Meet our Financial Math Alumni- Coffee chat with Albert Hopping- Part 2

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Part II: Analytic techniques continued...

6) Do you believe the future movement of the market data is, to some extent, driven by the models used by major financial institutions, even though these models may not be correct?

Albert: Does the market move because the model is assumed to be correct? I would say yes. Consider the market crash in 1987. Prior to the crash, there was no “volatility smile,” but there was after the crash. The market had actually been acting correctly, according to the model, until they realized the model made terrible assumptions. The market moved much more than their model implied. One event is meaningless; however, this highlights an incorrect model driving the market.

For a more current example, look to the way mortgages were priced before the recent mortgage bubble. Banks priced mortgages with the assumption that housing prices wouldn’t fall. The entire market priced that way because that was what everybody else did; it was group think. They used this assumption because the price had never gone down in their historical data set. Models are only as good as their assumptions. Could somebody have built a better model and actually predicted the housing price collapse? Yes, it could have been done and a few people did it.

Unfortunately, in a time of high earnings, it is easy to ignore risk. Risk is especially underweighted when quarterly earnings are prioritized over long term security. I feel that compensation packages are lagging the culture shift at most companies. This disconnect leads people to act as individuals focused on their personal bonuses rather than acting as representatives of their company. Further, a system which provides bailouts for bad behavior begets that bad behavior. The “smart” companies wouldn’t receive a bailout, leading some to assume they are better off to employ the incorrect group think model. Of course, this would not work in a free market.

7) Does your company use stochastic models? If it does, what kind of models are used?

Albert: We primarily work with customers who have reasons for the models they use. Sometimes, they ask us to implement specific models in their system. Other times, they come to us for advice asking what model may be best. For instance, in regards to interest rates, I am a big fan of the Libor Market Model (also known as the BGM Model). It is a term structure model. However, the industry almost exclusively seems to use short rate models. The Hull-White Model is very common because it’s very easy to parameterize, simple, and everyone else is using it.

However, I enjoy commodities more than interest rates or equities. In commodities, we have different issues because it is such a physical market. These models can be much more complicated. If I picked a favorite model, it is one that I was lucky enough to have helped develop (I’m biased). That model takes the term structure for a commodity and relates it back to the spot price allowing them to be simulated together. I really enjoy working with that model. In general, my favorite model is the right model for the situation; a model that makes logical sense and fits the data.

Part III: Risk management

8) How do the recent financial crisis and the regulation policies enacted after that affect the behavior of your company?

Albert: As a vendor, our business is based on our customers’ business. A crisis like that causes additional regulation or at least the changing of regulation. To handling that regulation it is very logical that a third party, a vendor would make a solution and sell it to customers. Typically, that type of regulation would cause a company like SAS to make a new product and be able to provide that solution to more people. Unfortunately, the capital expended on satisfying regulations cannot be used elsewhere in the economy.

9) The goal of risk management is to achieve a balance between returns and risks. Thus, with lots of capital and human resource spent, risk management may, to some extent, reduce a company’s profits. Now suppose you are a leader of a financial institution. Driven by the motivation of maximizing the profits, will you pay enough attention for risk management?

Albert: As a risk professional my answer must be yes. There are two aspects to consider in regards to risk: monitoring and management. Consider risk monitoring first. One should spend resource and pay attention to know the rules of the game. For an example, let’s think back to mortgages. What if housing prices could go down? I may go bankrupt. Well, that would be very important to know. If you don’t know the rules of the game, you cannot play your best.

In the same way, you need risk monitoring to help you see what the possibilities are. In terms of risk management, it’s like getting an insurance policy. Let’s say I have a house and all my money is in my house. If my house burns down, I may go bankrupt. I should clearly buy fire insurance on my house. That’s how risk management can be considered as well. Yes, if I am concerned about anything other than the very short term, I would spend enough resource on risk management and pay attention to my risk team.

Part IV: Suggestions & Advice

10) What skill sets are important to succeed in your field?

Albert: I get asked that question often: by students, by some of my friends, and some of my peers. I change the details of my answer almost every time, but there are key components that remain consistent. First and foremost is communication. No matter how smart you are, no matter how brilliant your model may be, if you cannot convince others and if you cannot explain your ideas, it is not going to matter.

