‘More and More Often, We Need to Analyse Data That Is Non-Financial’
In September, the new HSE online master’s programme in Business Analytics launched on Coursera. Its educational content is close to the practice-oriented on-site HSE master’s programme in Corporate Finance. Graduates of the programme go on to pursue brilliant careers in business, retail, banking and finance, as well as create their own start-ups.
Graduates of the master’s programme in Corporate Finance Sergey Balakirev, Head of Development Projects at Promsvyazbank PJSC, and Georgy Pashchenko, Chief Financial Officer at Kodland, an EdTech startup, talked about the advantages of studying on the programme, trends in business analysis, and why it’s impossible to build a career on simple Excel calculations today.
Why did you choose the HSE Corporate Finance programme?
Sergey Balakirev: For me, the choice of master’s programme was quite simple. I had several key criteria. It had to be as practice-oriented as possible—the teachers on the programme are corporate finance and market professionals with a lot of experience. I also wanted the opportunity to combine work and studies—no other good programme allows you to do that today. HSE University’s reputation among professionals and employers was another factor.
"Looking back, I view the decision to join the programme as one of the best I’ve ever made.
Georgy Pashchenko: According to experienced corporate finance professionals, this programme provides the optimal balance of practical and theoretical skills. Together with the evening-class format, which can be combined with work in the field, this creates a strong synergy. It allows you to rise to a completely new professional level in two years and benefit from the corresponding acceleration in career growth. I had a background in IT, so while working in finance, I wanted to fill the gaps in my knowledge and get a fundamental understanding of corporate finance.
How relevant are the studies to current requirements in the corporate finance and business analysis markets? What tracks are adapted to meet these requirements?
Sergey Balakirev: The programme is practice-oriented, and its teachers include professionals who are trendsetters in corporate finance and apply exactly what they teach. That’s all that needs to be said. Most of the programme tracks are like this. Regarding specific subjects, I can mention the courses in business valuation, financial modelling, financial reporting, venture capital, and mergers and acquisitions.
Georgy Pashchenko: The programme’s teachers are not only leading theoreticians, but practitioners from top companies in their fields.
"Students gain not only the relevant knowledge, but highly sought-after skills.
This helps them to become professionals capable of handling the most complicated projects.
What theoretical and practical classes would you like to mention?
Sergey Balakirev: Despite the fact that the programme is practice-oriented, it provides a serious theoretical foundation with detailed analysis of academic publications in corporate finance, macroeconomics and econometrics. These classes provide a fundamental knowledge and train you to reason from first principles, which is a considerable advantage in the market. I would particularly like to mention the research seminar format, where participants virtually become researchers and learn how scholars identify trends, factors and specific drivers of different solutions and their interrelations. Going by my own post-programme story, this is a useful skill that reinforces a broad outlook, a complex perspective of the things that happen in corporate solutions.
Georgy Pashchenko: First of all, I remember the impactful theoretical courses on business value: valuation, corporate finance, elements of value-based management. Among the practical classes, I would highlight project financing. Generally, most of the courses are very strong, and the large amount of team project work also helped to refine our soft skills.
What global trends in business analytics can you highlight?
Sergey Balakirev: The key global trend in financial and business analytics is the application of various software tools in addition to Excel. Today, professionals often need to know programming languages to work with data arrays and raw data in order to look for signals—including weak and unlikely ones—for use in financial decision-making.
Georgy Pashchenko: Analysis is becoming more conceptual and methodologically complicated. It’s no longer possible to build a career with simple Excel calculations. Professionals need to have a strong theoretical foundation that allows them to build and interpret bold and complicated models. A new level of technical skill is also essential, namely in programming languages and interactive data visualization tools.
"Analysts of the future must be bold methodologists capable of processing huge amounts of data to find ideas to help their business increase profits.
What is required of finance professionals and business analysts today?
Sergey Balakirev: Finance is an extremely competitive environment with competitive requirements. You must be knowledgeable in theoretical finance and business analysis, be familiar with analytical tools, have skills working with large volumes of information and identifying important points from this information, and be able to formulate your thoughts clearly. The scope of finance professionals’ operations is expanding: more and more often, there is a need to analyse data that is non-financial, to search for relations between this data and financial estimates and indicators. Professionals have to find ways to include such data in financial models.
Georgy Pashchenko: First of all, I recommend loving what you do; to keep improving, learning, and communicating with leading experts. In terms of key skills, I would emphasize soft skills such as creativity, curiosity and boldness in research. And only then will I go on to the standard set of hard skills: finance theory, financial modelling, analysis tools (spreadsheet editors, programming languages and BI solutions).
How has your career developed? How would you like to advance professionally?
Sergey Balakirev: I started my career when I was still studying on the HSE master’s programme. My first employer was a Big Four company, where I had a three-month internship in the financial institution audit department. Then, still as a student, I worked in the corporate finance department of a Russian consulting company for six months, and then became a business valuation consultant at PwC. I worked there for 18 months and gained invaluable experience and skills that I still find helpful. After that, I shifted my career towards investment and worked for 3.5 years at the family office of a top-100 Forbes billionaire. I spent 1.5 years of that dealing with venture investment, growing from an investment analyst to vice president for investment. I still work in investment today, but for the last two years it’s been in banking: I help implement an ecosystem and digital transformation strategy via M&A and venture investment. I spent 1.5 years at VTB Bank in the strategic department as managing director, and have spent the last six months at Promsvyazbank, also in the strategic department as head of development projects.
"If I change job in the future, I would like to continue developing in the field of investment in tech companies.
Georgy Pashchenko: When I was a fourth-year undergraduate student at the HSE Faculty of Business Informatics, I had an internship with KPMG in the investment and capital market department, corporate finance group. I was fascinated by financial modelling, which let me fully apply the synergy of my technical education and interest in finance. Thanks in no small part to my education on the master’s programme in Corporate Finance, I was able to supervise teams on very complicated projects in financial modelling, valuation, and project feasibility studies soon after the start of my career. Alongside financial projects, I built a separate digital team from scratch consisting of full-stack developers and data scientists as part of the KPMG investment and capital market department. We were looking for and applying cutting-edge technologies to improve classical investment analysis. After 5.5 years at KPMG, I moved to Kodland, an EdTech company, to serve as CFO. I was inspired by the goal to build a global financial team (Kodland operates in a dozen countries and is actively entering new markets) in a company whose mission is to teach digital skills to kids and help them to fulfil their dreams.
What do you expect business analysis to look like in 10 or 20 years? Will the financial profession remain in demand in the long term?
Sergey Balakirev: The requirements for precision and speed will grow, as will the volume of information processed by analysts in decision making. It will be hard to imagine a finance professional without at least basic programming skills. Big data will not just be a fancy word, but a specific object of analysis, while artificial intelligence and machine learning tools will become basic tools for business analysts and finance experts.
"Professions that require expert opinions and creative approaches will also be in demand. These things can’t be automated.
Develop your skills in critical thinking and first-principles thinking. Finance—particularly in venture capital markets—is about human relations, which is another thing that cannot be digitalized or automated. Professionals with deep theoretical knowledge, technical skills, the ability to think critically and creatively and build long-term human relations are the people of the future. They will always be in demand.
Georgy Pashchenko: The finance profession will always be in demand, since it is about concepts and models. Technical tools for implementing models will change a lot, as will the volume of data and the quality of indicator visualization. But experts who can develop analysis methodologies, build models, interpret the results and provide comprehensive recommendations for businesses will always be sought after.