A team of five Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) students won the 2021 Morgan Stanley Applied Finance Project Prize for examining how California’s insurance industry “misprices” fire risk in California.
The winning team, announced March 12, includes Sanket Ahuja, Vaibhav Barnwal, Hao Guo, Anshul Lakhani, and Jerry Qinghui Yu, all MFE 21. They worked with Prof. Nancy Wallace, the Lisle and Roslyn Payne Chair in Real Estate Capital Markets, on the project.
The team examined how California’s insurance industry miscalculates fire risk and the relationship between complex weather patterns and the risk of property damage caused by wildfires in southern California.
They found that the risk to property was significant in regions with mountainous terrain, dry climate, and high vegetation and forecasted that these areas could expect annual property damage worth about $6 billion with tail damages—or damages reported after a claim is filed—of up to $10 billion.
If there was one thing that Linda Kreitzman wanted the Berkeley Haas Master of Financial Engineering class of 2021 to remember, it was this: “You will not be remembered as the pandemic class, but as the class of inspiring heroes.”
Kreitzman, who’s served as the MFE program’s executive director for 20 years, praised the 96 MFE graduates at Friday’s commencement for their humility, grit, kindness, and “setting a new standard” for the program during a turbulent year.
“We are in awe of what you have accomplished and of your success. It’s been awesome leading you,” she said, before showing a tribute slideshow that captured festive moments during the academic year—including graduates dancing to Beyonce’s “Formation” and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” carving Halloween pumpkins, cooking competitions, and preparing Thanksgiving meals.
In opening remarks, Dean Ann Harrison thanked the spouses, partners, parents, and children of graduates as well as the MFE staff for going beyond themselves to help students get through “one of the most difficult years” they’ve ever experienced.
Harrison went on to commend graduates for mastering the rigorous financial engineering program—which consistently ranks #1—and for joining a community whose students and alumni embody Berkeley Haas’ Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself.
“These principles certainly reflect who you have been as students, and I hope they will be among your most precious assets as you move through your careers, serving as anchors during times of turbulence and guideposts at the crossroads,” Harrison said.
She also reminded members of the class of 2021 that they will be joining a vast alumni network and encouraged them to “stay connected, hire Haas, and give back.”
Valedictorian Tomer Amit noted how quickly the year has gone by and talked about how professors, the MFE staff, and his culturally diverse classmates helped make a magical graduate experience, in spite of a global pandemic.
Amit advised his fellow classmates to “think big. Never compromise on your values, and things will turn out just fine.”
Jerry Qinghui Yu and Renee Reynolds, president and co-president of the Financial Engineering Student Association (FESA), also recognized MFE staff for going above and beyond to support students this year. Among those efforts included delivering care packages to students in-person and being available at all times.
Qinghui Yu quipped that not only does the Berkeley MFE program prepare students for financial engineering roles, but it also typically produces at least three couples every year. That includes his own relationship to fellow MFE graduate, Camilla Guo.
He added that this year challenged him academically, socially, and professionally, but it was one of the most rewarding years of his life. “This year taught me a lot about resilience, and if there’s a takeaway for me, it’s that for every hardship, there’s an opportunity.”
Dr. Leda Braga, founder and CEO of Systematica, gave this year’s commencement speech.
Here are this year’s commencement award winners:
Salutatorian: Aman Dixit
Earl F. Cheit Teaching Award: Prof. Nancy Wallace
Haas Graduate Student Instructor Awards: Maxine Sauzet and Nick Sanders
Question the Status Quo: Renee Reynolds and Manish Chalana
Confidence without Attitude: Paul Noel Digard and Camilla Hao Guo
Student Always: Shreya Vontela and Vishal Tripathi
Beyond Yourself: Loic Diridollou and Bandile Mbele
Embodiment of All Four Defining Principles: Tomer Amit and Veronica Ruobing Tang
Financial Engineering Certificate: Henry Keyton and Harrison Shaw
Alumni Award: Nicolas Corthorn and Elena Gorskaya
MFE graduates are moving on to jobs at Goldman Sachs, PIMCO, UBS, Citadel, Millennium Management, and many other firms.
After saying goodbye to the 96 graduates Friday, the MFE program welcomed a new class of 80 students on Monday. They hail from 14 countries, including China, Argentina, India, France, Mexico, and Morocco.
A video recording of Friday’s commencement can be viewed here.
5% Full time graduates employed 3 months after graduation
2.5% Total number of distinct courses available
2.5% Total research expenditures
Separately, the MFE program ranked #5 again in both the 2021 Quantnetranking that was published last November and the recent Risk.net ranking.