Another component in my list is passion. Passion is not a skill, but an ingredient to success. Is it necessary? No. But if you are not passionate about your field, why work in it? Your passion allows you to have better ideas and think outside of the box which is critical. If you just think like everyone else, you are very replaceable. This makes it more difficult to advance. Your passion may present itself in the form of problem solving. This is an important skill.

Another skill of importance is programming. In our field, people are often not formally trained in programming. We are more likely to be self-taught with at most one or two university courses in programming. This is very different than those people who come out of school with an entire degree in computer science. They have different level of understanding the way a machine thinks. In some parts of our field, this understanding is critical and you will need to learn it. Being skillful enough to have a computer automate you work is always important. Automation frees your time to think and add real value.

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Thank you Albert for inviting us to SAS for coffee and taking the time for this fun and informative interview!

 

Meet Xiaohong Chen- Career Ambassador of the week!

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"Hello, My name is  Xiaohong Chen, a current student in the Masters of Financial Mathematics Program of NCSU. I have been in the United States for over nine months now and I feel this is one of the greatest times in my life!

To me, ‘quant’ was once a mysterious but exciting word, which captured my imagination. I can still remember the first time I learned about the binomial tree option pricing model; I became instantly fascinated with learning more. Since then, becoming a 'quant’ was my dream. Thus, I decided to come to NC State to chase this dream!

During my time here, I have realized that being a quant is challenging. Through the Financial Math’s career development services, I attended a job shadowing program to a local financial institution. Through this learning experience I got the chance to communicate with employees (in risk management and investment departments) to understand their job responsibilities. The job shadowing event was a great opportunity and I realized which career path I did and did not want to pursue. (Tip- it is just as important to know what you do and do not want to do in life) 

After carefully consideration, I have decided to pursue a Ph.D. in math after graduation. I know there is long way to go, and I will never give up my dream. If possible, I wish to be a Quantitative developer one day. I have talents and gifts in programming and I want to make full use of this skill in my future position. For next several years in academia, I plan to build a solid foundation for math and complement my background in computer science in order to make myself qualified for this job. This is a long way off, but it is a laudable dream. And I believe I can make it one day!

Life here is not tedious. I have enjoyed some of the greatest moments of my life and I made best friends in the past year. NC State’s Financial Math program offers several professional events during the year, and I am honored to be a Career Ambassador and actively participate in these activities. These experiences have already helped me improve my social skills and professionalism, which will help me network to land my dream job one day. I appreciate all these opportunities I have within this program and I quite enjoy my life here."

Xiaohong Chen, May 2015 Graduate, Financial Math Intern & Career Ambassador

Student’s view on Financial Math core courses at NC State

"Having taken many courses so far, Masters of Financial Math (MFM) students have discovered interesting and useful courses. Below are examples of a few core courses I have found important and useful."- Yizhou Chen, May 2015 Graduate

Statistical Theory:

Statistical Theory I & II is important in providing fundamental theory and formulas. In Statistical Theory II, we developed the probabilistic tools and language of mathematical statistics. The course describes basic probability theory, probabilistic models for a properties of random variables, common probability distributions for univariate and multivariate random variables, and sampling distributions and convergence theory. We learn description of discrete and absolutely continuous distributions, expected values, moments, moment generating functions, transformation of random variables, marginal and conditional distributions, independence, order-statistics, multivariate distributions, and concept of random sample.

The Statistical Theory classes are designed to provide the basic tools of statistical inference and prepare us to understand the foundations behind statistical inference. Thus, the knowledge enables us to formulate appropriate statistical procedures. Additionally we learn sufficient, ancillary, and complete statistics; Methods of finding estimators, including maximum likelihood; Mean squared error and unbiasedness; Hypothesis testing, including maximum likelihood; Mean squared error and unbiasedness; Hypothesis testing, including likelihood ratio; Power functions; Neyman-Pearson Lemma; Uniformly most powerful tests; Confidence intervals; Asymptotic properties of estimators and tests.

Asset Pricing:

Asset Pricing is a core course in the first semester of the Financial Math program. We gained a lot knowledge about finance from this course, especially for the students who have little knowledge about finance.  This course is an introduction to the pricing of assets. The emphasis is on the mathematical methods used to derive pricing formulas, and there is additional time devoted to explaining the major types of paper assets that can be priced with those methods. Real assets, such as factories and machines, also can be priced with the same methods. The goal of this course is to introduce us to the major types of asset prices and give us an understanding at an intuitive level of the relation between asset prices and the mathematics that governs their evolution.

