by Michael Bacchus
I would like to thank the Queens College Economics Department for the opportunity to speak before you here today. And Thank you to all the students and family and friends, as this evening is really about you. Its been quite a long time since I stepped foot on the Queens College campus. I have very fond memories of my time here and the experiences with classmates and professors.
I would like to give you a little background about me. My family and I immigrated into the United States in the mid 1980’s and settled into a middle class neighborhood in Queens. I attended public schools and was not a particularly motivated student. The high school I attended, centered in Jamaica Queens was not known for high quality education or a highly motivated student body. Fights were a common occurrence inside and outside the school. The school halls were patrolled by NYC police officers and metal detectors were the first thing that greeted you as you entered the building. Suffice it to say, it was not an environment conducive to learning. But the problem wasn’t just the school, the problem was also me. I had no interest in academics. I barely studied, hardly read, and performed poorly throughout my high school years. Somehow, I managed to gain acceptance to Queens College-by the way, I’m still trying to figure out how that happened. At Queens College, the lack of focus, purpose, and drive continued. I routinely received C’s as grades, except for the easy classes and appeared to be continuing down the same road as I was in high school. However, about halfway through my college years, I was sitting in my room studying and started thinking about what I was doing with my life. I was 20 years old, two years away from graduation and didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I thought to myself, what in the world am I doing with my life. I am completely wasting my life. I won’t be able to get a job, I will have wasted all this time and money spent in college and had nothing to show for it. It was at that point, on that day, sitting in my room that I committed to changing my life. To turn things around, to study as hard as I can and to get my life straightened out. From that day on, I started to study as hard as I could, I re-committed myself to academics, I received mostly A’s for the remaining two years of school and was able to finish strong academically. Unfortunately, since my grades for the first two years of college were poor, my overall GPA was not stellar. Therefore, that complicated my efforts at finding a good job. And yes, if you are wondering, GPA does have an impact on your ability to find a god job out of school. I struggled to find a good job. I interviewed at quite a few places, some good some not so good and was finally able to land a spot at BNY Mellon in the Operations Department. It wasn’t glamorous, but given my situation it was the best I could ask for. I spent a year at BNY Mellon before realizing it was not where I wanted to be long term. During this time I realized that this was not the type of role I wanted to do long term, so I decided to enroll for the CFA exam. I decided to leave BNY Mellon and landed at a consulting company doing management consulting. I really enjoyed the work as it allowed me to used both my analytical skills and creative thought processes to come up with solutions for companies’ problems. During this time I completed the CFA exam. I spent five years doing consulting before realizing I wanted to switch careers and go into finance, preferably into equity research or portfolio management. I decided the best way to do this was to enroll in Business School. I decided to quit my job and enroll full time at Fordham University. Shortly after enrolling, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, FINRA, came onto campus to recruit. Now for those of you that are not familiar FINRA it is a self regulatory organization that regulates Investment Banks. It sets rules for and examine banks for compliance with those rules. I was very impressed with FINRA’s presentation and intrigued by the role. I decided to take a risk and accept a role at FINRA as a Compliance Examiner. This meant that I would be working full time and going to business school full time at night, which was not easy. I spent about five years at FINRA before going back to the corporate world. I landed a role as the Chief Compliance Officer at Cohen and Company a firm that made markets in fixed income products and that also had an investment banking division. From there I landed similar roles at Capital Guardian and CG Capital Markets. I most recently landed a role at Credit Suisse as Director of Fixed Income Compliance. Most of you have probably never heard of the compliance field or given it much thought. As a background compliance is responsible for ensuring that the firm and its employees are complying with rules and regulations as well as the firm’s policies and procedures. Just to give you a little background of what I do at Credit Suisse, I am responsible for providing compliance advice to the sales and trading business within our Global Markets franchise. I sit on the trading floor and have daily contact with the front office employees. My coverage area includes corporate bonds, CLO’s, Par Loans, and Credit Default Swaps. I am also the firm’s SME for all OTC derivatives trading. This gives me exposure to various swaps asset classes including interest rates, FX, equity, and commodity. To say the least, I really enjoy what I do. The best thing about my job is that everyday I learn something new. I find it to be intellectually challenging and I get a lot of exposure to our various businesses. Nothing is more thrilling than when I get a call from a trader about a trade it would like to put on and it wants to know whether it complies with certain rules, and you have just a few moments to give that person the right answer. And you better be sure that the answer is correct.