According to Risk.net, the MFE program had an outstanding employment year in 2020 with just over 99% of the class placed and, at $115,132, earning the second-highest average starting salary of the programs being ranked, in spite enrolling the largest class of 96 students. With only 17% of the application pool accepted, Haas also ranked 4th in terms of the number of accepted students who enrolled.
Finding love in ordinary times is hard enough. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we talked to two Berkeley Haas couples—Jerry Qinghui Yu and Camilla Guo, both MFE 21, and Gary Yin and Aileen Lu, both MBA 22—who found love during a pandemic. Here are their stories.
When Jerry Qinghui Yu and Camilla Guo, MFE 21, found love in their class of 96 Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) students, it wasn’t a secret for long.
“The program is small, so news travels fast,” said Jerry, who met Camilla at the start of the year-long MFE course.
They shared a sense of humor and similar childhood experiences in China. They both love a good pun, too, particularly if it’s cross-cultural. And Camilla is passing on her passion for cooking to Jerry, who texts photos when he masters one of her complicated recipes.
Ask the pair who is smarter, he’ll swear that she is. Linda Kreitzman, executive director of the MFE program, agreed, but added that “they’re both brilliant and they’re fun together.”
“Jerry is very serious and Camilla really draws out that fun side of him,” she said. “He’s been funnier since he’s been with her.”
Jerry is very serious and Camilla really draws out that fun side of him. — MFE Executive Director Linda Kreitzman
The couple, who became avid local hikers since arriving in Berkeley, plans a road trip for Valentine’s Day, to California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park or maybe Yosemite. “We bought hiking shoes for the hills,” Camilla said. “We love to hike when we’re not busy.”
Next up, Jerry, who earned an undergraduate degree in financial economics, computer science, and mathematics from the University of Toronto before coming to Haas, will head to Boston where he’s landed a job at an asset management company.
Camilla, who holds an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from Tsinghua University and has worked in derivatives and cross-asset structuring, plans to join him there after graduation in March.
During such a rigorous academic program, only complicated by the stress of the pandemic, it’s nice to have each other, Guo said.
“Since we are in the MFE he understands what I’m learning and we have more to share,” she said. “I don’t have to explain a lot. With friends, I sometimes have to share the background of things. With Jerry I can tell him how I feel right away.”
For Gary Yin, MBA 22, finding love during a pandemic was about taking a leap of faith—and getting on a plane.
Gary met Aileen Lu, MBA 22, in September 2020, when both volunteered as moderators during the virtual Berkeley China Summit. Gary was in Berkeley at the time, and Aileen was 16 hours ahead in Shanghai, waiting for a visa to fly to the U.S. and join her classmates.
The pair got to know each other during a conference on entrepreneurship, a shared passion. Both had started education-related companies before enrolling at Haas and had plans to continue working in the startup world.
Gary, who was born in China and grew up outside of Chicago, got to know Aileen in their shared cohort, chatting constantly on Slack and Zoom. But they both thought there might be more to their relationship.
“I found Gary to be a pretty genuine person and when we talked it was natural to open up and share personal stories,” Aileen said.
“The best part of my day was Slacking with her,” Gary said.
As the weeks passed, Aileen, who earned an undergraduate economics degree at Berkeley in 2015, was still unable to get a visa. Frustrated by the closing of the U.S. Embassy in China, she decided to fly to London to try to get a visa there. Surprisingly, Gary offered to meet up with her, and he boarded a plane out of San Francisco with just five other international travelers.
“I thought ‘If Aileen doesn’t get the visa, this might be my one chance to see her during the pandemic,’” Gary said.
“We both took a leap of faith after knowing each other for two months,” Aileen said.
Over three weeks during the holiday break, they met up with friends and explored London. Since Britain’s coronavirus rules weren’t strict at the time, the couple were able to explore places like Windsor Castle and enjoy the holiday lights throughout the city.
When Aileen’s visa finally came through, the couple flew back to California together. They’ve been together since, living a few blocks apart in downtown Berkeley.
Starting out in two countries
Both are deeply involved in entrepreneurship at Haas. Aileen co-chairs the Berkeley LAUNCH accelerator and is working with Berkeley Female Founders, a campus group that brings founders and funders together. Gary is a Pear VC fellow and co-runs the Haas Startup Squad, a group that helps match Haas students to startups at Skydeck, UC Berkeley’s incubator program. He also organizes Startup Marketplace, a program that connects UC Berkeley grad students with top faculty and researchers for National I-Corps projects.
In their free time, the couple enjoys walking the campus, Aileen pointing out the buildings that have changed since she was an undergraduate. “All of our friends have found it pretty amazing that we’re together,” Gary said. “Things have worked out even though we started in two different countries and met in a third. We’re really grateful for that.”
