I dont really hire MBAs, confides Tat Sang Fung, head of financial engineering for Misys, a British provider of software to financial services and health care companies. My team has MAs in financial engineering, engineering or statistics, but no MBAs.
Fung argues that although MBA graduates still have a function as general business managers, for the quant skills needed in financial engineering, the masters in finance wins hands down.
With an MA in mathematical finance, you wont be able to run a toothpaste [assembly] line, Fung maintains, but you will be able to manage and execute derivatives.
Fung, who teaches part-time at Columbia Universitys masters in mathematical finance program, is at one pole of a growing Wall Street debate over the MBA versus the masters in finance. Upstart masters programs in finance or financial engineering some 70 exist worldwide, says the International Association of Financial Engineers are starting to give MBAs a run for the Wall Street bonus money.
Of course, to compare an MBA with a graduate finance degree is a bit like comparing a stock with a bond. Theyre akin in function yet distinctly different. The finance masters lacks the core leadership and marketing course work of an MBA and instead offers a specialized curriculum geared to providing quant skills.
To be sure, the graduate business degree is hardly obsolete on Wall Street. The MBA ultimately offers you more options, including a financial career, contends Jim Aisner, a spokesman for Harvard Business School. You get a lot of finance but also are taught a broader point of view. According to HBSs career services director, Jana Kierstead, the main value-add of an MBA is not narrow technical skills but critical thinking.
How is retrenchment on Wall Street affecting holders of finance diplomas? The quantitative nature of our program prepares our graduates for a number of roles, says Wendell Collins, director of corporate relations for Princetons masters in finance program. Placement is holding strong, he asserts, drily noting that some Princeton students already have MBAs and are seeking MAs in finance to hone their quant skills. One quantitative measure of the programs success is that applications tripled, to nearly 600, from the class of 04 to the class of 09.
But perhaps even an MBA and an MF wont be sufficient in the future. On the horizon: the practitioner Ph.D. in finance. Offered by French business school EdhecRisk Institute at campuses in London, Nice and Singapore, this program allows students to work full-time while plugging away at Ph.D.s in finance.