The content in this course: Introduction to major fundamental assets (stocks and bonds), interest rates, and derivative assets, such as put and call options. Arbitrage theorem, present value, risk aversion, hedging, duration, properties of derivative assets, binomial trees, elementary stochastic calculus, Black-Scholes option pricing formula, implied volatility, capital asset pricing model. Emphasis on mathematical methods used to price derivative assets.

Probability and Stochastic Processes:

Probability and Stochastic Processes I: This course is set as an alternative course to Statistical Theory II. This course is more theoretical and the key point of this course is different from Statistical Theory I. In Statistical Theory I, we developed the probabilistic tools and language of mathematical statistics. Probability and Stochastic Processes describes basic probability theory, probabilistic models for and properties of random variables, common probability distributions for univariate and multivariate random variables, and sampling distributions and convergence theory. It is a modern introduction to Probability Theory and Stochastic Processes. The choice of material is motivated by applications to problems such as queueing networks, filtering and financial mathematics. Topics include: review of discrete probability and continuous random variables, random walks, markov chains, martingales, stopping times, erodicity, conditional expectations, continuous-time Markov chains, laws of large numbers, central limit theorem and large deviations.

Financial Mathematics:

Financial Mathematics- This is a core course in second semester, and challenging; some say difficult! Probability and Stochastic Processes and Asset Pricing courses are necessary to prepare us for Financial Mathematics class. Understanding the history of mathematics evolving over time as they are subjected to random shocks and knowledge of the mathematics of asset pricing are essential tools for this course.

Financial Mathematics course focuses on the basic mathematical tools for finance. In particular, we cover time value of the money, simple interest rate, bank discount rates, compound interest, ordinary annuities, extending ordinary annuities, amortization, sinking funds, perpetuities and capitalized costs.

Content of this course: Stochastic models of financial markets, No-arbitrage derivative pricing, discrete to continuous time models, Brownian motion, stochastic calculus, Feynman-Kac formula and tools for European options and equivalent martingale measures. We also learn about Black-Scholes formula, Hedging strategies and management of risk, Optimal stopping and American options, Term structure models and interest rate derivatives, and Stochastic volatility.

Monte Carlo Methods:

Monte Carlo Methods with Application to Financial Mathematics- This course requires some knowledge of programming. We use Matlab to write functions, apply appropriate control structures, and import and export data. We implement the methods mentioned in the other learning outcomes in Matlab. Matlab is utilized to visualize the results. The homework of this course may not be so difficult, but it takes a lot of time. Because of plenty use Matlab, we need take some pre-courses to prepare for it.

In this course we learn Monte Carlo (MC) methods for accurate option pricing, hedging and risk management. Modeling using stochastic asset models (e.g. geometric Brownian motion) and parameter estimation. Stochastic models, including use of random number generators, random paths and discretization methods (e.g. Euler-Maruyama method), and variance reduction."

By- Yizhou Chen, May 2015 Graduate, Career Ambassador & Financial Math Intern

Learn more about NC State Masters of Financial Math.

Meet Xun Ma- Career Ambassador of the Week

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"My name is  Xun Ma (May 2015 Graduate), and come from a small city in the southeast of China, Guiyang. As a first year student in Financial Mathematics program at North Carolina State University, I got an awesome opportunity to be an Ambassador of the program.

Before I came to the Financial Mathematics program, I was majored in Econometrics. As a Chinese student, I found that I learned a lot through the work experience as an Ambassador. The Ambassador is a role not only about leadership, but also a role about professionalism. This is a good way to experience professional environment in the United States. Within few months in the role, I had the opportunity to have close communication with professionals in financial industry and help advisors to prepare board meetings and career fairs. All of these professional events fulfill the rest of my time out of academic study.

My personal interest is to apply mathematical skills in model construction in order to solve practical problems. In the short run, I plan to be a risk modeler. So far, I enjoy learning related numerical skills and programming skills based on solid theoretical knowledge in quantitative finance. I have implemented my quantitative skills in several projects that are mainly focus on explaining the relationship between interest rate spread and sovereign debt crisis.

More importantly, my Ambassador role provides extra resources to help me improve my communication skills and opportunities to introduce myself to a large range of working professionals from different companies. All of these experiences give me passion and confidence to pursue my career goal."- Xun Ma