Poets&Quants’ ranking is based on five influential rankings published in U.S. News, The Financial Times, Bloomberg Businessweek,Forbes, and The Economist and combines them assigning weights based on Poets & Quants’ assessment of the soundness of each publication’s methodology.
Since Bloomberg Businessweek and The Economist did not publish rankings in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was little change in the results of this year’s P&Q ranking.
Among Financial Engineering Programs, the Berkeley Haas MFE recently ranked #5in Risk.net.
The MFE program had an outstanding employment year in 2020 with just over 99% of the class placed and, at $115,132, earning the second-highest average starting salary of the programs being ranked, in spite enrolling the largest class of 96 students. With only 17% of the application pool accepted, Haas also ranked 4th in terms of the number of accepted students who enrolled.
Risk.net bases its ranking on 20% admissions, 10% ratio of industry-affiliated lecturers, 30% employment rate six months after graduation, 25% average starting salary, 5% faculty research based on the number of citations of the five most cited instructors in the past four years.
In comparison, Haas ranked #5 again in the 2021 Quantnetranking that was published in November.
Bandile Mbele landed at San Francisco Airport from South Africa in early March, just before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic.
“Everything was just weird,” said Mbele, who had traveled outside of South Africa for the first time in order to join 95 students in the 2021 Master of Financial Engineering Program class at Berkeley Haas. “I just sat for an hour at the airport and took it all in.”
For the 25-year-old, who had grown up in a township in Newcastle, South Africa, coronavirus was just another challenge. When the pandemic continued longer than he ever expected, Mbele relied on the same resilience that led him to the top-ranked Berkeley MFE program.
It’s not been easy for Mbele (pronounced “M-bay-lay”). For the first three weeks he struggled to catch up with online coursework and prepare for internship interviews. “I was learning the material but it wasn’t sticking in my head,” he said. But by April 15—he remembers the exact date—there was a shift. “I woke up and everything started clicking. Things were much more calm.” More relief came when he landed a coveted 12-week internship with Morgan Stanley, which starts in October.
The journey to Berkeley Haas
Mbele attended the University of Cape Town, where he earned both an undergraduate degree in actuarial science and a master’s degree in mathematical finance. Yet he might not have continued his studies at Haas if not for his former undergraduate classmate, Gary Finkelstein, MFE 20.
Chatting one day, Finkelstein told MFE program Executive Director Linda Kreitzman about Mbele, whom he considered a perfect MFE applicant. “I asked him, ‘Is he as good as you?’” Kreitzman said. “Gary said, ‘He’s even better than me at math.’”
Always searching for students who can meet the program’s rigorous quantitative requirements, Kreitzman made it her mission to bring Mbele to Haas. She asked Finkelstein, now an energy trader in London, to help.
One June night, Finkelstein called Mbele, who was playing PlayStation after a day of work at his job at insurance company Old Mutual. The two chatted, and then the conversation got more serious. Would he be interested in applying to the MFE? Finkelstein mentioned the possibility of a scholarship that Kreitzman had established through the family of Kyle Carlston, MFE 06.
Suddenly, the idea of coming to Berkeley became real.
“Numbers since the day I was born”
Before Mbele could accept a place in the MFE program, he had to convince his mother, Patricia, a teacher in a juvenile detention center in Durban, South Africa, that he’d be okay in America. From the start, his mother had played a role in nurturing his love of math, hanging the numbers 1 to 100 in different colors in his room when he was a baby, Mbele said adding “All of my toys had numbers on them.”
His mother helped him move from Newcastle, where he lived alone for a time with his older brother, to Durban, where he could attend good public schools.
In 7th grade, math became a more serious pursuit for Mbele, who was honored as the class’ top-ranked math student, “a game changer that made me realize I had potential,” he said. Later, at Westville Boys’ High School in Durban, he continued to excel academically, which led him to the University of Cape Town. There, he became the top undergraduate math student in a class of 400. “I’m just so passionate about math,” said Mbele, who has tutored students in math for years. “I think I love abstract thinking and the power that comes with that level of thought. I feel like I can understand almost anything.”
I’m just so passionate about math. I think I love abstract thinking and the power that comes with that level of thought.
Mbele finally convinced his mother that the MFE opportunity was too good to pass up—with the help of Kreitzman, who told him that she planned to meet his mom at Mbele’s graduation, if she’s able to attend.
“I was lucky to work with him.”
In the MFE program, Mbele joins students from around the world who are just as passionate about financial skills as he is, coming together for an intense year-long program of quantitative finance and data science coursework and industry projects that will lead many of them to top quant jobs at Wall Street banks and investment firms. (Impressively, about a third of the class, including Mbele, already earned a master’s degree before arriving at Haas.)
