Barnaby Matthews had already been working in banking for 16 years when he decided he still needed to learn a lot more about the sector.
“By 2014 I’d become very specialised. I’d always been in equity derivatives, so there was plenty of finance expertise that I hadn’t maintained since finishing my previous studies,” says Matthews, a Macquarie Group veteran who now heads up the bank’s derivatives team for Southeast Asia.
“As I moved into more managerial positions I found that a wider understanding of financial services was becoming more important to my career,” he adds.
To get the extra knowledge he needed, Matthews decided to go back to school in his early 40s and enrol in INSEAD’s Executive Master in Finance (EMFin) programme in Singapore.
“Finance had changed so significantly since my undergraduate degree that much of what I’d studied back then was no longer relevant. The EMFin gave me a big-picture, more up-to-date view of my industry,” he explains.
“And its unique flexible structure — there are six two-week modules spread over 18 months — meant I could fit the course around my job.”
Like Matthews, Kuang Yuan Ler was in a senior role when he started his EMFin in 2013 — he’d reached director rank at Citibank in Singapore.
And Ler also wanted to broaden his skills base because clients in his function, wealth management, were becoming increasingly interested in more complex financial investments.
“The EMFin gave me a big-picture, more up-to-date view of my industry.”
“The INSEAD curriculum took me beyond my comfort zone, even for someone at my level,” says Ler. “It introduced me to new concepts in corporate finance, financial analysis, private equity and corporate banking. And I could discuss ideas with classmates who had different backgrounds — from investment banking to credit risk and research analysis.”
Another experienced finance professional, Marla Foat, explains how the INSEAD EMFin helped her. “The INSEAD EMFin gave me valuable insights into corporate restructuring and bankruptcy, for example. These are specialist skill areas you wouldn’t necessarily delve into during an MBA,” says Foat, a Senior Associate at private equity firm HitecVision in Houston, Texas.
But beyond the hard skills, Foat had an additional incentive for choosing the INSEAD programme. “I could have done an MBA or EMFin in North America, but I wanted a more international study environment where I could work alongside a diverse group of financially minded people,” she says.
The INSEAD EMFin, which typically draws students from more than 15 countries, did not disappoint.
“Although I’d already been in finance for eight years, I learned so much at INSEAD because it was a truly global course — both in the teaching and because my classmates were from different parts of the world,” says Foat. “One day I’d be hearing about China’s shadow banking system, the next about challenges in Africa’s economy.”
“I wanted a more international study environment.”
So, as a mid- or senior-level finance professional, how does the programme actually help you on the ground?
Foat explains: “For example, global deals are increasingly important to my private equity role, and the leadership module of the EMFin taught me some of the key cultural aspects of international business communication.”
Ler from Citibank says adding the INSEAD qualification to his resume is now giving him “a lot of extra credibility” with current and prospective clients. “Having it to my name often creates a foot in the door with new clients because INSEAD is widely recognised as a top-tier global university.”
And the technical knowledge Ler learnt at INSEAD is also helping him at work. “I’m having more in-depth discussions with clients. For example, if I talk to them about bonds, I can go into more detail about price movements,” says Ler.
He adds: “No matter how senior you are in your career, this course will help you better understand the concepts that underlie financial products and services — and this extra layer of expertise will come across when you’re dealing with colleagues and customers.”
Mid-way through the EMFin, Ler was promoted to Head of Portfolio Counsellors at Citibank. “Being enrolled in the programme contributed to this as it showed my employer that I was very committed to the industry and to advancing my skills.”
Matthews from Macquarie also got an immediate benefit from his degree.
“The corporate finance module was particularly useful as I was just getting involved in a joint venture with my firm’s investment banking business, so it really helped my corporate finance knowledge after my long tenure in capital markets,” he explains.
Matthews was one of the most experienced people in his 2014/2015 class, and the average age of the coming INSEAD cohort remains comparatively high at 31.
Foat, Ler and Matthews all say they got more out of their EMFins because they and their classmates came into the course with substantial finance experience already under their belts.
“I believe that you benefit the most from the programme if you’re mid- or senior-career,” adds Matthews. “It specifically aims to meet the needs of busy working finance executives who are leaders or have leadership aspirations.”