Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Consortium Finance Network, a Year Later

A year later makes a difference. Recall a year ago--just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG, the bailouts of banks, the implosion of equity markets and the scattering of acronyms and phrases for the ages--TARP, CDO's, CDS, toxic assets, etc.

The mood was dismal, the outlook uncertain--although there was a glimpse of optimism after Obama's election triumph. Consortium students in finance, normally juggling lucrative options and opportunities, wondered if there would ever be a market or economic upturn. Nobody could project an impending recovery. Students and alumni asked themselves, "What can we do in finance? Will financial institutions hire, expand, grow, or become profitable ever again?" Some even bothered to ask, "Why finance?"

In the midst of it all, the Consortium Finance Network (CFN) came to be. It started with clear, simple objectives and hopes of establishing a forum for Consortium students, alumni and friends to learn about opportunities, to share stories about survival in a financial crisis, to find out about what's new or what's next, and to open pathways for MBA students who follow behind. CFN opened its doors to all with an interest in finance or financial services.

During the year, CFN hosted events and sponsored programs. In the meantime, the crisis ebbed toward its end; over time, there appeared a glimmer of hope for a recovery or a return to times when those in finance could thrive--at banks, funds, insurance companies, brokerages, corporations, venture-capital firms, and investment companies.

In February, CFN held its kick-off program in New York--thanks to the Federal Reserve Bank. Over 160 students, alumni and friends watched a panel discussion on perspectives in finance (coming out of the crisis). Experts from the FRB, Credit Suisse and Citi led the spirited discussion on opportunities, an expected recovery, diversity topics, and financial regulation.

In May, CFN hosted a transitions event in New York--thanks to Citi. Charlotte Lee, an executive counselor/coach, presented ideas on how Consortium students and alumni can differentiate themselves in a tough job market or in any transition into a position in finance. Lee told stories about what has worked, what hasn't, what you should do, and what you shouldn't.

Earlier in the year, CFN organized itself on Linkedin. Membership now numbers above 330 and includes Consortium students, alumni, sponsors, recruiters, and friends. Discussion topics (finance topics, current events, career opportunties, diversity issues, etc.) are presented on its blog. Blog topics included summaries of the top diversity firms, new post-crisis finance courses in business schools, recruiting strategies at top banks, and attributes of top performers in banks.

In June, CFN introduced itself to new Consortium students at the Orientation Program in Charlotte. CFN also distributed online a guide to first-year Consortium students in finance. The guide included advice on how to set up information interviews at investment banks, how to master the elevator pitch, and how there are plusses/minuses working at boutique firms.

After the Orientation Program, to maintain enthusiasm among students in finance, CFN appointed CFN school champions, who have regularly shared updates on campus, described the moods and opportunities, and disclosed what banks and firms have increased their recruiting efforts.

In August, CFN rolled out its mentorship program, matching over 50 students in finance with over 20 mentors (alumni and other experienced professionals). Mentors in the program have actively introduced students to other contacts and mentors.

In September, CFN sponsored a career-planning webinar (presented by Jason Alba, a career-management expert) with a special focus on online networking and effective use of Linkedin. Over 100 registered for the session. (CFN discovered how the webinar permits greater participation from people around the country.

By yearend, based on feedback, CFN began to plan events (i.e., webinars) that will also emphasize non-traditional MBA finance careers (e.g., microfinance, community banking, etc.). And CFN hopes the Federal Reserve event of February will become an annual gathering to discuss industry perspectives and to meet and greet fellow students, alumni and friends.

Not a bad year--given the uncertainties and the anxieties of the times and given the near-upheaval in the industry. Not a bad year--thanks in part to the enthusiasm, optimistic spirit and energy of many Consortium students and in part to the passion and commitment of many alumni, sponsors, and friends.

Tracy Williams

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