Is there a demand for financiers in Kazakhstan?

This question is answered in an interview by Marek Jochec, Associate Professor, Academic Director of the Master of Science in Finance Program (MSF Program) of the Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business.

Marek, you teach finance, you are an academic director of the finance program. Why is there such a great interest in this sphere today, why is it prestigious to be a professional financier?

– Indeed, it is prestigious now, and it has always been prestigious.
But let us first clarify who we are talking about. In my understanding, a financier is a person who is engaged in large-scale investment, capital management and so on. I think it’s because financiers make good money (laughs). But beyond that, what I like about financiers is that they have a holistic view, a wide range of knowledge on disciplines, and know how to prioritize. Moving from one project to another or working often on several projects at the same time, they constantly meet something new. I have a deep respect for successful financiers, especially if they have created their wealth from scratch, without the inherited money or the help of some influential uncle, only because of their diligence, intelligence, ingenuity and bravery.

There are many programs in economics, and nevertheless, new finance programs are being opened – why? So many people want this specialization? What is the difference between financiers and economists?

– Finance is an area of the economy, although relatively young. Economics itself is a relatively new discipline, it has been ignored for a long time. Management science has been developed along with the economy: entrepreneurs began to understand that doing business is not only a matter of experience, but also fundamental, theoretical knowledge. Finance was taught (and often is still taught) in the framework of MBA programs or within academic programs as Economics PhD level. The latest trend in business education is specialized intensive training in the form of the Master of Science in Finance (MSF). Nazarbayev University opened the MSF Program in 2017. The MSF degree focuses on Finance and related disciplines (economics, accounting, statistics, econometrics, mathematics) while skipping some managerial disciplines.

You are the Academic Director of the MSF Program. What is the uniqueness or advantage of this program?

– Probably, two important factors of success of any educational program are the selection of the best students and granting them an opportunity to learn from the best professors. We are trying to move in this direction. We try to find the best students in Kazakhstan and abroad, too – recently I received a letter from a student from China. We are the only program in Kazakhstan that requires completion of GMAT or GRE. We also build a “star” teaching staff. One of our teachers, Thierry Post, is a co-author of a scientific article with Richard Thaler who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2017. I am a co-author of an article quoted by Robert Schiller, a 2013 Nobel laureate, in his address to the Nobel Committee in Stockholm. At the same time, many of our teachers know at least one local language and actively participate in the professional life of Kazakhstan: establish and maintain contacts with business and government, speak at conferences.

What opportunities does this program give to graduates? And who is it designed for?

– Graduates have the opportunity to work in the financial sector, which will grow in demand for specialists, the number of vacancies, the amount of money, etc., as the country continues to reform and the private sector comes to the fore of the country’s economy. In the long term, the best graduates, if desired, can count on the opportunity to get a job in the world’s leading financial companies in London or on Wall Street. It should also be noted that the recipients of the scholarship from the National Bank of Kazakhstan have the opportunity to apply for a job in the National Bank out of competition.
The program is designed for graduates with bachelor’s degree in finance, business, business administration, economics, statistics, mathematics, etc. The most important thing is interest in financial, markets, business; motivation to work or develop own business in the field of Finance and feeling comfortable when working with figures, calculator and Excel. It goes without saying that our program is conducted in English – domestic investors invest in international projects, foreign investors come to us, and the modern global language of business communication is English.

Is there a demand for financiers? Will they find work in the future?

– I’m quite optimistic. Without business and private sector development, it will be difficult for Kazakhstan to join the 30 developed countries by 2050. The planned waves of privatization, increasing openness for foreign investors, the Astana International Financial Centre – all this indicates progress and that demand for financial specialists will only increase. Graduates of finance programs can work in companies in treasury, accounting or financial departments, as a corporate treasurer or CFO. (CFO). They can work in the audit (for example, in the Big Four) or in consulting spheres, banks and insurance companies. A very interesting thing is investment banking and asset management. Finally, there are also government jobs in organizations such as the National Bank or the Development Bank of Kazakhstan, or supranational organizations such as the World Bank, IMF, EBRD, ADB, etc.

What is the overall level of financial literacy in Kazakhstan? And why is this indicator important?

– We have recently won a grant for research on the level of financial literacy in Kazakhstan. Our current understanding is that the level of financial literacy is not as high as it could and should be. We hope we will find effective ways to improve it. Financial literacy is not a matter of only companies, how correctly they make business decisions, it concerns ordinary citizens and families. They also need to make investment and financial decisions: they face the management of the family budget, inflation, consumer loans, credit cards, mortgages, bank choice, pension fund. All this requires a basic understanding of finance, profit, risk, interest, etc. By increasing financial literacy, we are increasing the likelihood that people will make the right financial decisions.

What should be done to increase the level of financial literacy of the population? Are there any open access programs or resources that people and entrepreneurs can use?

– Of course! There is no need to complete a degree program for basic financial literacy and business acumen. A great source is the Internet, especially if you speak English. Khan Academy offers free lectures, videos, the same content can be found on Coursera and similar websites. We can start learning to be an investor by using demo accounts that most online brokers allow us to open for free to learn how to use their trading platforms. We can read the financial press and watch business news.