Forward with FinTech: Duke’s Newest Engineering Master’s Program

3/1 DukEngineer Magazine

With increasing numbers of Pratt graduates entering the financial industry, the time is ripe for the new Master of Engineering in Financial Technology (FinTech)

A teacher in front of a projector screen talking with his hand out
Forward with FinTech: Duke’s Newest Engineering Master’s Program

What is financial technology, or “FinTech”?

FinTech shepherds the creation and facilitation of technological solutions to financial market challenges. It is, in short, the intersection of engineering, computer science, business and finance.

“FinTech is revolutionizing the ways we bank, travel and buy things. The potential for students is almost endless, but so is the demand for these skills,” said Jimmie Lenz, the academic director of Duke’s new Master of Engineering in Financial Technology program. The master’s in FinTech program came to fruition after more than a year of discussion. With an increasing number of Pratt graduates entering the financial industry, it has become especially important that they are given the proper instruction and context to apply their skills, Lenz explained.

The program features a spectacular array of over 20 Duke faculty members, ranging from experts in economics to engineering to entrepreneurship. With the faculty having decades of combined industry experience, Lenz says, “Students will have a chance to interact with the vast majority of professors that are involved in this program. All the courses will be very ‘hands-on’ and project-based. This is not just theory but practical application of these skills.” Classes will teach and incorporate the newest innovations in the FinTech scene, such as in the course taught by Peter Balnaves, adjunct associate professor of engineering, in which robo-advisors provide digital financial advice based on mathematical rules and algorithms.

Jimmie LenzOver the span of one-and-a-half to two years, the FinTech curriculum will consist of business courses, technology electives, financial technology classes and a concluding capstone project. Students following the technology track will learn to develop FinTech products and services using tools such as machine learning, blockchain and quantitative financial analysis. Students in the management track will prepare to lead FinTech teams and projects through coursework in areas such as product management and customer-driven innovation.

A key component of the program will be an internship that students will complete during their second summer. These internships will come from a variety of areas, including large financial firms, large FinTech companies and early-stage FinTech startups, closely mirroring the fields where students will work after graduation. Lenz also believes a percentage of graduates will start their own companies, pioneering the development of cutting-edge FinTech products.

The first class of FinTech master’s students will arrive in summer 2020. Originally anticipating about 15 students, Lenz has described an “overwhelming number of students who are applying and interested,” hinting at a likely increase in class size in following years. A large demand exists for people with the FinTech skillset, and the number of students will continue to rise with it.

Incoming students will form a diverse class from around the world, integrating people who have already spent time in the workforce with recent undergraduates applying as a part of Duke’s 4+1: Bachelor’s + Master’s” program. Students are also expected to come from a mix of educational backgrounds, some with technical knowledge but little experience in finance, and some with exposure to finance and business but little involvement with engineering or computer science. Regardless of prior experience, students will develop in-demand technical skills, understand key technological advances, gain industry-specific business knowledge and benefit from personalized career services.

As noted by Emma Rasiel, Duke Financial Economics teaching director, the majority of financial technology programs in the United States are run by business schools. Duke will be among the first of its kind with a FinTech degree program based in an engineering school, administering an ever-changing curriculum to reflect real-world trends each semester. Because of this, students will not only develop the business skills needed for industry, but they will also gain the technical expertise necessary to thoroughly understand the technologies facilitating everyday financial transactions.

Lenz envisions the most exciting aspect of the program to be the ability to invent new products that have a significant global impact, helping Duke become a leader in FinTech innovation. Banks, firms and other companies have already brainstormed projects for classes and selected courses where they will work directly with students. “This future will be built by technologically savvy professionals with the kind of knowledge base students can gain in our new FinTech master’s program,” affirmed Ravi Bellamkonda, the Vinik Dean of Engineering at Duke University.

Philip Liu is a sophomore double majoring in mechanical engineering and economics.