Aside from academics, making friends in the program has proven challenging for some of the students without the usual in-person parties and study groups. “The most difficult part was getting to know people over Zoom, especially on a deeper level,” said Mbele’s classmate Renee Reynolds, who added that one-on-one meetings that the students do on the Donut Slack app are helping.
The most difficult part was getting to know people over Zoom, especially on a deeper level. — Mbele’s classmate Renee Reynolds, MFE 21
Mbele and classmate Shamai Zhang got to know each other through lengthy study sessions during the summer semester, typically the MFE’s most difficult due to the daunting Derivatives: Quantitative Methods course. “I was lucky to work with him on that course because he was responsible and effective,” she said. “When I took a look at his work it was so nice, the format, the code, the solutions, and interpretations.”
“A humility and depth of character”
While it’s sad that students can’t all be together in person, Kreitzman said she tries to unite them with riddles, puns, and games for prizes, and phone calls to check on how they are coping. The students planned weekly online poker games during spring semester, which fell off as the course load got heavier in summer.
Kreitzman said she has no regrets about bringing Mbele to Haas, noting the doors that will open for him with his MFE degree.
“Bandile is a very special young man,” Kreitzman said. “He has great humility and depth of character that I haven’t often seen in my life. He is pure kindness and truly embodies our four Haas Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself.”
Mbele said he’s always been grateful for what he has—adding Kreitzman to that list now. “She’s like my mom who has a lot of kids that she takes care of,” he said.
After graduating, Mbele said he’s hoping to stay in the U.S., depending on his visa situation, to work for a few years, meet people, and embrace different cultures.
A total of 93 students in the 2020 Master of Financial Engineering class graduated March 13, as commencement speaker Rachel Schutt, a BlackRock managing director, urged them to plant seeds to build the future—and embrace failure.
“The reason why I want you to think about your relationship and beliefs about failure is that it goes hand in hand with the risks you are willing to take, what success means to you, and whether you will try things even if there’s a chance that you might not succeed,” said Schutt, who is head of BlackRock’s AI labs.
Dean Ann Harrison thanked spouses, significant others, parents and friends of the graduating students who watched via livestream.
“We are facing the most challenging health and global crisis that I have personally encountered in my own lifetime,” Harrison told the graduates. “Yet I feel comforted and optimistic in the fact that you brilliant and caring Haas grads are going out in the world to fix our problems and I know you can do it.”
A new technology to help companies assess climate change risk and a financial tool to help insurance companies invest in the best portfolios netted first-place wins for two Berkeley Master of Financial Engineering students participating in a competition at Moody’s Analytics.
Yashoraj Tyagi and Akshay Gupta, both MFE 20, each took home $500 and received awards for helping to design new financial tools while interning at Moody’s Analytics this past winter.
“It’s rare for an intern to win, especially when you’re competing against actual Moody employees,” said Tyagi. “It feels good to win.”
Using Natural Language Processing (NLP), an artificial intelligence that helps computers and people communicate with each other, Tyagi helped design a new technology that aggregates information about a company, including annual filings, news articles, and climate disclosures, and evaluates a company’s risk to climate change. Investors could use the evaluation to determine whether a company is a safe or risky investment bet.
Gupta helped design a financial tool that assesses the risk level and expected returns of investment portfolios by analyzing millions of data points, including GDP, stock performance, and current events. This new tool would help insurance companies optimize their financial investments, especially when faced with economic challenges such as low interest rates and increased demands for improved credit modeling.
Deciding on the best place to build a new bike-sharing station in New York City based on ridership data landed a team of Berkeley Master of Financial Engineering students first place in the Citadel West Coast Datathon. The competition was held at the San Francisco Marriott Hotel on January 25.
Team members: Raymond Ji, MFE 20, Yili Wang, MFE 20, and Weipeng Shao, MFE 20, working with Ying Jin, PhD 24 (statistics), of Stanford University.
The Field: Twenty-three teams from top U.S. universities on the West Coast, including Caltech, Stanford, UCLA, University of Southern California, and the University of Washington, competed for $20,000 in prize money and the chance to move on to the Citadel National Data Championship in April.
The Challenge and Team’s Plan: The team had to decide where to build a bike-sharing station in New York City based on current and future ridership, demographics, proximity of public transportation, and the popularity of ride-sharing alternatives. Using those data points, the team built a regression model that accurately predicted South Brooklyn as the best location for a bike-sharing station.
The Secret Sauce: “Our wide skill set as well as our extensive preparation set us apart from the other teams,” said Raymond Ji, MFE 20. “Our ability to dig well in depth into a topic question while still covering a broad range of aspects and techniques helped us win the competition.”
The Haas Factor: The students said Prof. Martin Lettau’s Empirical Method in Finance course and Prof. Laurent El Ghaoui’s Finance Data Science course provided useful knowledge for the competition.