But tonight is not about me. It is about you. What I would like to do is impart on you some guiding principles as you go about your career based on my career experiences. What I am about to say is not some pie in the sky guiding principles, but advice that can actually be put into place to help you with your career growth. Here are the eight things I would like you to be aware of:
Hard work matters-That means if you are in school, make sure you earn strong grades. Or if you are already in the workforce, outwork everyone around you. Master the subject are you are in. How do you this? Read, research, network with others and pick their brains. Be hungry, be very hungry. And continue to learn. Learning does not end when you graduate from college, it is just beginning. Read. Read as much as you can. Read a variety of things. Become knowledgeable and well rounded. At the very minimum read the Times and the Journal if you plan to go into Finance/Business and keep in mind everyone on wall street is reading Bloomberg News.
Be Flexible-I know everyone wants to work for J.P Morgan or PWC. But sometimes we cant get in, at least initially. But there are many other firms out there that will offer you just as good an experience and where you can thrive. They simply are not Fortune 500 companies. Consider midsize and boutique banks. There are over 4,000 Investment Banks in the U.S and over 12,000 registered investment advisers. Why are you only considering the top ten? You are more likely to get into a boutique or midsize bank than you are to a bulge bracket. Also, keep in mind, New York City in not the only place to find a good paying job in Finance or business. New York City is hyper competitive. So why not consider places outside of New York. Charlotte is considered the financial capital of the south, with large banks such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, U.S Bank, and PNC headquartered there not to mention large outposts of many of the big account firms. Charlotte is a young, vibrant, growing city that has a lot offer at a fraction of the cost of living of NYC. And Charlotte is not the only place to consider, other cities such as Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami offer opportunities you may not find in NYC.
Learn a second or third language. And learn a language that is useful for the career you are pursuing. In certain parts of the United States, its nearly impossible to find a job if you don’t speak Spanish. Sorry to say this, but just being a single language speaker alone doesn’t distinguish you from others.
Have more courses taught by practioners How many of you know the difference between a single name CDS and a CDX? Or the difference between a cross currency swap and a FX swap? A CDO vs a CLO? Theory is important, but once you land in the working world, practical is also important. Additionally, having this knowledge about the real world workings of the markets and individual products will give you an advantage as you interview and search for your first job. Any advantage you can get you need to seize. How can this be done? There are many accomplished Queens College Graduates in the working world with impressive backgrounds. Why not have them come in to guest lecture for certain classes.
Internships, internships, internships- Now I know this message will ring a little hollow for you given that you are graduating in May, but thinking more broadly, internships are key to landing a good first job out of school. Think about it, if you are graduating, and you didn’t go to a top ten college, how do you separate yourself, well one would be your grades, and two would be internships. It is critical that you get internships prior to graduating. The internships should be in the field you plan to work in, or at least strongly related to, and they should be progressively better as you move along in your academic years. Therefore the internship after your sophomore year should be better than the one in your freshman year, and the internship in your junior year should be better than that of your sophomore year. You need to pad your resume before you graduate. Your resume needs to stand out.
Persistence-At Credit Suisse, we normally hire college graduates who were part of our previous summer analysts programs. Most of the hires comes from top ranked schools such as Cornell, University of Virginia, and Georgetown. I have had the opportunity to work with and get to know some of these individuals. And I can tell you they are very bright and talented and highly motivated. But I have also had the opportunity to meet new hires that received summer analysts offer that did not come from elite schools. I met one gentleman who went to Ohio University and another that went to Elon University. I asked them how they were able to get into the summer analyst program. The gentleman who graduated from Ohio University said he knew it was going to be hard for him given that he didn’t go to a top college, so he made it his mission to apply to any job out there that he was interested in and just send his resume to as many people as he could. His belief was if he bombarded enough people with his resume he would get some results. And sure enough he did. As for the gentleman that graduated from Elon University, he relied on his Alumni network and reached out to as many as he could. Fortunate for him, he was able to connect with someone at Credit Suisse who graduated from Elon University and put in a recommendation for him. So what does this teach you? Be persistent, push on as many doors as you can, rely on alumni networks, friends, family…whatever you need to do to get in the door.
