Though some students may arrive at university with an interest in finance, most are likely to be uncertain of which career path within it to follow. Understanding what working in any industry is like can be difficult without hands-on experience.
BlackRock - the world's largest asset management firm - is providing first-year students with an invaluable opportunity to gain experience of asset management through their Spring Week scheme. We spoke to two students who took part in last year's Spring Week to learn more.
What is asset management?
Asset management firms are responsible for large sums of money belonging to corporate and individual clients. Their main clients are pension funds, insurance companies and retail banks, who entrust pools of individuals' savings to them. Asset management firms manage this money for a fee, usually investing it in a range of assets with the aim of making a good return for their clients.
For students wanting a taste of the asset management industry, BlackRock's Spring Week scheme offers a unique opportunity to access it. A mixture of practical workshops, business presentations and work shadowing gives an overview of the various career opportunities within the industry that isn't available anywhere else.
Despite being on the committee for UCL's Investment Society, Statistics student Ilham Hamza admits he knew little about asset management before applying to BlackRock. "What I loved about Spring Week was the insight I gained into this industry."
Ilham found the Spring Week acted as a crash course in understanding how a firm like BlackRock operates. He spent his time in Portfolio Analytics, the section of BlackRock responsible for acquiring and analysing information on the current value and status of investments.
"On our first day," he says, "we were given an introduction to the firm, with presentations explaining the different sectors within BlackRock. The rest of my week was mostly spent on the main floor of Portfolio Analytics shadowing people."
Ilham was impressed it wasn't just junior members of staff he was able to interact with; several senior members of BlackRock also made themselves available. "We had networking sessions with a few fund managers and senior individuals. They came around to speak to us, discussing their backgrounds and providing their opinions on the asset management industry. Speaking to people like this was a much better way to learn than just watching a presentation."
"The head of Portfolio Analytics came in during two separate presentations through the week and asked us what we thought about the company, what we had learnt and how we would do things differently. For him to make that effort shows BlackRock cares about getting talent through the door."
Having been unsure about a future career in finance, Spring Week provided Charlotte Gleadle, who studies IT at King's College London, with confirmation this sector was right for her. "Spring Week was a chance to trial something I was interested in, meet lots of people in the company and check my idea of the job I want to go into was accurate."
"I was so impressed by the level and skill of people," she says. "At BlackRock, you're working with really intelligent individuals and on fantastic systems."
For example, BlackRock is renowned for its high-tech investment management platform known as Aladdin. The system helps BlackRock process and monitor the $3.5 trillion (£2 trillion) in assets the firm has under management, and is so distinctive BlackRock's competitors pay to also use it.
During her time in the technology department, Charlotte was placed in a small team and given the task of mocking up a potential new version of a technological tool. "We interviewed people in different departments to ask if they'd used the tool and if they found it useful. Different people gave us different stories so it was interesting trying to figure out how successful the tool actually was. At the end of the week, we designed a proposal for improving it to put to our bosses. The project gave us a great insight into how the company works."
Thinking of applying?
If you've only been at university for a matter of days, spring probably feels a long way away. However, it's never too early to start making plans, and if you think a programme like BlackRock's Spring Week might be for you, here are a few tips from Charlotte and Ilham on how to make your application stand out.
"Definitely join your university subject society," says Charlotte. "It's great to be involved in the social side of the discipline you're studying. Also, research what you want to go into and go to lots of networking events."
Ilham agrees. "A lot of students go to networking events and start a conversation with a company representative but they never follow it up. You should always follow up and send an email afterwards."
Should you make it onto BlackRock's Spring Week scheme, both Charlotte and Ilham agree you'll be in for a fantastic experience that will be a tremendous boost to your future career prospects.