London’s High Finance

Aniket Nikumb chronicles his time at the London School of Economics and Political Science in July 2011.

The LSE Old Building: Where the magic happened!

A shrill voice rings out, “This is the Piccadilly line to Heathrow” breaking the rhythmic pumping of the Underground’s wheels. It’s a beautiful summer night, one that must have inspired many a romantics. I am heading back from Angel to catch a flight back to Mumbai in the morning, caught up in my thoughts of the past three weeks. And that’s London for you: the true cosmopolitan, with its perfect weather and finely pressed suits, its enchanting accent and breathtaking views. This is the London that inspires, and I have just spent the summer of 2011 studying at the LSE.

I was looking for something productive to do over the summer, and stumbled upon the concept of summer school. Some of the world’s most prominent institutes run a series of courses for three to seven weeks in their campuses over the summer – attracting students all over the globe for an intense academic experience. From the mesmerizing scenery of the Charles at Harvard to amidst the trimmed lawns and punts at Cambridge, summer school provides an extraordinary opportunity for students to explore a different institution, study a diverse subject and make friends from far-flung nations.

The charm of Cambridge is simply irresistible in the summer

Studying at London, especially in the London School of Economics and Political Science has always been a dream for me. The LSE is the premier finance and economics school in the world – boasting central bankers, Nobel Prize winners and super-successful billionaire businessmen as its alumni. I applied to do a program on ‘Alternative Investments’, and was accepted quickly. A couple of childhood friends also joined in, and we looked forward to exploring London, the student way.

Classes at the LSE are intense, taking place through the week including a three hour professor lecture and an hour hour tutorial with a teaching assistant each day. The teachers are phenomenal: my professors were Dr. Konstantinos Zacharidas, Ph.D. from Northwestern University and Dr. Jack Favilukis, Ph.D Finance from NYU Stern School. Of course, you have to top the classroom lessons with some self-study and preparation; many a student fell behind because they couldn’t keep up with the pace of teaching. The curriculum is cutting-edge, and textbooks include latest publications by leading scholars and authors – keeping one updated with the latest in the field. The tutorials are phenomenal – once, we got to pick live market data, and use advanced excel functions to value a Mortgage Backed Security (MBS) just like one would in an investment bank. (It’s an entirely different matter that the banks’ valuations of MBS was what got them into trouble in the first place).

Unlike the Indian method of education, the LSE simply does not believe in ‘spoon-feeding’; one is left to fend for oneself if one has not revised oneself. I also had two exams over a three week period: which required me to put in a couple of all-nighters. Thankfully, nobody is judged by the length of their answers, and concept clarity is the main focus of the examiners. In contrast, a vast majority of students in my home university, University of Mumbai, have been ‘taught’ the importance of length of their answers as well as the need to ‘reproduce’ the textbooks word-to-word. I also had conversations on future career paths with my professors over a beer in a campus bar and a rock band playing for our farewell. (Few know that the Rolling Stones’ first gig was at the LSE almost 50 years ago)

Clement Atlee quips, at the Three Tuns Bar, LSE

The learning doesn’t stop in the classroom. The LSE attracts students from all corners of the globe; some say from more countries than the UN has member nations. Interactions with these people can significantly broaden your thinking. I got to visit the London metal exchange to see traders battle it out in trading pits. I had the fortune of meeting a South Korean army sergeant turned derivatives trader, a fashion designer who scorches the ramps across Europe and an ATP juniors ranked tennis champion. The networking opportunities in that glorious campus and charming residences is unmatched by any country club in the world. Most of the people I met at London are close friends, and even one year later, we easily pick up from a past conversation.

Rock Concert in the house, Farewell @LSE

You also get time to explore the city your own way. Once you master the city transport system, you quickly learn that cycling is a cost effective way of multitasking your transportation and exercise needs. Cycles are available on a very cheap rent at every other block. You ‘discover’ that although some undergrounds are non-operational on weekends, the city operates buses alongside those routes for free – so you can effectively save a couple of quid by visiting far flung locations on those days. (Yes, we did that!) You discover the power of finance and man’s ambition when you stand on Canary Wharf staring into a sky of glass and steel. The Tower Bridge and the walk along the Thames can make you forget your worst woes, and if you’re lucky, you might find a flea market for books with some awesome deals.

London’s next City, Canary Wharf

Today, having graduated from my Chartered Accountancy program in India, I am appearing for interviews in leading consulting and banking firms. Invariably, I find a partner or director who’s an LSE alumni who loves to talk about the school and the Three Tuns bar right amidst in campus. I discuss with them about how a Tosca hedge fund manager told me that patience is a very rewarding virtue, and that we must focus most on learning when we are in our 20s or how Joseph Stiglitz featured in the LSE Public Lectures drove me to question my assumptions of Ayn Rand inspired laissez faire capitalism.

Lost in my memories, I look out of the window as my plane taxies off Heathrow as the Sun wakes up London’s compulsive joggers. I smile, for this will be a summer I will never be forget.

PS. I get an email a week later from the LSE Summer School office. I scored an A+ and it looks awesome on my CV 🙂

Top of the Class!: A+ in Alternative Investments 🙂