Leading U.S. business schools are trying to teach students how to become masters of financial technology, a subsector of Wall Street that has grown in size and prominence, but because the area is still ill-defined and relatively new it is hard to develop courses.
Stanford University and Georgetown University business schools are planning to offer “fintech” courses for MBA students for the first time this fall. New York University is planning a new course for undergraduates after launching a fintech specialization in its business school last year.
They join the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Columbia University’s business school and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management, which all launched similar programs in recent years.
The new courses are being driven by student demand, officials from those universities told Reuters in interviews.
A number of prominent startups have exploded onto the fintech scene in recent years, fostering interest in mobile payment apps like Venmo, digital loan platforms like SoFi and robotic wealth managers like Betterment.
“Ten years ago everyone wanted to go into investment banking or in the trading side,” said Reena Aggarwal, Director of the Georgetown Center for Financial Markets and Policy. “Now the students are much more interested in innovation.”
NYU’s undergraduate course, for instance, attracted enrollments from twice as many students as expected.
But the burgeoning industry is so diverse that academics said it is difficult to construct a syllabus for financial technology 101. There are no textbooks and few professors have fintech expertise.
“For fintech, some people mean bitcoin and cryptocurrencies; some people mean the technology JPMorgan uses for trading,” said Angela Lee, Columbia Business School’s chief innovation officer. “Everyone thinks it’s sexy, and a lot of people use it colloquially without knowing what it is.”
Instead of developing traditional syllabuses, universities have been teaching students how markets are disrupted by new technology, helping them develop business ideas or offering classes on narrower topics.
For instance, MIT taught a course on blockchain, the technology that first emerged as a system underpinning the virtual currency bitcoin. Stanford’s course will focus on financial inclusion, or designing affordable products and services for disadvantaged customers, said Kenneth Singleton, a management professor who will teach the class.
Universities have also invited financial technology executives to lecture.
“There is no ready-made teaching material that you can put together,” Antoinette Schoar, a professor of finance at MIT Sloan, said in an interview. “You have to try your own curriculum or develop real life cases.”
Those involved with the programs said learning about fintech can help students’ careers, whether they join traditional Wall Street firms or launch their own companies. They said it has also helped attract high-quality students.
One Wharton student, David Gogel, enrolled after developing an interest in fintech while working at American International Group. He is now co-president of the FinTech Club, one of the largest professional organizations at the school, with 260 members.
“Part of the reason I chose Wharton was because of its investment in fintech,” he said in an interview.