Working at BlackRock | Asset management on The Gateway

Working at BlackRock

Hannah Langworth finds out about some of the exciting opportunities for graduates at this leading asset management firm

BlackRock is one of the world's leading global asset management firms. Unlike investment banks, asset management firms focus on managing money on behalf of their clients. These could be pension funds, insurance companies or retail banks holding cash pools made up of their customers' savings or insurance premiums, or ordinary individuals with money to invest.

BlackRock's position as a market-leading asset management firm is due in large part to the strength of its technology and the teams behind them. But at BlackRock, technology is not just a business tool and those who work on it are not seen as a support department. Instead, technological innovations are a key driver of the development of the overall business. The strength of BlackRock's technology offering is such that the firm's technology is a revenue-generating business in its own right. At the heart of BlackRock's investment process is a technology platform - Aladdin. Aladdin helps BlackRock process and monitor the $3.5 trillion (£2 trillion) in assets under management. But what is most remarkable is that BlackRock's competitors also use Aladdin, which means BlackRock oversees and processes some $12 trillion dollars in total.

Effective investment in today's difficult financial and economic climate also depends on excellent management of investment risks. Those at BlackRock making decisions about where to put client money, or BlackRock's clients who make investment decisions themselves with the firm's support, need accurate information about the current value and status of their investments and anything which might affect them. At BlackRock, these services are provided in large part by the firm's Portfolio Analytics group.

There are roles for graduates at BlackRock in both of these important areas. We spoke to employees in the firm's Technology, BlackRock Solutions and Portfolio Analytics groups to find out more.

Technology

Who is eligible to apply for graduate positions here?

Those who have or expect to gain a good degree in an analytical subject with strong programming skills.

What could you be doing in this team?

  • Developing bespoke software to help BlackRock's investment teams see how much money they have to invest at a given time.
  • Advising other teams at BlackRock on how developments in technology could benefit their business area.
  • Learning new programming languages. "BlackRock could not be the largest asset manager in the world without having a fantastic technology team behind it," says Caroline Nicoll, a vice president in BlackRock's Technology Group. "Our traders and fund managers couldn't do what they do, and there's no way we could work with so many different financial instruments, types of fund and types of client, without our technology platform behind it - it just wouldn't work." BlackRock's strength in technology is in the firm's DNA - many key senior people at the firm have extensive technological as well as finance and business expertise. Matthew Gardner, also a vice president in the Technology Group, explains that BlackRock has long preferred to build its own complete IT solutions rather than buying them in. The result is that, while other firms make do with a patchwork IT infrastructure, BlackRock enjoys the benefits of a far more cohesive system.

Technological innovation continues to be core to the firm's development. BlackRock's commitment to designing its own IT systems of the highest standard over the years most notably the firm's trading and risk management system, Aladdin, means that it's able to sell its products to clients and even competitors. The Technology Group is therefore a source of profits rather than an expense and, as a result, works more collaboratively and proactively with the end users of the technological solutions they develop than their peers at other financial institutions or at an external IT firm. "We're partners with our business," says Caroline, they don't dictate to us, but rather we sit down together and talk about what's best for the firm and our clients. What we do is about far more than software development."

The Technology Group works on a broad range of projects, from tools to allow fund managers or clients to see all their investments in one place to applications that test an organisation's technological resilience by randomly crashing its servers. Graduates joining the team are encouraged to make a significant contribution right away. You'll work on things that count," says Caroline, and we help you to understand why you're doing something, that you can perhaps come up with a different and better way of doing it." As the Technology Group works closely with other areas of BlackRock, "you get involved in all parts of the business," says Caroline, and can grow in many directions."

BlackRock Solutions

Who is eligible to apply for graduate positions here?

Those who have or expect to gain a good degree in one of a

range of analytical, technical or financial subjects.

What could you be doing in this team?

  • Helping one of BlackRock's portfolio managers to use BlackRock's Aladdin system more effectively.
  • Becoming a dedicated relationship manager for an external client.
  • Managing the continuous improvement of the Aladdin system based on client feedback. BlackRock Solutions is the division of the firm that, from London and Edinburgh, offers support to internal and external users of the firm's market-leading Aladdin platform. Bruce Harrison, a managing director in the team, sees his team's work as "bringing BlackRock's technology to investors." Stephanie Pommrehn, a graduate analyst in the team, explains how things work on the ground. "On any given day you might get a phone call from, say, someone in operations in BlackRock and then a portfolio manager at a client. You find out about every aspect of BlackRock and also about our client's businesses as well." Graduates will also quickly find themselves visiting other BlackRock teams or clients' offices in person to help them to use the system more effectively. The team's role, however, doesn't stop here - they also bring back user issues and make sure that any necessary improvements to the Aladdin system are made. There's a large international dimension to what the team does: those working here travel across Europe and, because BlackRock's clients tend to be organisations with global networks, liaise with people across the world every day.

