Dealing a better hand to City graduates

Michael Greenwood learns of a university course that, students report, makes financial employers' eyes light up
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The Independent Culture
Andy Wallace, a foreign-exchange dealer, made the news last month because he quit his pounds 150,000 City job to become a teacher in a south-London comprehensive school. He said he had been there, done that and got the T-shirt.

He may well have done - having worked in dealing rooms for 15 years through the boom and bust of the Eighties and early Nineties - but for graduates looking for careers in the City, the chance to spend time in a dealing room is nothing to be be blase about.

The new International Securities Market Association education centre at Reading University will allow students to do just that in Europe's first fully equipped simulated dealing room.

With kit matching that available to major investment houses and trading floors worldwide, the pounds 2.5m centre funded by ISMA is designed to equip students with the experience they need to hit the ground running as they arrive at their first jobs in the industry.

It can take up to 18 months for graduates going straight into the industry to train to a level where they can sit at a desk and become productive. Students on the MSc, BSc and MBA courses at the ISMA centre will get hands- on experience of industry-standard equipment in the INVEST dealing room which is fitted out with Reuters 3000 dealing positions with real data feeds from international exchanges; Dow Jones Markets Active dealing positions; Datastream and Bloomberg data feeds; real-time Reuters News Service and Reuters Financial Television feeds; 24-hour live global business news from CNBC television; leading-edge software for exploring quantitative trading methods; and computer-based derivative securities valuation and portfolio management simulations.

Jon Lee completed an MSc in International Securities, Investment and Banking at the ISMA centre last June, before the latest equipment was installed. Mr Lee, who now works in bonds strategy for Barclays Capital, stressed the importance of even the smallest amount of practical experience.

He said the beauty of the ISMA course is that it puts you one step ahead of applicants who have come straight from graduation with a first-class degree in history or English. "It enabled me to talk the same language as the people who were interviewing me," he said. "I I could see their eyes light up."

Twenty per cent of the marks on Mr Lee's course came from simulated trading exercises which gave him dealing room experience, and, while at the ISMA centre, he also gained the essential Security and Futures Authority licence.

Tim Hughes, deputy director of the centre, said that for many students getting experience of a dealing room is almost impossible. He explained: "Graduate recruiters at the big City institutions are inundated with requests from students wanting to get experience, but because of the high security and the nature of trading many trying to develop their experience and career never get the opportunity."

He said that the centre was offering a bridge between the academic world of university education and the reality of working in the City. "What we have at the centre now is not like a dealing room in the sense that we can never reproduce the potential of making or losing money, but our dealing simulations are as close as you can get. We can put the students under pressure and by stopping the market simulation we can challenge their decisions and explore their reasoning - this is something you can never do in a working environment. So we can ... get them a bit closer to the atmosphere, energy and the pressure of a dealing room ...

"For the students wanting to understand the City it is not just a case of reading the Financial Times, with the live feed you can watch and learn from the immediate effects of news on the markets."

Opening the revamped ISMA centre, Sir Brian Unwin, President of the European Investment Bank, stressed the importance of training and experience to address the problems posed by monetary union.

"The inauguration of this centre could not have happened at a more exciting time in the history of the European Union, which is about to embark on perhaps the most significant and challenging transformation in its history," he said. "Much greater awareness of the characteristics and requirements of the new Euro-world into which we are moving need to be created. The ISMA Centre has an important part to play in this at a high and sophisticated level".