Mark Rubinstein, a finance professor emeritus whose work had a profound impact on Wall Street by forever changing how financial assets are created and priced, died May 9 in Tiburon, California. He was 74.
Rubinstein, who retired in 2012 after nearly 40 years on the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business faculty, was a pioneer in applying mathematical tools to financial markets. He was best known for his contributions in options pricing, as well as the development of the first Exchange Traded Fund (ETF).
Rubinstein was intellectually fearless and known by his students as a sincere mentor who had extraordinary passion. He was also a quintessential Renaissance man whose curiosity and love of learning led him to acquire an impressive knowledge of Shakespeare, Ancient Greek, and Roman history.
“Mark was unusually honest and open-minded,” said Prof. Terry Odean, a colleague in the Haas Finance Group. “He was one of the few people I’ve known who would actually change his opinion when confronted with new facts or a better argument.”
Simplified options pricing
Rubinstein grew up in Seattle, the son of Sam and Gladys Rubinstein. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Harvard, an MBA at Stanford, and a PhD at UCLA, Rubinstein joined the Haas faculty in 1972.
His research efforts soon focused on options markets, which had just begun trading in Chicago. In 1979, working with John Cox and Stephen Ross of MIT, he developed the Cox-Ross-Rubinstein (CRR) Model, a “binomial” model for valuing a wide range of complex options. The model contributed to the growth of derivatives around the world and remains one of the most important valuation tools on Wall Street. A subsequent book, Options Markets (with John Cox), made option pricing theory accessible to a broad audience.
“His most famous contribution was in simplifying the option pricing model not only to a level that everyone could understand, but also to a point where everyone could use it effectively in the real world,” said Prof. Emeritus Hayne Leland, a finance colleague who worked closely with Rubinstein.
Leland O’Brien Rubinstein’s (LOR) influence
In 1981, Rubinstein joined with Leland and Haas Adjunct Prof. John O’Brien to form Leland O’Brien Rubinstein (LOR). The firm grew rapidly, and in 1987 the three founders were named among Fortune’s “Businessmen of the Year.” LOR developed a risk-hedging algorithm called “portfolio insurance.” To stem losses, the algorithm required selling off assets when markets declined, and portfolio insurance was accused of being a major accelerant of the October 1987 crash— when the stock market fell more than 20% in a day. These events and the role of LOR are recounted in Diana Henriques’ A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History.
The market eventually recovered, and the crash may have warded off a real recession by bringing stock prices back down to reality, according a later analysis. Traders today still use strategies that are roughly equivalent to portfolio insurance.
First Exchange Traded Fund
In an effort to protect investors without dynamic selling, LOR then pioneered the SuperTrust, an S&P 500-based fund that traded as a single security—which in 1992 became the first Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) in the United States. Rubinstein and Leland provided the economic arguments that convinced the SEC to give the first exemption to rules in the 1940 Investment Act that had prevented ETFs. These exemptions later became standard, and helped form the regulatory framework for what has arguably become the most important financial innovation in the last quarter century. In the years since, ETF funds’ assets have grown to more than $5 trillion globally.
Founded the Master of Financial Engineering Program
Rubinstein was elected President of the American Finance Association in 1992, and was named as the IAQF Financial Engineer of the Year in 1995. In 2001, he helped to found the Berkeley Haas Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) Program, which was the first such program in a U.S. business school and is consistently ranked #1.
MFE Program Executive Director Linda Kreitzman called Rubinstein a giant in his field. “He had a huge impact on our students’ lives and also our alumni. He was a brilliant, kind person and he’ll be deeply missed.”
An avid student of history, Rubinstein examined the development of modern theories of investment in his 2006 book, A History of the Theory of Investments: My Annotated Bibliography. He continued his academic research and mentoring of doctoral students at Berkeley throughout his career, and after his retirement, continued to nurture his intellectual curiosity with research and writing on classical Greece, Rome, and the early history of Christianity.
Rubinstein is survived and dearly missed by his wife Diane, and his children Judd and Maisie.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 9 at Fernwood Mortuary, 301 Tennessee Valley Rd., Mill Valley.
During his MBA orientation two years ago, Daniel Clayton heard something that grabbed his attention: if space was available, MBA students could enroll in data-intensive Master of Financial Engineering program classes like Financial Innovation, Dynamic Asset Management, Investments & Derivatives, and Behavioral Finance.
Clayton, MBA 19, jumped at the chance. “It was an awesome opportunity,” said Clayton, who is a CFA charterholder, and had worked in finance for six years before heading to Berkeley for his MBA. “I set the goal early that I should try to graduate with three or more of these courses to add more quantitative skills to my strong finance base. It’s the ‘quants’ who will be key to the future of the investment field by driving markets, developing new and innovative investment strategies, and disrupting decades-old industries.”
