What did you study at Queen Mary and what are you doing now?
I studied Economics and Finance at Queen Mary University of London, taking electives in econometrics and business cycles. I also did an exchange semester abroad at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, where I focused on corporate finance, valuation and public economics (besides of course the usual gelato and pizza). While this semester abroad did lead to a decent amount of challenges, it was probably my best experience to date.
Currently I am working at HSBC in investment banking, in the structured finance team. We advise a diverse range of clients who want to come to the market to gain funding, identifying the best possibilities available. I used to work in one of the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) teams at HSBC, where my role was primarily focused on helping companies buy other businesses. Banking is a challenging profession, where you have to be aware of what is going on in financial markets, able to multitask most of the time and develop effective working relationships with people from across the globe. It is also fascinating as you can gain lots of valuable skills and build your professional network quickly. Plus, you would be surprised by how much of what you learnt in economics can be applied at work.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary? What do you think is unique about Queen Mary compared to other universities?
I am from Budapest, Hungary, and I knew I wanted to work in an industry related to economics early on. London seemed a natural choice because of its worldwide reputation as the ultimate financial capital of Europe and one of the most important global hubs.
Did you return to Hungary after your studies in London? How did living in London compare to living in Hungary?
Having chosen the city, I was attracted to Queen Mary by the great faculty, industry links (think about it, we are just 20 minutes from Canary Wharf and even less from the City) and the fact that despite being in London, Queen Mary does have a proper campus with plenty of green spaces nearby and a great student life.
Despite having been to London twice before starting uni, the city’s scale was quite surprising to me - there are always many things to do after class (besides study), including lectures, panel discussions and concerts. When I returned to Hungary for a summer internship at a brokerage firm in my second year, I not only realised that I had practically no professional vocabulary in my native language (Hungarian) but also that London was much more lively and busier than what I was used to before.
Can you describe what a typical working day looks like for you?
While I try to do my best, the very notion of a typical - or average - day is a bit misleading because of how varied my job is. No two days are the same. I usually start the day looking through emails, answering client queries and setting a schedule for the day. I often work on 2-4 different transactions, building models, looking through transaction documentation and jumping on client calls in case something needs a bit of clarification. I aim to go for a lunch with a friend, which is not always easy to coordinate, despite having around 8,000 people working in the same building! Canary Wharf is a huge ‘city within the city’, as people who work there tend to do their laundry, grocery shopping and after-work drinks close to the office. I enjoy getting to know an interesting mix of people there, but during weekends I prefer to stay in a more relaxed environment.
Towards the end of the day I often participate in team-wide conference calls to set the agenda for the following week or month. I also talk to my line manager and other seniors to make sure that I have covered the necessary work streams for the day and whether there is anything I could progress with - being proactive and detail-oriented saves lots of time and worry later on.
Can you describe your journey from graduation to your current job?
I wanted to dive deeper into subjects that we touched upon during my time at Queen Mary, so I did a masters in Finance at Imperial College. A master’s degree is a good way to learn more about your favourite topics, expand your network and improve your employability. It does add important skills as well, especially if you have a clear idea of what you want to do after graduation. However, a masters is definitely not a must - getting your hands dirty on the job is equally as valuable.
I tried a few things during the summer before my masters. I worked as project coordinator in the QConsult consultancy programme at Queen Mary where we helped a tech-fashion company based in the city to bring a new offering to market: kind of a digital ‘doll’ based on your measurements that you can use to see how the clothing bought online would fit. It is a great way to experience working with other students in a professional setting, often in an area very new to you, such as the fashion industry was (is) to me.
I also went to Madrid to work as a research assistant at CEMFI, a graduate economic education and research institution. I helped analyse a huge dataset with a PhD student - it was so big we had set the code to run on computers in the lab during the weekend whilst we were travelling! Working and studying abroad was a great way to get to know the culture and many amazing people (with whom I keep in touch with to this very day), and to learn how to dance salsa - a must in Spain!
During my masters, I did modules in financial mathematics, corporate finance and strategy. I mostly selected subjects I found interesting but which were not the most relevant for my forthcoming job - my interest is always #1. I received my job offer after an intense first semester and application season in September - December, packed with thought-provoking and genuinely hard coursework assignments. I took a spring elective module in corporate strategy which included topics such as the market for self-driving cars, as well as a thorough analysis of double-sided platforms (such as Amazon). This module provided a lot of inspiration for my dissertation which focused on competition.
Overall, my master’s degree not only helped me to find a job that I find challenging and rewarding, but it also gave me skills for my career far beyond my current job. All of this is on top of the lifelong friendships I made!
How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development?
First of all, Queen Mary gave me a very strong academic background to build on. Concepts and topics covered at Queen Mary have come up frequently during my academic and professional career and I have been able to use them with confidence.
