File Image: University of Cape Town (UCT) campus

CAPE TOWN - The University of Cape Town (UCT) is now the first university on the continent to offer a degree specifically designed to equip students with skills and knowledge in the ever growing financial services sector.  

The new degree is a Master of Data Science with a specialisation in Financial Technology and will be offered for the first time in January 2018.The aim of the degree is to combat the main challenges in the sector such as the rise of modern technology and lack of skilled graduates who are able to take charge. 

The course convener Dr Co-Pierre Georg, Senior Lecturer at the African Institute of Financial Markets and Risk Management (AIFMRM) at UCT explains: “We are in constant and close contact with the financial services industry and know that it is facing a shifting demand for skills. 

"In the past, companies were mainly looking for advanced mathematical- and modelling skills. There still is demand for these skills, but by far the largest demand now is for students who have a thorough understanding of finance combined with a mastery of modern data analytics and software development skills. Our students will be able to develop these skills in the two most exciting areas of fintech: machine learning and blockchain technologies.”

“We see extraordinary demand for the degree already,” continues Georg, “also because Cape Town-based students can do the degree part-time. This is quite important to us since we want working finance professionals to be able to complete the degree and acquire the skills to thrive in a changing industry. For students who want to do the degree full time, we do offer full scholarships to ensure that nobody will be excluded financially.”

In the financial services industry, machine learning is used to analyse vast datasets, for example to identify a customer’s credit profile, to identify profitable companies, or to find an optimal investment strategy. Students in the new UCT degree will master machine learning methods and be able to develop their own applications using these methods. Over the years, machine learning has given the world self-driving cars, speech recognition, and improved understanding of the human genome.

Since the modern workplace requires a broad set of skills from various disciplines, the new degree is highly interdisciplinary and convened together with the Department of Statistical Science at UCT. 

Associate Professor and Head of the Department, Francesca Little, outlines the idea behind the degree “We started the MSc in Data Science to give students a thorough understanding of the latest methods in statistical learning. This includes the extremely exciting field of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The idea then was to bring together UCT’s ‘best and brightest’ from other departments to design a degree that is truly special. We are delighted to partner with AIFMRM so that we are able to offer a specialisation in the exciting new field of Financial Technology.”

Georg concludes, “Fintech offers a unique opportunity to radically transform the industry. Young startups are already challenging the incumbents and our students will be on the forefront of this technological revolution in South Africa. Our focus on entrepreneurship means that we will change the students’ mindset so that they not only want to go out and ‘get’ a job, but also to go out and create a job or a hundred.”

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE