re at INSEAD and can take full advantage of every aspect of the course.”
Bora believes it’s also crucial to come to campus well-prepared. “INSEAD sends you study materials about two months before each of your stays in Singapore. The people that put the most effort into their advanced reading generally cope better with intensive learning.”
The INSEAD EMFin aims to prepare the next generation of financial leaders. Next year’s programme will bring together 38 people from 14 countries, each with an average of seven years’ work experience.
“My class was also very diverse and it was great being able to gain new knowledge from them,” says Harrington-Lowe. “The intensive learning structure at INSEAD helped us to bond really well together as a group.”