5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Graduating With a Finance Degree

By Intrinio
February 7, 2023

My name is Rachel Carpenter, the Founder and CEO of Intrinio. Some of you may have heard my story before, but for those who haven’t, I taught myself how to program and built an investment research app. I couldn’t afford the data my app needed, so I started Intrinio to unlock data sets for innovators to help power the future of finance.

What you might not know is that before that I was a Finance and Entrepreneurship double major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have unique experience, having been through a traditional higher-ed finance program and then flinging myself into entrepreneurship, eventually immersing myself in the world of fintech for almost a decade.

After working with thousands of fintech companies and financial institutions, I can tell you that the game has changed, and higher education has not kept pace. Now that I’m on the other side, I’ve realized that almost nothing from my educational experience prepared me to apply financial concepts in the real world.

I may not be able to go back in time, but I can give you a leg up. And here’s why I care—the whole world is relying on the next generation of financial and engineering geniuses to innovate, change the paradigm, and build the future of finance.

So, in this article, I will outline five things I wish I had known before graduating with a finance degree. These tips, if you apply them, will ensure that you are not only marketable when you graduate but that you stand apart from the crowd and are prepared to handle the modern financial world.

With that in mind, let’s dive in.

1. Excel and Bloomberg Aren’t Enough

The Bloomberg terminal is the pride and joy of financial analysts and investors across the globe. Then, there’s Microsoft Excel. ESPN now hosts championships, and meme accounts like Litquidity, and Equity Animal boast about mouse-less skills.

I want to start by saying that you absolutely should learn how to use a Bloomberg terminal and make sure you have solid Excel skills. However, this is no longer enough. Everything in the financial realm is becoming more technical.

Developers are moving from the back office into prominence. The API economy has taken foot. Fintech has infiltrated large financial institutions. Data skills are in high demand. If your first job is in asset management, you might be asked to pull data from a dozen different locations. If you get a job at a bank, you may soon be replaced by a data scientist. If you land at a hedge fund, they’re bound to have a quant team. Working at a public company? You should probably be able to provide a competitive intelligence dashboard to the management team. Students that understand basic programming and data analytics are the ones getting jobs.

I recommend looking into the following:

  • SQL and databases
  • API basics
  • BI and data visualization
  • Calculus
  • Stack Overflow & Github

They aren’t the skills that higher-ed business schools are prioritizing, but they are what the financial industry now demands. With any luck, the curriculum will evolve but don’t rely on it.

Innovative schools like Stanford have merged their Business and Computer Science libraries, this is smart and a leading indicator. Take heed.

Okay, one last point, and it’s a painful one. I can teach finance to one of my engineers 10 times faster than I can teach a finance graduate how to program. Learn Excel and how to use a Bloomberg terminal, but please, also get comfortable with basic programming and APIs.

2. Stale Case Studies ≠ Real World Situations

The Harvard Business Review case study is the hallmark of business schools across the country. There are valuable lessons to be learned from these studies, but the world is changing faster than they can be written. Learning from the past is a critical part of preparing for the future, but the present is often overlooked. This is typically due to the fact that live data and information about real companies can be extremely expensive and difficult to access.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is just like Excel and Bloomberg, it’s a yes AND. There is plenty to be learned from historical case studies, so definitely do your homework, but make sure you are researching current companies, their challenges, strategies, and business models.

Case study content attempts to be realistic but can often inadvertantly sugar coat real business issues. Not much can prepare you for those besides living them, but studying real companies and analyzing their real, live data can help prepare you.

3. Your Professors are Behind

Here’s a dirty little secret about many professors—they are coasting. Many of them are tenured into their positions, giving them zero incentive to go above and beyond or stay on top of recent trends. They are set and untouchable. Unfortunately, this means you get slighted as a student. 

Many finance, business, and engineering professors were legends in their day and absolutely have great lessons and experience to share. But, once again, the past will only get you so far, and these teachers don’t have any reason to put in the work it takes to deliver you the latest and greatest in trends, technology, and best practices.

To make matters worse, there’s an inverse correlation between experience and technical competency. Do you think your finance professor knows what an API is? The best BI software? Where to access quality financial data? Whether Python or R would be better for you to learn?

My advice is to soak up as much knowledge and advice from these professors as you can, but recognize their limitations, and supplement as much as you can. It is dangerous to assume that you’re getting a complete picture of the finance world from your curriculum. 

Be proactive and take things with a grain of salt.

4. Textbooks are Decades Out of Date

It’s not just the professors that are behind, check the date on the cover page of your textbooks.

Most of them are decades out of date, and they were written by professors that were taking a break from the industry. The pace of innovation is escalating in the financial industry. Fintech is infiltrating traditional industries faster than books can be written.

Accounting standards are evolving as we speak, regulations are passing, and entirely new industries like Blockchain are threatening the very foundation of the lessons in those books. To supplement, you are going to have to be diligent about reading the news, studying companies that interest you, researching modern technologies, and learning to pull live data.

Until curriculum evolves, the responsibility is on you to learn about and prepare for the “real” industry that you will be entering.

5. Lazy Students Leave Resources on the Table

I left so many resources on the table when I was a student, and today the available resources for students have probably tripled. Your studies don’t end after homework is done, venture to the library and find out what is available to you and dive in.

You’re likely to find free data subscriptions, API tutorials, labs, student-managed investment funds, fintech programs, intern programs, free journal subscriptions, and more. Use these free resources to give yourself a running start against your competition when you hit the job market.

Doing so will expand your knowledge, add skills to your resume, and make you marketable as hell. Plus, employers will notice and appreciate the ambition and tenacity.

Bonus Tip: Stock up on Pedialyte

One last college tip from a pro is to stock up on Pedialyte powder—makes a big difference at 2am if you are dehydrated for any reason.

In summary, here are the 5 things I wish I knew before graduating with a finance degree:

  • Learn Excel and how to use Bloomberg, but also learn about APIs and basic programming.
  • Study your case studies, but research real modern companies as well.
  • Listen to your professors, but research as well.
  • Read your textbooks, but supplement them with news and up-to-date resources.
  • Find out which resources your library provides and use the heck out of them.

Intrinio | Academic

If this is feeling daunting, don’t worry. I have a solution.

Everyone on team Intrinio has been a business, finance, or engineering student at one point in time, and we all have the same regrets about our educational experience. That’s why we built Intrinio | Academic to help solve many of the challenges I’ve explained today.

It gives unlimited, campus-wide access to our suite of financial data feeds, complete with API access, SDKs, documentation, webinars, tutorials, labs, and more. This is a goldmine for any students that are looking for a way to modernize their education and prepare for the real world. 

It’s being used by universities like Stanford, Harvard, University of South Florida, and University of Illinois. It’s powering student-managed investment funds, infusing a technical perspective into finance and accounting curriculum, and powering apps built by comp-sci students and faculty research.

If you’re interested in getting access to this platform for your school, contact us to chat with our team of experts.

And, if you know anyone majoring in finance, please share this article so they can learn about these tips and set themselves apart.

Thanks for reading!

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