How well do you work with others-I know your college years are spent studying for exams and writing papers. And your goal is to learn as much as possible and get good grades. In the working world, the focus changes. The focus is no longer on you, but rather on your team. Your ability to thrive in this environment will also be an important part of your career success. Companies want employees who work well on teams. How does that manifest itself, are you open? Are you willing to share ideas? Or do you keep things to yourself? Do you coach or are you focused on your individual accolades? Are you willing to lead when appropriate? Are you also willing to take a back seat when appropriate? How do you handle constructive criticism? Do you take it personally or do you look at it as an opportunity to improve? Being book smart is important. But being charismatic, likeable, and someone others want to work with is also important.
Lastly, as you enter the workforce, try not to jump from job to job too often. Employers want to know that you are committed to them. No one expects you to spend 10 years at a company, but jumping from job to job less than two years part will cause employers to be wary. Also, when you are considering moving to another company, don’t base that decision on money. Money is a terrible reason for switching jobs and if you do use that as your primary motivator you may be seriously disappointed. Rather, consider the company itself, the culture, the job function, the team you will be working in, room for growth. Certainly compensation should be a part of the equation, but certainly not at the top of the list. Additionally, when considering moving jobs, think not only about the prospective job you are moving to, but think two jobs ahead. This means you should be asking yourself what do you want to do two jobs from now, and will this prospective job put me in position to get that next job. You need to be strategic with your career moves.
Listen, the world in changing. And it is changing rapidly. Technology is changing the way we work and live. At Credit Suisse I see first hand how technology is changing the workplace. For instance our firm has created an Algo-a computer if you will-that makes markets in nearly seven thousand different bonds by responding to customer requests for quotes. The Algo prices customer requests and executes trades without the interaction of a human being. The same technology is used to trade equities and FX products. This is Artificial Intelligence at work. I recently had a conversation with the head of our Block Chain Strategy, who told me that within 5-10 years all bond trading will be done using AI. Think about that. Think about the impact that will have on the markets, on employment opportunities. There are now even robots who act as registered investment advisers. Firms such as Betterment have created algorithms that utilizes the answers to certain background information to create an asset allocation mix for you and dynamically manages your portfolio at a fraction of the cost of a traditional adviser. so where are we headed with artificial intelligence and machine learning? A recent report by the world economic forum forecasts that machines will perform more than half of all current workplace tasks by 2025, up from 29 percent today. It also predicts that 75 million jobs will be displaced but that 133 million will be created. Of the new jobs, 54 percent will require new skills. A McKinsey study was gloomier, predicting that by 2030 as many as 800 million people worldwide may have been displaced by automation and will need to find new jobs. All of this is not meant to scare you. But it is meant to give you a sense about the impact of technological change. Further, new regulations that have been enacted
posted financial crisis such as the Volker Rule and other Dodd-Frank rule making have curtailed bank’s profits and have led to the redeployment of capital to business’ other than sales and trading. The business areas that are likely to benefit from this redeployment of capital are investment banking and capital markets and asset and wealth management businesses. This doesn’t mean that sales and trading will disappear, but that it will have a smaller foot print.
So where does that leave you. How do you position yourself for what the future holds? First, find a job that you are passionate about. Learn absolutely everything you can about it. Master the subject area. Outwork everyone around you, network with others, not just those in the same area as you, build relationships, continue to expand you skill sets, earn an MBA, a CFA, or CPA as appropriate. You undoubtedly will have challenges in your career, you may even have failure, but those will not define your career unless you let it. The world rewards those with specialized skills and knowledge. Will you be one of those?