Masters' programs - tomorrow is our business

HEC Paris paving the way in the world of Finance programs

14 Nov 2014

HEC professors are always thinking about new ways to teach finance. On top of its existing programs, which are highly successful, two innovative new programs will be introduced in 2015, including a unique MBA-MSc dual degree. What are the best practices behind these exciting moves?

finance-department-campus-hec

The HEC Finance department has found ways to constantly re-invent itself in light of the challenges of the 2008 financial crisis. Its MSc in International Finance (MIF) has been number 1 worldwide in the Financial Times rankings ever since this ranking existed (2011). Its research professors consistently produce top-tier publications. Its PhD students have joined the faculties of leading American business schools. And in order to keep pace with the training requirements of the market, its programs are constant sources of innovation. Just what is the driving force behind our school’s dynamic Finance department?

A Faculty of excellent professors, who combine theory and practice

“Finance at HEC first and foremost means the excellence of our faculty. We have many leading international researchers, including Laurent Calvet, David Thesmar and Thierry Foucault. The latter two are associate editors of the Journal of Finance, the world’s leading academic journal in the field.” explains Jacques Olivier, Professor of Finance and MIF Program Director. The new guard is equally impressive: following in the footsteps of his elders, Christophe Pérignon has just received the Best Young Researcher in Finance award from Europlace Finance Institute. Alongside these renowned research professors, the HEC Finance department can rely on its affiliate faculty, experienced practitioners both in capital markets and corporate finance. “The financial crisis has shown that understanding mathematical models is not enough, and that it is essential to understand the underlying economic mechanisms: the department’s most recent recruits reflect this issue.” Daniel Schmidt for instance, a research professor specialized in behavioral finance who joined HEC in 2013, studies the impact of irrational behaviors of investors in the market. And a new course on financial regulation will be taught this fall by a researcher from the ECB specialized in the subject : “It’s important for HEC to raise awareness and interest for these subjects among our students,” Jacques Olivier says.

An exclusive and supportive environment

“The strength of our teaching also comes from an HEC trademark: just like the school, the Finance department is close-knit, and there is a collaborative community among research professors, PhDs, students and alumni.” Each year, HEC trains 150 students in finance in the pre-experience segment: around 60 in the Finance Major of the Grande école Master in Management, and 90 in the MIF program. “They are split into three different groups, with no more than 50 students in the classroom, while our English-speaking competitors sometimes have more than 200 students in an auditorium.” HEC thus offers optimal learning conditions that encourage quality interaction among peers and with the instructor. Another area where the school differentiates itself is on the particular attention it pays to its students. “The MIF prepares its students for the job market starting in the first week of the program: we explain the codes of the field to them, prep them for interviews, and more.” This training is reinforced by the involvement of alumni alongside the faculty: “The special bond that alumni have with their alma mater is one of the keys to our success,” Jacques Olivier says. Each year, the Finance Major and MIF classes cross the Channel for an exclusive annual “study trip”. Last year’s event was organized with the support of HEC Alumni UK and its president, Loïc Fery (H.97): “During formal and informal meetings, our students can get to know alumni who work in the City, and have a chance to talk with them.” A few months later, these contacts may have a more concrete outcome... job offers.

A magnet for top-level international students

In 2008, there were 35 MIF students. In 2014, while applications for finance specializations dropped by half worldwide, that number shot up to 90. The program was able to grow despite the difficult economic climate because it knew how to thoroughly reinvent itself in order to attract the very best international recruits. 80% of the students in the MIF course – where all classes are now taught in English – are foreigners who come from the best international institutions. The program was also revamped to cater for all student backgrounds. The MIF Business Track was tailor-made for business school graduates who already have some knowledge in finance, while the Accelerated Track provides students with other backgrounds – such as engineers – with accelerated training. The MIF is thus open to excellent students with impressive academic backgrounds: UCLA, Yale, and Wharton alumni rub elbows with graduates of LSE, Polytechnique, Bocconi, and Saint-Gallen. The program welcomes economists, engineers … and even this year a PhD graduate in nanotechnology looking to pursue a career in venture capital! “This mixture of well-rounded students from exceptional backgrounds, with highly technical skills, is the reason our program is so successful,” says Jacques Olivier.

A long tradition of pedagogical innovation

HEC constantly rethinks its training to adapt to the needs of the market. “Pedagogical research is in our DNA. In 1986, HEC was the first school in the world to launch a Master’s in Finance,” notes Jacques Olivier. “This type of program has become one of the world’s most highly recognized international standards of business education, along with the MBA and the Master in Management.” “It was created in response to the opening of MATIF in 1986 (ed.: Marché à terme international de France / French Clearing House), which created a great deal of enthusiasm for finance in France. It successfully trained several generations of financial engineers,” says Michel Crouhy, director of Research and Development at Natixis, who founded the program. Faithful to this tradition, HEC continues to innovate today to respond to the growing complexity of financial products: “The financial crisis has proved that – more than ever - skills need to be updated. Next year, we are going to launch two new programs: an Executive MSc in Finance (Exec MIF), a very high-end part-time executive program (see box), and a unique program that HEC will be the first to offer: an MBA-MIF dual degree,” says Jacques Olivier.

The MBA Dual Degree : the best of both worlds

The MBA-MIF dual degree is a bold innovation, unparalleled among top business schools. It was created after observing that in the wake of the crisis, investment banks slowed their recruitment of MBAs, judging that some of them did not have enough technical financial knowledge. To bolster their skills, HEC decided to create an integrated curriculum combining the MBA and MIF programs over 20 months: “Courses in finance, accounting, and statistics are given in the framework of the Master’s; other disciplines are taught in the MBA,” explains Jacques Olivier. “Students will thus get specific advantages from each program: the high level of technical knowledge from courses taught in the MIF, and the exposure to the different backgrounds of MBA participants, which makes the program such a success.” The best of both worlds! The MBA-MIF dual degree was structured to avoid redundancies in the curriculum, and to allow students to take the right courses at the right time for their careers. The target market? A little younger than for a traditional MBA: 2-5 years of professional experience at most, because “the technical training of the MIF is most useful at the early stages of a career in finance.”

Towards a new standard of global excellence?

Want to be admitted to this new program? Then you’ll need to meet the admissions criteria of both the MBA and the MIF. “We are going to be extremely selective,” says Jacques Olivier. “We will start with a smaller group, of 10 to 20 students at most. Eventually we would like this program to be established as a new standard of excellence, like the Master’s which we created in 1986. So we need time.” Upon the launch of the MBA-MIF dual degree program, a panel discussion between HEC professors and HR managers from large investment banks was held in London, on the topic “Financial careers: new skills for a new industry”. The meeting gave rise to fruitful discussions on the future of finance and the teaching thereof. There’s no doubt that the Finance@HEC ecosystem is well on its way to success!