MFM 2017 trip to London

Tuesday, 21 February 2017, 23:10 | Category : Masters
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Greetings my fellow Vlerick compatriots!

I´d say hope you all started the year well and refreshed but let´s be serious.., with just two weeks of Christmas and a big welcome from a couple of exams the first week back, we hit the ground running this year. That was quickly over and then came the following week, the reason I am writing this article: the MFM trip to London exactly a month ago.

Some guys took advantage of the free weekend (a rare occurrence in MFM) and left earlier than the rest of us to enjoy London in its entirety. For most of us, it all started early Monday morning at Gare du Midi, with everyone in their best crisp suit, a mean pea coat and myself in my jeans because apparently I´m the only one who decided it was a good idea to change later in the day before our first visit. Finally, a couple hours later, there we were in London! To our delight, we had to walk from the station to the hostels in the cold rain (see how I used the Belgian sarcasm there?). We checked in, stored our bags and scattered around in groups to explore London for a bit before our first visit.

Day 1 (JP Morgan and Third Bridge)

The first visit was JP Morgan Asset Management. From the second we walked through those revolving doors, we knew we were due for an impressive visit. The tone was set immediately from the second we entered the daunting revolving doors. Everybody was properly dressed, looked sharp and wanted to make a good impression on the prestigious firm. We made our way up and were offered a variety of drinks and snacks in the conference room where the presentation would take place. Mr. Vermeulen, a Belgian working for the company for a long time now, started the presentation with an overview of JP Morgan Asset Management’s history and business.

Afterwards, a younger British asset manager took over and with his energetic and enthusiastic way of presenting, he immediately had the attention of the audience. He mainly talked about the Brexit. It was a word that he did not like very much, both for its meaning and the fact that the word had led to a series of words like Nexit or Deportugal. Since the British people had voted to leave the European Union, he had spent a lot of time analysing the consequences and impact of the Brexit on UK businesses. He also made some bald statements such as ‘Populism will never be elected again in the UK’ and gave us some tips on how to get an internship or a job at the company. Regarding career opportunities at JPM, they hire mostly from the top UK business schools. It also helps if you know someone from within the firm who can help you get an interview, but even then it is not easy. Afterwards in the Q&A, our questions ranged from the trump effect on bond noted to `the Queen and the empire´. Interesting isn´t the word.

The end of the first day at London brought us to Third Bridge. This company, which is co-founded by Rodolphe de Hemptinne (Belgium, Ghent), focusses on delivering information and research to private equity firms, hedge funds and strategy consultants. Third Bridge is named after a secluded area in Botswana next to the Moanachira River, the only river in the world that does not discharge in an ocean or sea. With a car, this is the furthest place that can be reached alongside the river, and hence reflects the company’s vision to offer information to their clients which is often difficult to get access to.

During the company presentation, given by Rodolphe, we got an impression of a relatively young (10 years old) and exponentially growing business in the heart of London. Because of this rapid growth, they have an active hiring policy towards young graduates such as… Vlerick students! Rodolphe gave a very enthusiastic and interesting presentation about the job opportunities Third Bridge could offer us and where he thinks we fit in this picture.

Third Bridge was probably the only company in which we did not feel like wearing a suit was compulsory. This feeling was strengthened even more by the casual network event after the presentation where the employees of Third Bridge, surprisingly, offered us some Belgian Leffes in a (successful) attempt to win our hearts.

All in all, Third Bridge and Rodolphe made a very good impression and it set the tone for a great evening and week in London.


Day 2 (S&P and BLCC networking event)

The next day started early as we had to get to the offices of Standard & Poor’s in the heart of Canary Wharf for the presentations scheduled for 9. The first rush hour jam of the week was quite the experience being a group 46 people. Luckily they had breakfast treats waiting for us as some of us hadn´t had breakfast yet. Some employees presented the company and told us about the work done in the different line of business under S&P Global.

Many topics were discussed during the S&P Session, but a major time slot was given to the evaluation of the rating agencies involvement in the financial crisis, 9 years ago. As a result, rating agencies in general became subdue to tougher rules, and a more formal control system. These adjustments guarantee the future independency of the rating companies. Some time was also spent on the pro-cyclicality of ratings, similar to companies, although in general these ratings are considered more stable.

An interesting point was mentioned during the presentation; unlike competitors’ rating scales, S&P uses a (+) or (-) indication to display the relative standing within the major rating categories. Competitor’s such a Moody’s use more absolute rating scales and do also not provide a rating relative against the default rates on average.

As a final remark, we were introduced to the Bloomberg of sorts used by S&P: Capital IQ is S&P’s financial information service provider, also serving over 4000 clients worldwide. During the very brief overview of the service, it was noticeable how powerful such application can be when used for financial modelling, research, assessing company fundamentals etc. Very interesting indeed and so were the graduate programs presented to us but unfortunately open positions were only available for 2018. A short Q&A concluded the session, and the group took the tube back to Central London after a much appreciated coffee break.

We had a free afternoon so again we scattered in different groups to explore London, do some shopping, visit museums, etc. We regrouped later in the evening for the next event. It was a good evening with great food and interesting people (Vlerick alumni), who shared their London experiences with us. The event was different from the other events and company visits we did in many ways. It was a relaxed atmosphere, we had the opportunity to talk with people about their respective career paths in the intimidating financial centre of the world. Unlike in other events, we got know the alumni more personally. After many conversations later, we had a better picture of the life in London, positive and negative. They told us about the struggle to manage their personal and professional lives due to the long working hours, about the search for an apartment, but also about the excitement of living in such a vibrant city.

