Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Banking on the Future

The last semester at the George Washington University was a great introduction to the next stage of my studies: real-life application of everything I’ve learned so far.

As far as courses are concerned, Global Investment Banking gave an interesting overview of the main activities investment banks engage in, accompanied by great stories based on the experiences of Mr. Seale, who started his own investment bank and had been teaching the course for a good number of years. It made me all the more interested in finance, but I also realized that I didn’t want to help just any company go public or take over another company. I want to do that for companies that play a pivotal role in economic development and sustainability, such as power generation, infrastructure, finance or telecom. Those kind of industries is where I want to apply my knowledge.

For my International Portfolio Management course, I had to put together a portfolio of securities to maximize the return on the portfolio. While this was an interesting exercise, I also realized that I wanted to engage in more long-term investment with the goal of helping a company (or rather a community or country) grow, not just to make money for myself or my client.

For the Capstone project, I developed a financial model for a waste-to-energy plant. That was a lot of fun, and it made me realize that I like to work with numbers and manipulate them in Excel. It's like solving a complex puzzle using the countless tools offered by Excel. That is something I want to learn more about and get more experience in in the near future.

Apart from coursework, I learned a lot from my experience with SIFE GWU. While I finished my project that aimed to teach artists how to be more successful in marketing their work, I didn’t manage to find a successor and build a sustainable team. So SIFE GWU doesn’t exist anymore. I guess it takes more time and dedication, more motivated people and a longer breath to set up a team. I still like to implement my own ideas, though, and I hope to start something up again in the future, but hopefully in a more professional, thorough way.

Another lesson I learned during the last semester is that job search, career and compensation are quite different in the US and in the Netherlands. I sent out many resumes to American companies, applying for all kinds of jobs with investment funds, development agencies, clean-tech start-ups and financial institutions, but barely heard back from them. Even if I would have gotten a job, I probably would have been doing some kind of back-office task for the first few years before moving on to the interesting stuff. I might have gotten a really nice salary, but not many vacation days or other benefits. Basically, what I realized is that a master’s degree doesn’t mean much here. You need at least a couple of years of experience and well developed technical skills to start at an interesting position at any company.

In the Netherlands, on the other hand, I think many employers expect more from recent graduates, especially if they have a master’s degree. Because you should be smart, learn quickly and be highly motivated, you are involved in a wide range of activities, including decision making processes. At least, that was already the case when I interned with the procurement department at ABN AMRO. Even if the salary might be a bit lower, this is more than compensated by a wide range of benefits, including a good amount of vacation.

So I not only applied for jobs in the US, but also in the Netherlands, and a few weeks ago, I passed the final round of interviews with ING Bank and got accepted in their ING Talent Program. This traineeship contains a six-week long intensive banking course, followed by a few rotations at different departments. I applied for their Commercial Banking program, and hope to focus on structured finance, which includes the financing of energy, infrastructure and power projects. ING aims to expand their lending activity in these sectors, so I think it will be a great opportunity to get some experience – learning more about what I like while applying everything I’ve learned so far.


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