The top-ranked MFE program trains an elite group of students in financial engineering and data science, many who go on to work at top banks, tech companies, and startups. Since 2001, when the MFE program launched, a select number of its courses have opened up to MBA students to provide an opportunity to deepen their knowledge of quantitative finance and data analytics, preparing them for a job market that increasingly demands these skills, said Linda Kreitzman, executive director of the MFE program. On average, five MBA students take one or more courses each year.
“I saw this coming years ago and, in the future, the MBAs will need to be more data science savvy,” Kreitzman said. “It’s a critical need in the very near future; why we don’t have more MBA students taking our courses is quite surprising to me.”
For taking at least three MFE courses, Clayton was recognized along with Michael Bausback, also MBA 19, at the March 2019 MFE commencement.
The start of “a more studied experiment”
While the typical MBA student does not take the most quantitative and programming-intensive MFE classes such as Stochastic Calculus and Asset Backed Security Markets, they are able to enroll in the more qualitative courses.
In 2013, MBA student Benjamin Cooper fully capitalized on that opportunity. As a CJ White Finance Fellow, Cooper was matched with an alumnus as his mentor in his area of focus within finance, global asset allocation. “This was the start of a more studied experiment for MBAs taking MFE courses,” said William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic programs in the Haas Finance Group. “The mentor’s first bit of advice was to take as many MFE courses as possible. Ben wound up taking five MFE courses over his two years, and really kicked off this idea of MBAs leveraging the MFE program—literally under the same roof—to expand their training and set of opportunities in the more quantitative ends of finance.”
Cooper, MBA 15, now works as a multi-asset strategist at Wellington Management in London.
Exploring machine learning and quantitative finance
Bausback and Clayton shared similar goals in taking MFE courses: to challenge themselves in the quantitative side of finance.
Bausback, who worked in economic consulting before he came to Haas at a job that required financial modeling and knowledge of trading derivatives, took courses that would prepare him with a deeper, most up-to-date set of finance skills. “I now have the confidence to explore and interact with the fields of machine learning and quantitative finance, both of which seemed inaccessible prior to the program,” said Bausback, who will work at Morgan Stanley as an associate in its Tech Investment Banking office after graduating. “Coming out of the program I realize I had never fully appreciated how financial markets actually work, how prices are driven on a day-to-day basis—and how human biases affect that more than a math model will ever tell you.”
Clayton said he added the most value as a member of the MFE student teams by developing qualitative analysis based on data the MFE students crunched. “Once they coded everything I could interpret the results, articulate the findings clearly, and suggest additional analysis,” he said. “The MBA and MFE skill sets actually complement one another nicely.”
One of the biggest takeaways of taking MFE courses was learning to work with engineers, he said. “I still can’t code in Python or do Stochastic calculus but I do now know how to communicate with financial engineers and understand the kind of analysis they are capable of producing. In the future, I will have a better appreciation for what goes into this kind of work and what is possible, which will make me much more valuable in the finance world.”
Richard Lindsey, managing partner at Windham Capital, offered some clear advice for the 79 Berkeley Master of Financial Engineering graduates at Friday’s commencement: invest in your professional network, hold fast to your ethical standards, and “don’t sweat the money.”
“We all like money, or at least the lifestyle that it can provide, but you should do what you love, rather than focus on the money,” said Lindsey, who holds a PhD in finance from UC Berkeley, and noted that he left Bear Stearns in 2007 with $30 million in stock that he liquidated for $400,000 after Bear Stearns collapsed in 2008. “Don’t confuse your compensation with your self-worth.”
Linda Kreitzman, who has been the MFE program’s executive director since its inception 19 years ago, praised the class for raising the standards of the program, which is consistently ranked #1 in the country. “I am very proud of you and your accomplishments,” she said, before welcoming Gifford Fong, BS 67, MBA 69, JD 71, who provided the founding gift for the MFE program, and finance professors David Sraer, Nancy Wallace, Eric Reiner, and Terry Odean, who participated in the ceremony. She also welcomed the incoming cohort of 93 new MFE students, who arrived last week.
Moving beyond yourself
In opening remarks, former Haas Dean Richard Lyons, who teaches the Equity & Currency Markets elective course in the MFE program, said the program has provided students with the skills to move beyond being the outstanding individual contributors they have been trained to be—to team leaders who go beyond themselves.
“That psychological transition from individual contributor to understanding that your most important work is done by working through and other people is profoundly important and that’s part of what this program is about as well,” he said.
The MFE class student speaker, Jack St. Clair, noted how quickly the past year has gone by, saying the class grew close through pizza parties, horse track races, bowling events, football game, trips to Tahoe and Napa, class dinners, and karaoke nights. He urged classmates to remember “the times we’ve spent together, just as we did the formulas we’ve memorized throughout the year.”
