A View of the Financial Services London Trip
Brace yourselves, a wall of text is coming… The highlights of the Masters in Financial Management's venture into London are described below, proceed at your own discretion.
On the Monday morning of January 20th, before sunrise, the MFM class gathered in Brussels to go to London by the Eurostar and have one of the most exquisite weeks of the year so far. The first-movers of our class were already in London since Saturday, for some networking and enjoying a game of Arsenal vs Fulham.
First things first, upon arrival in London we checked in at our hostel. Afterwards, we went to the offices of the maker of a well-known MFM tool at Vlerick Business School, Bloomberg. Most of us know it from the terminals they provide that allow access to some of the most refined financial data you can imagine. Starting off our company visits at Bloomberg was a good choice, as it immediately set the benchmark of how the offices in London would look and I can say without any doubt: they look astonishing. Initially, the tour began with some history of how the previous mayor of NYC started with building his empire of financial information data and services in the fixed income market and later expanded to financial services, ranging from offering financial data through the terminals or by Bloomberg TV and other products. After that, we had a break in their relax room and got some refreshments, while having a look at the multiple big aquaria with exotic fish. The second part of the visit consisted of some explanation on the new features of the Bloomberg terminal, which we use so often at Vlerick Business School. With these new insights on how Bloomberg operates in mind, we were ready to go to the next stop of the day, Oliver Wyman.
The offices of Oliver Wyman are located in the famous Baker Street and since we had a bit of time off before our appointment, the gents of our class went to the illustrious address of Baker Street 221 B. Afterwards, armed with a coffee in hand, we went for some more exploring and sightseeing of the city of London. Arriving at Oliver Wyman, we were greeted by four consultants from various countries and specialized in different industries. Oliver Wyman, for some less known as it does not have an office in Belgium, is best known for its financial strategy consultancy. After learning a number of facts about the firm, such as that it is part of the Marsh & McLennan company known for its insurance and reinsurance activities, we were ready to split up into groups and work on a typical consultancy case. Together with the insights of the consultants, we were able to solve the case and sometimes even surprised them with our creative solutions. After a small presentation on the solution and our very own Martijn De Meyer who presented our solution, we had some drinks and networking possibilities with the consultants. After the reception, we went to eat and had a meet-up with the class in the bar of the hostel where we discussed the first day and the wonderful days to come.
The second day of our London Study trip started with a visit to JP Morgan where we got acquainted with the company and their division of global asset management. The whole MFM class felt privileged that one of the largest investment banks invited them to present their company and to share some tips for the application procedure. Furthermore, they gave us a preview of their expectations of how the global economy in 2014 will evolve. It was very interesting to get to know the company in a more detailed way. This was certainly very appealing to MFM’ers that are aspiring to work in the investment banking world. In addition, their outlook of the market was extremely interesting as well. They tackled different aspects, such as unemployment, real estate, the evolution of the interest rates and inflation. Now we have to wait and see whether their insights and predictions were correct. After the presentation, JP Morgan offered us a lovely lunch.
Most of us left JP Morgan to explore the city of London and to grab a bite in between the previous session and the following company visit at Standard & Poor’s. S&P is one of best known rating agencies in the world. The company is part of McGraw-Hill, which some might know for its academic books. The S&P building is located right in the heart of the City, at Canary Wharf. For most of us, this was the first time we actually laid our eyes on some of the most magnificent skyscrapers in London. When seeing the street name ‘Bank Street’ and the amazing buildings of the investment banks, a lot of us were immediately at ease. Once at S&P, we were welcomed by the staff and received an elaborate presentation on what the goal of a rating agency actually is, how these companies operate and why they are so (in)famous. We learned that S&P originated out of the analysis of railroads, which was in 1860 a common investment. Given that a lot of investors had no clue about the state of the different railroads, S&P published a detailed analysis on all of their financial and operational details. This methodology of examining and ranking companies is still applied to debt instruments nowadays. As in all good presentations, we had the opportunity to ask some questions. A lot of questions, most of them focusing on the role of rating agencies in the financial crisis, were asked and answered. After a couple of hours, our visit was already over. A quick group picture and numerous photos were taken before we headed back to the heart of London, eagerly awaiting the next chapter of our study trip.