Some students had the pleasure of talking to Andrew Swan, the Assistant Head at Chatham House. This is an independent policy institute based in London focusing on international affairs. Chatham House carries out independent analysis of critical global, regional and country-specific challenges and opportunities. In 2016, Chatham House was named Think Tank of the Year at Prospect magazine’s annual think-tank awards, where it also won in the UK categories for International Affairs and Energy and Environment. Andrew previously worked at the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization and at the Parliament of the Isle of Man. Born in South Africa, Andrew further increased his international experience by following Vlerick’s MBA Programme from 2012 to 2013.

We also had the chance to talk to Christy Oi Ling Chan, a former Vlerick student. She did the Masters in Financial Management last year and works at Bloomberg for the moment. As many students of our class dream about working in London next year, it was very interesting to speak with her. She could gave us tips about finding and getting the dream job we are all looking for.


Day 3 (ESCP trading session and Cardano)

The next morning, we went to visit the ESCP Business School, a top-ranked European Business School (just like Vlerick!). Here, we split into two groups. One group started out in ESCP´s trading room. We had a trading simulation session organized by professor Othman Cole. At first, a lot of losses were generated as nobody really knew what was going on. However, a few rounds later, we quickly picked it up and used more and more advanced techniques to beat the market. Overall, this experience really showed us how markets and traders work during the day.

After the trading session, we switched with the other group and we had a session on FinTech organized by an ESCP guest lecturer. Machine Learning, Neural Networks, Blockchain and emotional pattern recognition were all subjects that were touched upon. Useful insights and definitions into the growing world of FinTech were shared with the group as to make us ready for the rapidly changing financial industry. All-in all, this session was of great value to the London Study Trip programme. I really think everybody learned a lot. After a much needed lunch break, we made our way to the next company.


The next visit was at Cardano, a financial services company which specialises in Fiduciary management, Investment advisory and Risk management. Cardano helps clients become more resilient by helping them manage their pension/insurance portfolios. The CEO and staff of Cardano gave us a warm welcome and a great overview of how the financial market has moved over the past few years and how this move had an impact on corporations, especially their pension portfolios. The CEO stressed that the insurance and pension business are major players in financial market.

Cardano provided us a case study “Hostile takeover and the DB poison pill”, through which we had an insightful understanding of different types of pension schemes for example Defined Benefit (DB) and Defined Contribution (DC); and how these schemes affect the balance sheet of the company. The case was very challenging but also very interesting. Our Vlerick presenters, Balliauw Elise and Pieter Decavel, have done a fantastic job in tackling various difficult problems in the case and managing to provide Cardano valuable suggestions for the client. Cardano was impressed with the quality of the presentation. After the presentation, we had a chance to network with Cardano’s staffs, Miss Nicole Xu and Miss Sarah Louise Powell. They were very helpful in explaining the different business activities of Cardano and opportunities available for young graduates like us. They were also very open about their experience at Cardano as well as the life-style in London in general.

Overall, the visit to Cardano was a great experience for us. It enhanced our knowledge of the pension and insurance industry, the very important sectors in the financial market. We believe that the energy and enthusiasm of Vlerick students have also left a good first impression to Cardano.


Day 4 (Lloyds and Blackrock)

Thursday was split with one group visiting Lloyds in the morning and the other in the afternoon. This was an interesting visit as we, and I´m sure you as well, associate Lloyds as a bank but on our visit we discovered the immense and unique role that Lloyds has in the insurance sector. While Lloyds is not an insurer, it serves as a market for insurance companies and hosts a significant number of brokers that are responsible for insurance companies from all corners of the world. After the presentation we concluded the day with a tour of the building and heard many good stories of its´ history.

In the evening we visited one of the most distinguished companies in the financial sector with over USD $5 trillion under management, Blackrock. We felt privileged just waiting in the lobby before they were ready for us. Once in, we had a presentation on current events (Brexit, US elections, low interest rate environment) and how they affected the portfolios of the asset manager that was presenting. To be honest, his explanations of his investment techniques and the different terminologies used left most of us dazzled. Good thing we had the Investments course the following weekend to try to digest what he heard at Blackrock. After that a few students got to talk to the asset managers in person while the rest made their way back to the hostel for some rest.


Day 5 (Bloomberg and Moody´s)

The last day in London came quicker than expected but it was a good one. We visited Bloomberg in the morning and were led by an MFM alumni whom we got the chance to meet just a few days before at the BLCC networking event. From the outside, it looked plain but when we got in we couldn´t stop gazing at how amazing their offices were. Imagine, at the centre of the building, through all floors, they had an aquarium filled with all sort of fish, baby sharks and I even spotted an octopus. But that´s not why we were there. We were brought to one of their computer rooms where Christy Oi Ling Chan and two of her other colleagues gave us a presentation about the company and talk a bit about their journey to Bloomberg. Before we left, we made sure to take advantage the free food and snacks in their colourful cafeteria.

In the afternoon we had the chance to visit another prestigious credit rating agency, Moody´s. We were given an extensive presentation about the company, its´ different departments and opportunities they have for future graduates. After the presentation, it was time for some networking. Not too long after we got some coffee, and headed back to the hostel. We quickly got our luggage from the hostel and made our way to the train station as we were scheduled to leave soon. Although very thankful for the inspiring week we had, you could see it in everyone´s face they were exhausted.

We boarded the train and just when you thought everyone would immediately start napping, a few people decided to give the bar a visit for a drink. Guess some people didn´t want the bar to feel lonely.

All in all, we had a great week in London and were exceptionally pleased with the companies that were scheduled for the trip. Definitely one of the biggest highlights of studying MFM at Vlerick, an experience you couldn´t get elsewhere.

Till next time, cheers..

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