'The Double Programme is a Challenge, But a Very Exciting One'
London Connection, online magazine of the University of London International programmes published an interview with Vassiliy Kosov, ICEF BSc Economics and Finance graduate of 2014, and spoke to him about studying for two degrees concurrently, winning a scholarship to LSE, and the economic outlook for Russia.
— Please tell us a bit about yourself. What were you doing before studying for your University of London degree?
— I was born and raised in Moscow. I finished my high school education simultaneously in two schools: one was a general Russian high school, the other one was an Anglo-Russian School where I studied A levels in Mathematics and Economics.
Studying in two schools had already prepared me to work hard at university. And the A levels gave me an insight into how different the English educational system is compared to the Russian one. I should say thanks to the Anglo-Russian School! I was the best student in the quantitative disciplines there, and looked for practical application of it. This sparked my interest in the world of finance and shaped my mindset appropriately.
By that time I already knew that a simple university programme would not be appropriate. I wanted to get a very solid academic education, which would be indispensable to my future career. For me it was an inflection point, when I decided to do my undergraduate in a top programme in economics, which would give me the best education and recognisability, as well as relevant and applicable skills for the finance industry.
I think I always wanted to achieve more than others, to perform better in all aspects, and to get what I want. This is an ongoing challenge, and staying hungry is the key. So after two high schools I started to pursue two diplomas in a double degree programme at the International College of Economics and Finance. It accommodates the BSc in Economics from the best faculty of the top Russian University, Higher School of Economics, and the BSc Economics and Finance from the University of London.
English language is the only way of communication in the finance world, if your concerns are global
— Why did you choose to study for the BSc Economics and Finance through the University of London International Programmes?
— It is the best degree you can obtain in Russia for the range of finance professions. I should admit that the English system is much better for the kind of highly applicable subjects that we studied, such as Corporate Finance or Macroeconomics. English language is the only way of communication in the finance world, if your concerns are global. I also wanted to have a strong mathematical grounding for most of the theory, and that is where the Russian degree helped.
My dilemma was primarily whether I should go to the UK or stay in Moscow for my undergraduate education. I think I made the right decision, as it turned out that with the BSc Economics and Finance from the University of London, I could also get BSc Economics from Higher School of Economics. They are both highly recognisable internationally and the programme comprises the advantages of being exposed to educational cultures and grading systems, and having the English teaching and the highest class of professors. This remains a highly competitive and unique opportunity in Moscow.
Moreover, the job interviewers are pleasantly surprised when they see two equally strong university degrees on my CV at the same time. This experience signals about many extraordinary abilities.
— How did you balance studying for your University of London degree with a local degree? Did you find the two degrees complemented each other?
— The double programme is a challenge for four consecutive years, but a very exciting one. It does not feel like any other educational experience. It is perfectly designed complementwise, so the studies inspired, rather than overloaded me.
A student learns a lot of basics in the first year [of the Russian degree], takes Advanced Placement Tests in Calculus, Statistics and Economics and gets prepared for the international degree. That is where my Anglo-Russian School degree helped me a lot. The Russian degree offers a range of courses implicitly related to Finance - this includes Sociology, Principles of Law (with the corporate tort law basics), IT etc., and a well-motivated student takes an opportunity to broaden his mind extensively. Also, every year there is obligatory coursework which encompasses the usage of econometric methods of analysis to certain empirical problems in finance.
I tried to use many opportunities for self-development. For instance, I had a Master’s elective of Valuation in M&A, which strongly prepared me for the MSc degree and the industry. I extensively participated in the founding and development of the Investment Banking student society, Keystone, which is now probably the most popular finance club for students from all around Moscow universities and with speakers from IB, Consultancies, Private Equity, etc. who come to share their experiences, conduct case studies and even recruitment events.
Other than that, I benefited from strong connections between ICEF and the London School of Economics. I was in the LSE Summer School, Alternative Investments course in 2012, which gave me an insight on the studying process at LSE and somewhat predetermined the choice of the MSc programme. I am very grateful to my university for this experience, knowledge and new connections. Now I am studying at LSE for an MSc Finance and Private Equity, which is highly ranked as one of the best European finance master's programmes.
For those who are really dedicated and ready to take every challenge seriously – ICEF is the hugest investment in the future one can make at undergraduate level
ICEF is an ultimate combination of the persistent and result-oriented English programme structure with hardworking and broad theory of the Russian one. And, of course, you should be able to deliver the best results in both. For those who are really dedicated and ready to take every challenge seriously – ICEF is the hugest investment in the future one can make at undergraduate level.
— This sounds like a very interesting experience! The programme seems to have been really valuable to you. How was it organised?
— My global ambitions are derived from studying for this double degree. The programme is well designed: laying the foundation for heavily mathematical and critical analytical thinking in the beginning, moving to the top of applicable knowledge in the finance world.
You start with gathering the tools for analysis, shaping the mind with Advanced Calculus and statistical techniques, building the flexible and adaptable mindset in Micro- and Macroeconomics. As you move on, you apply more and more sophisticated methods for analysis, i.e. Econometrics and Optimisation, to use them in specific courses, such as Monetary and Labour Economics. In parallel, you get introduced to finance and the theory of the firm through Accounting, going deeper to Corporate and International Finance.
To think critically and never take anything for granted without your own analysis - that is what every university should teach. And the University of London did
— And what are the particular skills and insights that you derived from the BSc Economics and Finance degree?
