Meet our Financial Math Alumni- Coffee Chat with Albert Hopping- Part 1

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Meet Albert Hopping, ERP- Manager of Risk Consulting at SAS Institute in Cary, North Carolina. Albert graduated from the Financial Math program in 2007. He is a Board Member and an active alumnus of our program. We were happy to meet with Albert for coffee at his office at SAS.

Part I: Education & Job Background:

1) Why did you decide to get a Master’s degree in Financial Mathematics from North Carolina State University?

Albert: That I might receive more wages. That is the short answer. I finished my undergraduate degree before this program existed. When I joined the program, I was working full time. I had been out of my undergraduate program for a few years and I ended up in a risk analytics team at a diversified energy company. At that point, I didn’t have a risk background and didn’t know much about the field. I was on the risk team looking around and I saw these quant guys programming in Matlab. It looked like fun to me and I thought that it was a cool job. I wanted to be a part of what they were doing, so I started helping them with their work as much as I could.

Eventually, it got to the point where I was doing this risk work a majority of my time. I told my manager that I should be moved to the quant job family. I was told that a master’s degree in Financial Mathematics was a prerequisite for the job. Not having the degree was a roadblock for me. I applied to the Financial Mathematics program that week and I am glad I did.

2) How did the program prepare you for your job?

Albert: I was already doing risk work; I was self-taught to a certain extent. This put me in a different position compared to most students, and I got different things out of the program than other people might have, as a result. Most students learn theory first and practice second. I started the program with the perspective of a practitioner. While in the program, I learned about models I used on the job. I used these tools at work, but I didn’t really know about stochastic partial differential equations. I used Black-Scholes, but I could not derive it.

What I received from the classes is a much deeper conceptual understanding and a firmer foundation from which to see my work. What I really took from this program is a fundamental, basic understanding of financial mathematics. I also learned new models and conceived great ideas to use in practice.

3) Please briefly describe your job, your job title, and your responsibility?

Albert: At SAS Institute, I am a Manager on the Risk Solution team of Professional Services & Delivery (PSD). Let me explain from the top down. PSD is the consulting, customization, and delivery arm of SAS. Many customers of SAS software want services, consulting, or even staff augmentation. PSD provides these services. We are the ones who go to the customer site and work with the customer to help them get the most benefit from our products. Our team within PSD specializes in the risk management domain. We work with all the risk solutions and provide consulting for all risk topics. Our team has about 20 members and is growing.

Within risk, I specialize in three industries Energy, Financial Services, and Healthcare. I am responsible for leading customer projects, providing industry and risk domain expertise to the sales teams, mentoring fellow team members, and most importantly providing value to the customer. Note that the views and opinions I express today are my own.

Part II: Analytic techniques

4) “Big Data” is a hot specialization in the field. Do you see this as a long term trend or something that might pass as a fad?

Albert: Big Data is definitely a long term trend. In fact, I would go beyond that; I would say it is going to be the new norm. It will progress to the point where big data is simply the paradigm. I will even extend that to unstructured data. Companies, who are not using big data and unstructured data to their advantage, are starting to fall behind. They are tomorrow’s luddites.

5) The trend of “Big Data” implies that people believe historical data can shed light on future prediction. However, this contradicts with “efficient market hypothesis” to some degree. What are your thoughts about this?

Albert: One of the things I would like to point out in terms of the “efficient market hypothesis,” is the irrationality in the market. A simple example comes to mind: technical traders discuss how a stock index will meet resistance or break through a barrier. But what are those points where the index meets resistance or breaks through? They are numbers with lots of zeroes on the end, round numbers. Why are those numbers important? They are only important because we tend to be emotional and we have ten fingers. I propose that if we had a different number of fingers we would use a different base for our number system. The round numbers where the stock index meets resistance would be different numbers.

Clearly, these barriers are irrational, as they are based on how many fingers we have. This means I cannot be a full believer in the “efficient market hypothesis.” The question remains, is all this historical data priced into the market already? To the extent that people are doing analytics on big data, perhaps yes. Was it priced in before? No. Was the data available? Mostly, but people could not convert the data into knowledge. It was impossible - until analytics on this big data was possible.

Now, we are in the place where something can be done because of the advancements in software and the physical hardware. Data can be restructured and put into use in the market. The fact that the data is available is clearly important, but prior to these advancements one could not glean actual insights. The data must be converted into information that helps those insights that yield a better price or a better model. Acting upon those insights is what makes the market more “efficient”.

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Stay tuned for Part 2 & follow Albert on twitter @SASQuant