With unemployment rates expected to surge in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, students finishing a bachelor’s degree may feel now is the right time to stay in full-time education and ride out the coronavirus-induced recession, emerging with greater skills and knowledge for the post-pandemic recovery. Meanwhile, those already in work may feel the need to come back to school to upgrade their credentials.
“When there’s a storm, you’re looking for shelter,” says Professor Jean-Pascal Brivady, Co-Director of the 18-month MSc in Finance at emlyon business school. “Applying now for a place on our course is a way to avoid market turmoil while there’s no jobs and lots of competition because there’s a lot of people being made redundant.”
And even if Covid-19 heralds a prolonged downturn (the worst case scenario), the MSc provides skills that are valuable in any economic climate. “You can find technical knowledge on the internet, but soft skills including critical thinking are what differentiate masters from bachelor’s graduates,”says Brivady. “An MSc is a good asset and it’s valued in a crisis.”
It is difficult to predict how the job market for finance graduates will shift over the next 12 months. Those graduating from their MSc this year face the challenge of developing their career in a recession. There has been some disruption to the six-month internships that are a key part of the MSc, with postponements due to social distancing guidelines, but job offers have held steady — and Brivady is reasonably optimistic.
Professor France Bachelot, the other Co-Director of the MSc in Finance, says investment banks are still hiring for roles in markets, corporate finance, sales and trading, mergers and acquisitions, transaction and advisory services. Even in a crisis, she says, financial markets still need to operate — hence the demand for these core roles, even if, the containment period has postponed at least by 6 months, the hiring programs and lead employers to be more selective.
“As long as they are in business, banks will need our students who come with high level financial techniques and excellent communication skills,” Bachelot says. “They might wait to resume normal business, but we don’t expect a sharp drop in jobs because this is not a financial crisis, unlike in 2008.”
Back then, the crash was caused by “structural problems in finance”, she says. Banks are more resilient as a result of the last downturn, with greater liquidity, capital buffers and risk management. “The two crises are completely different and not comparable; this is a health crisis that will impact on the economy and probably financial jobs,” she says.
However, she expects graduates to shift between roles rather than be made redundant. “Because of the crisis, banks will hire more students in financial advisory and restructuring,” says Bachelot. “Students will move from one function to another.”
Brivady believes finance is always changing, with asset classes and functions falling in and out of favour. “Funds and market finance are deeply cyclical businesses,” he says. But it is hard to predict the current economic cycle.
Given that students face an uncertain jobs market, what skills should they be developing on the MSc to ensure a successful career, and how can they develop them in business school?
Consistent with numerous employer surveys, Bachelot says students need “hard” technical abilities as well as “soft” interpersonal skills to succeed in financial markets. The technical smarts — like financial models — are the table stakes. It is good communication, emotional intelligence, relationship building and teamworking skills that will set graduates apart from the pack.
“The finance jobs our students secure are client-facing roles,” says Bachelot. “They need to be good at listening, understanding customer needs and solving client problems.”
These abilities are developed on the MSc through global study trips, group projects and experiential learning — in addition to core modules in investment banking, corporate finance and data analytics. For instance, students can switch between emlyon’s campuses in Casablanca and Shanghai as well as the base in Lyon.
Another key skill in this pandemic is adaptability. Students have had to become more flexible and autonomous to cope with coronavirus disruption. “This has been a good opportunity for them to develop their resilience, which will benefit them in the long run,” says Bachelot.
Employers crave these skills and are willing to pay a premium for them: graduates of the MSc are paid up to €90,000 (an average of €60,000) and secure jobs all over the world, in Europe, Asia and US. The employment rate is 90% within six months of graduation.
Given these resilient job prospects, it is unsurprising that the MSc is enjoying an uptick in applications, with the course seen as a haven in a recession. Demand is up by 50%, partly a result of a restructuring of the curriculum two years ago.
The changes included the introduction of two tracks after the first semester, in corporate finance and innovation or market finance and data analytics, to help students go deeper into the specifics of their intended industry.
The application growth is supported by strong overseas demand, with approximately 40% of the current cohort being from outside of France, including Asia, Europe and the Americas. This diversity brings a broad mixture of viewpoints that can enrich everyone’s learning experience through group discussion.
From next year, students will have the option to study from their home nations if necessary, via emlyon’s interactive online learning environment. The campus in France will reopen, with coronavirus measures in place, including physical distancing.
Current evidence suggests that a growing number of students see this as an investment that will yield a strong return during the pandemic.
Brivady says: “When times are tough, people are naturally looking for a shelter. An MSc in Finance is a good shelter and will give you a competitive edge for the recovery.”