The 'fintech' disruption has now spread to US business schools
Leading US business schools are now racing to provide fintech courses to keep up with increasing demand. Pic: Shutterstock

Financial technology, or in short, “fintech”, isn’t just disrupting the financial services industry. It’s scale, ill-defined scope and complexity are now proving to be major challenges to the higher education sector, with universities struggling to incorporate the relatively new business subsector into their course portfolio.

In response to student demand for the growing area, leading business schools in the US are racing to provide fintech courses for undergrads and postgrads, Reuters reports, but the industry’s vast diversity is proving a problem to faculty when drafting the course syllabus.

MBA students at Stanford University and Georgetown University business schools will now be able to take fintech courses, while New York University is planning a similar course for undergrads. Fintech courses are also on offer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Columbia University’s business school, after they were launched in recent years.

“Ten years ago everyone wanted to go into investment banking or in the trading side,” