Industry Experts Enrich Duke FinTech’s First Year
Weekly Friday seminar series inspires, motivates and exposes students to the latest developments in traditional and emerging financial sectors
Duke’s new Master of Engineering in Financial Technology (FinTech) program is aimed at fueling innovation in the finance industry by teaching in-demand computing and programming skills along with industry-specific business fundamentals. Among the first programs of its kind based in an engineering school, Duke’s FinTech degree is designed to prepare graduates to meet a growing need for technical expertise in the traditional and emerging finance sectors.
An integral part of the experience in its first year has proven to be seminars every Friday in which students engage with FinTech innovators and industry veterans. Jimmie Lenz, the program’s director, envisioned the Friday seminars as an opportunity to inspire, motivate and expose students to the latest developments in traditional and emerging financial sectors. The series’ experts exemplify the unique advantage of Duke’s FinTech program—its strong foundation in engineering and technology—and students have responded enthusiastically.
“We have a very different perspective than you would get at a business school, students appreciate that and see the value in that,” Lenz commented.
The series started in September with one of its most dynamic speakers, Sultan Meghji, a serial founder with a deep quantitative background and the co-founder and CEO of Neocova, a firm that offers AI, analytics and other cloud-based systems to financial institutions. Meghji shared his vast start-up experience with students, breaking down a critical element that separates billion-dollar companies from those that operate in the tens of millions.
“The difference is…entirely based on hiring people who can live in the startup but grow into the corporation,” said Meghji. “You have to get really good at not just making sure you’re hiring the right functional skill sets, but the right culture, and be able to rip the Band-Aid off if it doesn’t work. And in a lot of cases, if you’re the founder, it’s you.”
Throughout the series, students heard from the frontlines of FinTech innovation. In October, the seminar featured REIN, a FinTech startup that is changing the way that insurance products are created, distributed and managed. REIN’s leadership walked students through the company’s emergence into the insurance space, from their beginnings in drone insurance, to their Volvo Financial Services 10-week challenge win, and the establishment of their exclusive relationship with Liberty Mutual.
“The market is hungry for this sort of skillset. It’s hungry from a FinTech standpoint, hungry from an AI standpoint, hungry from an actual analytics standpoint, hungry from a business development standpoint.”
SVP of business development, Mastercard
Like Meghji, REIN’s team stressed the importance of recruiting the right people. Their partnership with Duke has been a helpful path to identifying new talent. Kimberly Richards, REIN’s General Counsel told students, “Our internship program with Duke has been so critical in helping us thrive and helping our team continue to innovate.”
Logan Allin, self-described “FinTech nerd,” Duke alum, and general partner and founder of FinVC, gave students the venture capital perspective in his Friday seminar. FinVC invests globally early through growth and late-stage FinTech. Allin outlined FinVC’s process for pinpointing investment targets, which contrasts with the more traditional method of evaluating inbound proposals from companies. His experience has taught him a lot about criteria that precede a successful investment, such as the importance of talent. FinVC looks for companies with CEOs that have a technical background that enables them to understand the foundational engineering and tech culture that they need to establish.
Olivia Shen, the seminar’s student host, appreciated the real-world perspective provided by speakers like Allin and raved about the industry exposure. She was impressed with how approachable the speakers were, saying, “They took our opinions into account and were willing to share their thoughts about the early stages of their careers. They were really generous.”
Speakers clearly recognized the importance of new blood for the industry’s future. John Fimbel, a FinTech entrepreneur, SVP of business development with Mastercard, and the series’ final speaker, was direct with students about the urgent need for their expertise.
“I think with the unique skill set of the students I’ve come across, that you can play it in a lot of different directions,” said Fimbel. “The market is hungry for this sort of skillset. It’s hungry from a FinTech standpoint, hungry from an AI standpoint, hungry from an actual analytics standpoint, hungry from a business development standpoint.”
The seminar series will return in Fall 2021 to bring next year’s students practical, first-person accounts of the wide array of opportunities in FinTech.