Culture and Talent

How MBA programs are teaching financial technology

  • This fall, two large institutions will add financial technology courses to their curriculum.
  • Educators say the changing field demands a broad approach that gives students the tools to adapt.
How MBA programs are teaching financial technology

On Master of Business Administration syllabi this fall: Financial technology.

Universities across the country, including Stanford and Georgetown, will begin to offer courses in the subject this fall, joining a league of other schools that have launched courses and degree programs in the field over the past couple of years. These include Brandeis, NYU’s Stern School of Business, Columbia Business School and MIT.

The challenge educators face is trying to keep the curriculum fresh in a fast-evolving field, especially when training in one type of technology may be irrelevant by the time a student graduates. As a result, MBA schools are taking a broad approach, opting to prepare students to adapt to changes in the market.

“There are two big struggles in teaching anything new and nascent — one is what does fintech even mean, and the second thing is how the industry is evolving and how to be agile with course developments,” said Angela Lee, associate dean and chief innovation officer at Columbia Business School.

Lee said the school has focused on a combination of broad training rather than training on specific tools, while trying to partner with the industry when possible.

“A deep dive in bitcoin is less useful than a deep dive on alternative payments,” she said.

The school’s collaborations with industry will kick off this fall with a new collaborative program with Citi Ventures that will let Columbia MBA students get hands-on experience building new business ideas from the ground up.

A wider focus is also underpinning Stanford Business School’s approach to the subject. The school will offer a financial inclusion course for the first time this fall for its MBA students, an approach professor Kenneth Singleton said will address the social and economic circumstances that drive financial inclusion issues in the U.S.

“We’re going to be focusing on financial inclusion across the entire socio-economic spectrum, but a lot of it will focus on the development of new products that will enhance the financial capability of individuals and households,” he said.

The challenge he hopes to address during the course, he said, is how develop a product that’s true to its social mission but can also scale and be profitable.

“In this sphere, it’s extremely important that one understands one’s target audience and the essence of the friction or problem one is trying to mitigate or solve — some of the most successful consumer-oriented startups are those that were started by people who recognize a problem from their own experiences and set out on a creative way to do that.”

Those in the field like the approach.

“We’ve talked to a number of professors who are putting these classes together, and they’re approaching us about different trends or how we should be contextualizing what’s happening in fintech — forget the specifics of an innovation or product — that kind of discussion is super relevant,” said Ryan Falvey, managing director of the Financial Solutions Lab at the Center for Financial Services Innovation. The Center runs a JPMorgan Chase-backed accelerator program for up-and-coming startups.

The problem is going beyond theory. Jobs in the field require an understanding of the backbone and plumbing of the technology. Falvey said startups in fintech need people with technical talent, but these programs focus on people in business.

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