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CAPE TOWN - African Institute of Financial Markets and Risk Management (AIFMRM) says that careers in finance are advancing yet the understanding about working in the industry remains old-fashioned. 

AIFMRM contends that a career in finance is appealing to most graduates, given the high salary prospect. 

However, the field remains highly competitive with an increasing demand in scarce skills. This in effect places increasing pressure on undergraduate students who may ideally be required to obtain a Master's degree in order to work in this competitive industry. 

Representatives from Rand Merchant Bank, Old Mutual, Liberty Life, ABSA, and AIFMRM advised risk managers and quants at the University of Cape Town's AIFMRM on what they need to be prepared for: 

1. Instability in the economy is not the end

“Risk management is not only about adverse events but also about identifying opportunity and enabling business", said ABSA’s Nico Le Roux, Principal: Rates and Credit Structuring. 

 “Banks play a very important role in society; enabling transactions plays a big role in developing society. We must not only focus on the negative side.”
2. New skills are in demand – and they’re evolving constantly

The financial industry is rapidly changing with blockchain, fintech companies and big data, said senior lecturer at AIFMRM, Co-Pierre Georg. “This will result in a fundamental change in how the economy works, said Georg. “The demand will soon be inordinate for people with scarce skills that combine finance with modern technology,” he said.

Georg says that machine learning will effect this shift where students develop their own Artificial Intelligence: AI trading platforms or a chat-bot for customer service, for example. 

3. Stay the distance

 “Try to stick it out with your studies for as long as you can", advises Lennox Masangane, Counterparty Credit Risk Models Consultant at Rand Merchant Bank. He acknowledges the difficulty of studying and working simultaneously and the challenge of sourcing funding for one's studies. 

4. Postgraduate is increasingly competitive

This attests to the notion of the decrease in students from undergraduate to postgraduate level. At AIFMRM, for example, there are just 25 places available each year on its sought-after MPhil in Mathematical Finance. At NYU,  there are around 900 applications each year for just 30 places, said Taylor. 

5. Employers expect you to be work-ready

“Firms are essentially looking for maturity of mind and attitude in new recruits". Taylor said that companies expect graduates to be intrinsically work-ready. “Somehow we have to slide students through a scale into people who sit down in their new jobs and start making money", said Taylor. 

6. Graduates have scope to shape their own career

Georg says that there is a yearning need for students who dream big. “My dream is that at the end of next year, we will have students who start up their own companies.” “We must go from the mindset of trying to get jobs to trying to create jobs", concluded Georg. 

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