In terms of career advice, I started university with the view that I wanted to become a trader, then by the end of my first year I was deeply into academic research. This changed back and forth during the three years and I was always able to find the necessary career support at Queen Mary.
Furthermore, the diverse range of experiences on offer at Queen Mary aided my self-improvement and confidence in many ways. Debating at the Model UN society, providing academic support as a PASS mentor or taking German lessons after class - there was always something beyond the classroom!
Lastly, it is probably my network that has helped me the most in my career. Lots of people (including my past self) hate networking because they think it is all about mingling with strangers. I’m on the opposite side now: I applied for the university where I ended up pursuing my master’s degree because my best friend from Queen Mary suggested it to me. Your friends are your network and your network is your best career resource. It sounds strange but sometimes a pint in the pub does better service to your career than a late-night library session (bear in mind the “sometimes” though …).
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options?
Actually this would be my advice: consider your career options. There are quite a lot of options out there and you don’t all have to go for the same job. Even if you do, there are many ways to get there so don’t ever be disheartened if you don’t get your dream job straight out of uni (no one really does, that’s why it’s a ‘dream’). Do have your goals but make sure you don’t close yourself off to other opportunities - if you feel like a job in a different continent vaguely makes sense, go for it.
How did you find studying in Italy?
I attended a summer school focused on the economics of the EU at Bocconi after my first year and I really wanted to try the Erasmus experience, so I started my third year in Milan, Italy. I took a short - and very helpful - language course before the school year, which is a great way to make friends - I’m in touch with many of them to this very day.
It was a surreal experience: we dealt with Italian companies in seminar case studies, had gelato in our study breaks and made sure to explore something new every weekend. While in the heart of Italy, Milan is definitely a global city - as a discussion at Bocconi between Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, moderated by former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, reminded me.
Born in Budapest but coming from London and studying in Milan, I was “abroad from abroad”, and maybe that’s why it was the first time that I started feeling homesickness not towards Hungary, but towards the UK. That was also when I started to think that I can call many places home at the same time.
Both from a personal and professional point of view, studying abroad was a big plus. Once I had to go to a rural hospital in the middle of a Sunday night and no one spoke English - using my very basic Italian was the only option. Needless to say, now I am much more able to respond to the unexpected without panicking.
There was an important constitutional referendum in Italy during my exchange semester, and I contributed an article on it to a financial blog set up by the brokerage firm where I previously worked in Budapest. I got to interview students and professors on their opinion, and research the Italian banking sector. It’s great to take advantage of these unique opportunities and learn a great deal from them.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments?
It is hard to define why but for me, Queen Mary always feels like home whenever I visit. The people made it so special for me – from the students with whom I tried to solve impossible problem sets in the library at 9pm on a Saturday during exam season, to the lecturers and class teachers who tried their best to answer my questions. In particular, I am more than grateful for the guidance I received from Yioryos Makedonis, Guglielmo Volpe and Andrea Tesei, but needless to say, many others.
I remember the first lecture of Mr Volpe’s module, Spreadsheets and Data in Economics, in which he told us that we’d need to use Excel on Windows during class and at the exam. As an avid Mac user for years, my first thought was that’s it, I will just quit uni now, end of story. This moment always reminds me that even the smallest obstacles seem large, that is until they’re behind you …
Do you have a favourite spot on campus? If so, where is it and why?
During my final year exam period I wanted to clear my mind during my lunch break, so I went from the library to the Graduate Centre, all the way up to the 7th floor to have my stir-fry prepared at home while looking at the city skyline. I also loved walking through Mile End Park on my way to lectures before a busy day, as it was so peaceful in the morning.
Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field?
Many! I start with my field - my former line manager in my previous team at HSBC. M&A is certainly not an easy environment, and he, as pretty much everyone, always demanded top quality work. But he was also very supportive and genuinely aimed to help me make better career decisions. Needless to say, I learnt a lot from him.
In the wider economics, finance and related policy-making world, I could mention three names: economist Marianna Mazzucato, whose books The Value of Everything and The Entrepreneurial State, made me think more critically about where value comes from and how we define it. The former book’s last chapter inspired the title of my blog, The Economics of Hope.
I love putting my thoughts into words in articles and essays, so I read quite a lot of news on a daily basis. One journalist whose work I follow closely is Rana Foroohar, a columnist at the Financial Times who focuses on financial markets and tech companies. Her arguments are always sharp and to the point and they satisfy my hunger for logical reasoning.
Lastly, I admire the professionalism and efforts of EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, whose job is literally to break monopolies and ensure customers get a fair deal in the Single Market. To me she is the prime example that while putting economics and finance to work for the greater good is often challenging, these can and should be used to enrich people's daily lives.