At the end of the second day, we were expected at the Royal Anglo-Belgian Club for a networking event and a walking dinner. After S&P, most of the class went to visit a local pub to get something to drink and to rate the local beers and wines. That process, which implied both a quantitative and a qualitative element ended somewhat before 6pm, when we decided to go the club. The club itself is situated in a luxurious hotel where an upper floor serves as a meeting place for Belgians working in the UK. We were greeted by the staff who immediately started serving us the walking dinner. Good to know is that the term ‘walking dinner’ is not known in the UK (it’s called hot fork). This became all very clear to us when we actually had to eat. Some of us ate in style, relaxed in a chair made for kings, while others… well, the style was not always present. After the dinner, numerous school alumni as well as members of the chamber of commerce showed up. They gave us insights on how it is to work in London and in investment banking. The more ‘renowned’ alumni also gave us some advice on how to proceed in life. The network event ended late in the evening. This meant, of course, that there still was a whole night to enjoy…
The third and last day of scheduled activities consisted of two parts. Our first ‘company’ visit brought us to the City, where we had an appointment at Lloyd’s, an insurance market. After a short introduction, we split up into smaller groups and three wise gentlemen gave us all a tour around the different floors in the rather unique building (with elevators, pipes, etc. on the outside). One of the striking elements during the tour was the emphasis on history and tradition. As a result of its roots in maritime insurance since the 17th century, the place was full of artifacts related to this period and the activities. One of the highlights was the main Underwriting Room: a large room housing countless working stations, a big vitrine with many historical objects related to Lord Nelson, a large logbook containing records of ship accidents, and especially the Lutine Bell. This bell, originating from HMS Lutine, would be rung twice in case of good news (mostly ceremonially these days, e.g. when Prince George was born) and once in case of bad news (a ship had sunk). On the top floor of the building, we visited the Adam Room, a royal-looking room where the Council of Lloyd’s meets up. The room and many other locations were covered with impressive paintings, usually referring to historical events and people. Near the end of our tour, our knowledgeable guide was excited to let us know that their building’s interior was used in the film Mamma Mia!, posing as an office building in New York. The more you know… Our visit of Lloyd’s concluded with some refreshments and a presentation about the market (I repeat, not a company!).
Following an undoubtedly nutritious lunch for many of us, the last event of the day led us to a fellow business school, ESCP Europe. The local professors prepared two very interesting sessions for us. After a brief introduction and a split-up into two groups, the first part of the afternoon was aimed at simulating a trading room experience. We got to play around with the software during a number of short trading rounds, under different circumstances (e.g., a skewed demand/supply). At the very end of the session, we played a couple of ‘serious’ rounds, focused on making as much profit as possible. Some were more successful than others at staying out of the red (sorry, JMP). Some well-deserved spoils of war (refreshments) followed. During the second session, we got to know more about the markets, the mechanisms and got to play a few games to illustrate the concepts of trading (e.g., the bid-ask spread). Both of these sessions provided useful insights and for many a first trading experience. Bragging ensued.
After three days of visiting companies, most of the people from MFM extended their London trip to discover the city. During these days we enjoyed London from another, non-financial perspective. Some people visited the numerous musea, while others explored the city by doing some sightseeing, which included the Buckingham Palace, London Eye, House of Parliament, Tower of London and many more. We ended our days by enjoying the night scene of the city.
On Friday, a few brave souls dared to attend a finance conference organized by the University College London. After an extensive breakfast (not), the conference kicked off with a couple of interesting presentations by experienced professionals. The topics ranged from an overview of the market, regulations and the economy in general, to some insights concerning the low interest rates. Following a lunch combined with some networking opportunities, the afternoon consisted mostly of very interesting panels and discussions about subjects related to banking and M&A.
And finally, it would not be very MFM-like if we didn’t combine the pleasure with some business. Therefore, during the last day or two, a significant amount of people worked (or at least attempted to) on an assignment that was due on Monday. Regardless, this was a week full of fun and good memories.