— The most useful skill I learned from the University of London is understanding the causes of things. To think critically and never take anything for granted without your own analysis - that is what every university should teach. And the University of London did. I think this is always an advantage. By the way, it is called Rerum cognoscere causas and it is a motto of LSE.
With the University of London I learned how to work hard on various assignments for unexpectedly long periods of time - a skill that is very useful in any financial service company, and one that is very useful for me now I'm doing my MSc at LSE. And when you study that excessively, you understand the value of self-preparation and learning, how to be engaged for a long period of time. You understand that your future is in your hands.
The programme was intensive but fair. Students got what they deserved according to their performance - pure meritocracy. For example, we had some finals weeks with an exam every day, which was a tough thing to have. So at year-end many students left or had to go through the same year again because of their results.
— I’m sure you have never had that kind of problem.
— Of course not. This was never the case.
— Falling oil prices and sanctions have sent the Russian economy into decline. What impact do you think this will have in the short and long term?
— Well, you probably would agree, that no one can be objective regarding this, as it is also a political issue, not purely economical. But I will try to answer.
The impact is very sensitive for the economy with the real purchasing power declining substantially and following almost 50% rouble depreciation. The crisis severely harms the real sector, especially the companies with the dollar-denominated debt, and the financial sector given the response of CB of Russia with the 650 bp key rate increase in December. Sanctions are also restricting access of Russian companies to foreign long-term debt. So there is no surprise, Russian stocks and bonds have shown the worst performance among emerging markets during 2014. This crisis seems to be longer lasting and associated with more uncertainties compared to the previous one in 2009.
However, I would not be very pessimistic about the longer term prospects. We can already see how the key rate is going down gradually. The negative growth forecasts are now less and less rough from major Investment banks, which now predict the shrink of 3%. Yes, there are difficulties, especially with the currency and imports, but the economy will recover as Russian people always do. As BRENT oil crude seems to be less and less volatile, so does the rouble. It has already appreciated from its low point in January by 25%. It is very strong given the dollar appreciation, which is hurting globally many emerging economies in debt terms, for instance, India. Russian bonds are also showing the strongest recovery in emerging markets. There is a strong political factor in this economic pressure, but sooner or later, I believe, the economy will be upgraded from junk rating, and banks will include it back to emerging market indexes, so passive investors will return Russian stocks index to their portfolios too, therefore adding to the valuations.
And regarding sanctions, they were meant to cripple the economy but it is very difficult to separate their effects due to the oil price impact. It seems that sanctions actually have much smaller than expected effect on the investors' perception on the overall economy, hurting directly some companies related to the government. And while many imports are restricted or less affordable, Russians are forced to choose domestic products, which also improves the interior market.
I would say that 2015 is a very difficult year for the global economy, being related to multiple uncertainties, so the timing of the crisis also affects the domestic economy. And it is not only the oil price, which is one of the strongest instruments though. I am talking about Chinese slowdown, which reduces Asian demand and drives prices of commodities down. Or the deflation in the EU, which is a huge challenge for ECB as the gross effect on European demand of asset-buying programme is difficult to predict. Or the rates increase by the Fed expected later this year. It is aimed to balance the growth of U.S. Market and the dollar, but again the effect on the valuations is difficult to assess from here. And ceteris paribus it will positively affect the rouble and the recovery of the Russian economy.
The job interviewers are pleasantly surprised when they see two equally strong university degrees on my CV at the same time
— What does it mean to you to be awarded a scholarship to study for a master’s at LSE?
— For me it has always been a great honour to obtain this scholarship. It is a very good qualitative result of the prolonged period of academic success I had for four years. And it will always remind me of how important it is to be the best not at a single exam or year, but on a permanent basis. I am using this to know that all the efforts are rewarded.
Is what you learnt on the BSc Economics and Finance degree helping you in your master’s degree?
Definitely yes. I am deepening my understanding of the finance industry in the MSc programme, which is very qualitative in terms of solving cases and understanding deal-making processes in finance. So most of the quantitative and theoretical part is something I have already got from the University of London. And more than that, the variety of subjects in a double-degree programme gave me a versatile perspective on cases studies, which sometimes helps me to come up with peculiar or extraordinary solutions.
— What are your future career plans?
— My future career plans are directly related to the financial service industries. I believe this is the place where I could use most of the knowledge and skills acquired in my degree. And also there you can gain exposure in markets on so many different levels: how companies work, how industries work etc. So financial services, specifically deal executions, appeal to me so much. The job is very challenging, but it provides the steepest learning curve, so it excites me the most.
I am also engaged in the Chartered Financial Analyst programme now to be more confident in the job market. I took the first level in December. But to be honest it is also about self-development. It is difficult to relax for too much time. You need more and more progress all the time.
— So did you do as well at CFA Level I as you did on your undergraduate degree?
— Almost. Not that good at the ethics part though. Anyway there was much overlapping of topics with the undergraduate and the MSc programmes. I am aiming for Level II in June 2015.
Everything comes with a cost, so you have to study hard. Read a lot, not only the academic books and papers but also the news, and the earlier the better
— Good luck with Level II, Vassiliy! You achieved excellent results throughout your degree, do you have any tips for success?
— Everything comes with a cost, so you have to study hard. Read a lot, not only academic books and papers but also the news, and the earlier the better. I even think that news-reading should be somehow obligatory for students at ICEF, as this would be really helpful in understanding theory and gaining commercial awareness.
My biggest inspiration has always been the challenges which await me in future. I would advise not to be distorted with past achievements. Like the famous Russian poet and singer V. Vysotsky wrote - better than mountains there can only be the mountains whose summits you have not reached yet.
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