Becoming an expert on a system as powerful and comprehensive as Aladdin isn't easy, but BlackRock provides graduates with extensive training. Stephanie, as part of the graduate training scheme, had a two-week induction in New York followed by more in-depth sessions back in London. It's a lot to take on in the first six months," says Stephanie, but I'd say that afterwards you have a really great grasp of it." Like all other BlackRock graduate schemes, the programme lasts for two years, and it offers a unique insight into the whole of BlackRock.

It's an exciting time to join BlackRock Solutions. Stephen Connolly, who's been in the team since graduating three years ago, notes that Aladdin is becoming increasingly popular in continental Europe, meaning that the team is growing significantly. Bruce adds that the system is currently being continually developed to deal with multi-asset and other complex portfolios and to respond to changes in the way derivatives are regulated. "BlackRock is a massive participant in the derivatives market," he says, "and we're helping to shape its future by building the platform its participants use. It shows that working in BlackRock Solutions is not just about a computer system, but helping to define industry best practice on the management of money."

Portfolio Analytics

Who is eligible to apply for graduate positions here?

Those who have or expect to gain a good degree in one of a range of analytical, technical or financial subjects.

What could you be doing in this team?

  • Helping investment teams at BlackRock or external clientsunderstand the risks to which their portfolios are exposed.
  • Advising on risk mitigation strategies.
  • Monitoring changes to regulation, and market movements and events. "Our goal," says Eric Stern, a director in the Portfolio Analytics team at BlackRock, is to make sure that people managing money at BlackRock and externally can view their investments and understand what their risks are, given what's happening in the markets." Sam Skinner, an associate in this team, gives some more detail about the kind of information the team provides: "We tell our portfolio managers and clients about their investments and provide analysis of the current value of their portfolios. We'll also provide information about what kind of return their investments are likely to yield in the future." The team also provides ongoing updates on regulatory changes and market movements and events. Issues impacting on the team's work at the moment include the US presidential election, the turmoil in the eurozone and, looking further forward, the effect that longer lifespans in Europe and the US will have on the ability of investors to provide for their future. "It's about matching people's investment needs with what's going on in the market," says Eric.

This kind of analysis is provided by the team in a number of ways, including through Green Package, BlackRock's risk management tool, and through the Aladdin platform. But it's important to note that Portfolio Analytics is not just about providing reports: We really embed ourselves into the investment process," says Eric. We try to deliver proactive analytics, for example, by explaining to clients how they can gain exposure to a particular asset class or conduct a particular type of trade."

Graduates joining the team, says Eric, will start by "learning about the technology we use and how to respond to client requests" - ones you might tackle at an early stage could include, for example, a request from a client to see all their exposure to Spanish investments. You could also get involved in constructing or improving risk management tools. As you become more experienced, you'll be involved in more complex analytical work and have greater client contact. As graduates develop, says Eric, we purposely give them a broad exposure to different types of asset class, different types of technology, of working with other groups so that they can make an educated decision about the best place for them at the firm." After completing the two-year analyst programme, graduates can progress to a more senior role within Portfolio Analytics.

What kind of graduates does BlackRock want to recruit?

There's some attributes and qualities that BlackRock looks for in all its potential graduate recruits, whatever team you're interested in joining. What are they?

  • Initiative: "One thing that helps to make BlackRock so successful," says Matthew, "is that when people here encounter a problem they're self-motivated to learn more so they can beat that problem."
  • Ability to ask for help: "But," says Caroline, "you'll have a strong support network here and it's important to ask for help when you need it. Admitting when you can't find an answer by yourself shows initiative too."
  • Eagerness to work at BlackRock: "What's interesting to me when I interview a graduate," says Eric, is when I see they have passion, an interest in what we do here, and a desire to operate in the way we do, which is all about attention to detail, communication and teamwork."

    Some application advice

What can you do to improve your chances of winning a graduate role at BlackRock?

  • Research the finance world: "You need to be interested in finance - and make sure you know the difference between an asset management firm and a bank," says Matthew. Also, keep up with current events - "we recommend the Financial Times as a great way to find out what's going on in the industry," says Eric.
  • Research BlackRock: Eric says, "Understand what we do - how we're an asset management firm that also sells IT products and tools." Sam adds, "Be able to talk in detail about the team you've applied for and why you've applied there - we want people to be happy in their role, so we think you need to understand it before you start here."
  • Make sure you can articulate what's on your CV: "Anyone who comes here for an interview for a graduate role," says Eric, "is going to be asked to talk their interviewer through their previous experience."

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