From mechanical, to electrical and civil, engineering is reputed to be one of the most challenging and demanding of degree subjects, and for good reason. Over the years, the demands of the discipline and the various skill-sets it encompasses have helped many engineering graduates to successfully make the transition to investment banking and other areas of finance.
One of those graduates is Laurence Hopkins, who studied Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, London, before joining Morgan Stanley from another investment bank in 2005.
Now a Managing Director with the firm, he is a fervent advocate of engineering students beginning their careers in investment banking. “An engineer’s skill-set is extremely relevant to many of the roles in an investment bank,” he explains.
“They bring a lot to the table, including their ability to quickly get up to speed with complex tasks and problems. This is particularly useful in Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A), where the work is largely project-based, but also in Global Capital Markets (GCM) and in other teams across Investment Banking.”
When it comes to recruiting engineering students, Laurence suggests that strong numerical skills are usually a given: “generally speaking, if you were good at maths at school or university, you’ll be good at maths in a bank,” he says. “Most engineering graduates will be light-years ahead of other applicants in this respect, however, they still need to work on transferring these core skills to a financial or business context.”
“Provided they can make this transition, investment banking is a very rewarding career option for people with an engineering background. We do challenging, high-impact work; I’ve been in this industry 18 years and I’m still learning something new every day.”
We spoke to four other engineering graduates at Morgan Stanley to see how they were finding their feet in different roles in different areas of the bank.
Ali Ghorbangholi – Associate in Technology Division
My first degree was in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and I then went on to do a Masters in Software Engineering at Imperial in London.
You could say engineering has been a lifelong interest of mine. One of my favourite things when I was younger was to take things apart and to try to figure what was going on inside. It seemed like the obvious choice when it came to making university applications.
While I really enjoyed my time at university, I wanted to avoid becoming a one-trick pony and I felt that investment banking would give me the broader range of experience I needed at the start of my career. Working in a bank, you get to write great software but you also learn about the financial sector.
Quite a few people on my course went into finance, however there was a general perception that investment banking was too much of a leap in terms of the subject knowledge needed. I like a challenge, so I decided to apply.
The great thing about working at Morgan Stanley is that you can really tailor your role to your interests. Some engineering or technology graduates choose to stick to what they know best, like writing software, while others will decide to do work that’s much more finance focused.
My role is really a hybrid of the two: some projects will involve writing code while on other occasions a task could involve financial analysis or modelling. The great part is that I’m getting to use my engineering background while also developing new skills each day.
The best advice I can offer engineering students is to ignore the preconceptions or doubts other people might have about investment banking. It’s really a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained, and if I can do it so can any other engineering graduate.
Annabel West – Analyst, Fixed Income Division
I studied Engineering at St Hilda’s College, Oxford and joined Morgan Stanley after completing an internship with the firm last summer.
It was probably during my third year at university that I started thinking seriously about investment banking as a potential career path. I found the theoretical side of my course very intellectually stimulating and was gravitating to a more analytical role rather than a practical profession such as engineering.
Investment banking felt like the natural fit; I had friends who had successfully moved into finance from engineering and also spoke to several people from Morgan Stanley at campus events. This helped me to make up my mind to apply for the firm’s internship scheme.
My degree has definitely been an advantage so far. The nature of the work we do in the Fixed Income team is very analytical; I’m constantly looking at the market and trying to work out where it’s headed. It’s not all that different from how you’d approach a problem as engineer, the thought processes are very similar.
Not coming from a finance background, the most challenging part has probably been getting to grips with all the financial terminology used on the trading floor. Luckily, both the internship programme and at the graduate programme itself provide a solid grounding in the workings of the market. I now feel I’m on a level playing field with graduates who studied finance or economics.
Whatever your degree course, there’s a route into investment banking for anyone who wants it. The important thing is to be switched on at an early stage and get the ball rolling by taking part in an insight week or internship. It’s too easy to miss out on what could be an amazing career opportunity.
Kume Feese – Analyst, Operations Division
I joined Morgan Stanley last summer, having studied at Imperial. I have always been fascinated in understanding how things worked, starting with the electrical devices we had around the home. What I enjoyed most was knowing that technology will always keep progressing and improving.
This interest eventually led me to university, where I studied Mechanical Engineering. The subject involves working with physical products and learning how they’re created.
My Father has worked in banking all his life and this was a big factor in me deciding to apply for an investment banking internship towards the end of my course rather than stay in engineering. What swayed it for me was the fact that finance, specifically investment banking, opens so many doors. I could spend the next 10 years working in the industry and still go back to engineering if I decided to.
The Operations Division where I currently work provides support to various areas of the investment bank. It’s any extremely varied role, which is what most attracted me to it. You get to see the industry from a range of angles and to learn about different products without having to specialise in a particular area too early on.
My background has been a huge advantage for me day to day; it teaches you to examine the problem in its entirety before breaking it down into its smaller component parts. It’s similar to how you’d approach repairing a mechanical device, for example.
Mechanical Engineering is very much a team discipline and you’re taught from an early stage that you need your colleagues to get the job done. All the practical work we did at university was group-based, and it was just as important to understand everybody else’s role in the process as it was your own.
It’s the perfect preparation for working here: numerical and technical skills are important but so are communication and teamwork.
Jens Wauters – Analyst, Investment Banking Division
I completed Morgan Stanley’s Investment Banking internship scheme in London last summer, before returning to Belgium to finish my Masters in Software Electrical Engineering at the University of Leuven.
I chose to specialise in computer and electrical engineering early on. I liked the fact that everything is purely logical and can be explained through maths; you can push the mathematical principles of a problem all the way.
To say it’s rare for an engineering graduate in Belgium to go into investment banking is an understatement – it’s practically unheard of. Most of my course mates went on to work in straight engineering or consulting. However, in my case it was working in London’s financial sector that appealed to me. It’s the most important in the world
Initially it seemed like quite a big jump I was making, but I soon found that much of the work I was doing was very familiar to me, particularly financial modelling. While I might not have initially understood exactly what the models were about, the technique itself came very naturally to me. It’s a mechanical process and means drawing on the programming skills I learnt at university.
My sector focus, telecommunications, is also a perfect match for my skills. Thanks to my background, I’m familiar with many of the companies and the products they make. There’s a natural interest there and it gives me a little bit of a head start on some of the other graduates in my division.
While there’s still a long way to go, so far the progression from engineering to finance has been a smooth one. A lot of the softer skills – being good with numbers and having a logical mindset, for example – apply to both disciplines. For engineering graduates, there’s really no excuse not to go for it.