“Before we spread out over the globe, let’s not forget this year we’ve had,” he said. “The Berkeley MFE is ranked #1 not just because of Linda and our great faculty, but because we as students give back to each other, past and future MFEs. I ask each of us to do the same when we graduate.”
Before awards were given out, Kreitzman delivered a lighthearted slide show, a showcase of the talents of many students, including a pilot, a professional high-stakes poker player, several outstanding skiers, a mountain biking champion from France, a sailor, a ukulele player, and a songwriter.
This year’s valedictorian was Vaibhav Pednekar, while the salutatorian was Yiming Yu. A team of four students received the $5,000 Morgan Stanley Applied Finance Project Award during the ceremony: Matias Lopez, Sumair Ajanee, Willam Shi, and Laurent Morrissette-Boileau for “Machine Learning Monte Carlo for American: Style Derivatives Valuations.”
Earl Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching: Prof. Eric Reiner
Outstanding GSI Award: Mykyta Bilyi
Alumni award for outstanding teaching and service to the MFE: Yang Guo, Yihui Li, Tianyi Xia
MFE Certificate for MBA Students: Daniel Clayton, Michael Bausback
Beyond Yourself: Julien Gille and Ruochen Zeng
Confidence without Attitude: Teddy Legros and Jack St. Clair
Question the Status Quo: Matias Lopez and Joanna Wang
Students Always: Shailen Aggarwal and Nathan Johnson
Embodiment of All Four Defining principles: Hosang Yoon
Students in the graduating class are moving on to jobs at Morgan Stanley, Citadel, Goldman Sachs, Citi, BlackRock, Two Sigma, Moody’s, Deutsche Bank, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Mellon Capital, Putnam Investments, Citi, Barclay’s, DV Energy, DRW, Uber, AQR, Wells Fargo, WorldQuant, etc., in locations including Hong Kong, New York, Chicago, London, and San Francisco.
New class arrives
Meanwhile, the MFE class of 2020 arrived last week at Haas for orientation and began classes today. This year’s larger class is split into a blue cohort, which is a data science in finance specialization, and a gold cohort, which is a finance specialization for financial engineers.
Students in the incoming class come from 11 countries, including the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, India, Peru, Russia, South Africa, and Thailand. About half of them have graduate degrees and 12 percent earned PhDs.
The Berkeley Master of Financial Engineering Program was again ranked #1 by The Financial Engineer, which published its annual financial engineering rankings this week. The Berkeley MFE has placed #1 in this ranking since 2016.
TFE focuses 55% of its ranking on the quality of the class (students’ GREs, GPAs, and the acceptance rate) and 40% on post-degree outcomes. Another 5% is based on the number of distinct courses available and research expenditures.
Risk.net’s ranking is based on eight metrics, ranging from acceptance rate, job offers, and salaries to faculty research and faculty-student ratio. Particular weight was given to average graduate salaries — $159,402 for Haas MFE graduates — and a strong post-commencement employment rate — 99% of Haas MFEs.
A team of Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) students took first place in “The Data Open” this month, besting 25 teams who competed across UC Berkeley in the regional data science competition.
The winning team—Li Cao, Pierre Foret, Teddy Legros, and Hosang Yoon, all MFE 19—won $20,000 in the competition semi-final, sponsored by Citadel LLC, a global asset management firm, and operated by data scientist recruiting firm Correlation One.
The Berkeley Haas semi-finalists will travel to the New York Stock Exchange later this fall to compete against top universities for a $100,000 grand prize.
The Sept. 8 competition asked teams to solve a complex problem by analyzing complex data sets.
More than 400 students across UC Berkeley applied to participate, and 100 were accepted. Event organizers grouped the contestants into teams, many of whom—including the winners—had not worked together before.
Choosing a question
The night before the event, the teams were given a description of data sets—data that applied to everything from 311 calls in New York state to restaurant inspection data. The teams were challenged choosing a question and finding the answer in the data.
“Most data science competitions focus on achieving the best possible score for a predefined metric,” Foret said. “In contrast, we had to come up with our own question, which is a lot closer to the type of problems a data scientist has to tackle in the industry.”
The team outlined two goals: identifying the top factors that influence public health in New York state and providing local government officials with policy recommendations based on their analysis.
Working through the night, they prepared code that allowed them to test their hypotheses quickly, so they were able to spend most of the competition time running experiments, analyzing the data, and choosing the most relevant problem to solve.
Legros said their data analysis tracked factors that affect residents’ health, including both traditional socioeconomic ones and several lifestyle considerations—such as smoking habits, eating habits and living conditions—that evolve over time. “Next, we identified clusters of regions where some of these determining lifestyle factors are more dominant. This can help policymakers develop regional proposals to improve the health of residents.”
“It was one of the most intense 24 hours I have spent,” Yoon said. “While the competition itself was short, I really learned a lot from our preparation.”
The judges, announcing the winner, said they impressed by the originality of the team’s question and the strategy to focus on comprehensive view of the factors involved.
Surrounded by friends and family, 67 students in the tight-knit Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) class of 2018 graduated last Friday.
Linda Kreitzman, executive director of the MFE program, said the graduating students, who hail from 15 countries, became close over the past year.
“I would like to say it’s been a privilege to guide you throughout this year,” she told the students, who gathered in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum. “I am very proud of your accomplishments. MFE 18 will be a tough act to follow.”
Kreitzman welcomed graduation speaker Prof. Andrew Lo, who runs the financial engineering laboratory at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, noting that one of the graduating students, Tony Tong, applied for an MFE because he was so inspired by Lo’s work. She also welcomed Gifford Fong, BS 67, MBA 69, JD 71, who provided the seed money to start the MFE program. Fong is a member of the UC Berkeley Board of Trustees and president of Gifford Fong Associates.
Kreitzman asked the audience to rise for Dean Lyons, who is stepping down as dean in June. “You have given us your trust and the resources to take this program to be #1 in the country, and you have articulated the key Defining Leadership Principles to which the MFE program and I hold our students,” she said to Lyons.
“A certain kind of leadership”
Dean Lyons told the students that they originally were accepted into the MFE program by distinguishing themselves as individuals in college and at work, but that the program has changed them.
“Over this past year you may have seen a glimpse of your future, that you will do your life’s best and most important work not as an individual contributor but by working with and through others…by taking 2 or 20 or maybe 20,000 people who wanted to accomplish something special and don’t quite know how or where to start,” he said. “You can help them get there. To do that well requires a certain kind of leadership.”
Berkeley Haas has taken a particular stand on the kinds of leaders the school aims to develop, through the curriculum and the learning environment, and the Defining Leadership Principles, Lyons added. “As students here, you know these principles by heart—you’d better!—and after you receive your degrees today, you will carry them forward into your careers.”
Andrew Lo, the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris Professor at the Sloan School, told the students they had some of the biggest advantages of any generation in history, with “enormous amounts of information and tools at your fingertips,” but also some of the greatest challenges—climate change, flu pandemics, cybersecurity threats, and systemic risk in the financial system.
He also reflected on the meaning of the ten-year anniversary of of the financial crisis, which is now in the spotlight. “Finance doesn’t have to be a zero sum game,” he said. “You can do well by doing good if you use that power responsibly—and I suspect all of you will.”
And now for the awards…
Commencement awards went to:
Question the Status Quo: Achuthan Sekar
Confidence Without Attitude: Shravan Sunkada
Students Always: Manas Shah
Beyond Yourself: Yasmine Moulehiawy
All Four Defining Leadership Principles: Jules Landry-Simard
The Heart & Ethics Award: Pedro Zonari
Valedictorian and Salutatorian: Cheryl Xu and Jules Landry-Simard
University of California, Office of the President Award: Amneet Singh
Alum Who “Helped us Day and Night”: Frank Xia, MFE 17
Best Applied Science Project (sponsored by Morgan Stanley): Tao (Tony) Tong, Manas Shah, Manoj Cherukumalli and Yasmine Moulehiawy
In his speech, class president Ivan Nurminsky noted the great support the class received from Kreitzman and the MFE staff. “They were very much our adoptive parents through this journey,” he said. Snow Wang, class vice president, thanked the faculty. “It’s because of professors like them who genuinely have a passion for student learning that Berkeley has had its place in the world for the past 150 years,” he said.
During the program, all of the students held internships in areas such as big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, working in hedge funds, investment and commercial banking, asset management, and financial services. The majority will go on to work in the U.S. or London at such firms as Citadel, PIMCO, BlackRock, Squarepoint Capital, and Morgan Stanley.
The Berkeley Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) ranked #1 again this year in the US, according to a 2018 ranking published by QuantNet, a financial engineering web site.
The Berkeley MFE tied for #1 this year with Baruch College, City University of New York. The program ranked #2 this year for employment outcome three months after graduation.
QuantNet surveys program administrators, hiring managers and quantitative finance professionals from financial institutions around the world. Its ranking is based on the following factors (with weight distribution in parentheses): peer assessment (20%), placement success (55%), student selectivity (25%).
The MFE program is the second Berkeley-Haas degree program to rise to the top in its category, joining our Evening & Weekend MBA program, ranked the #1 part-time program in the US by US News & World Report.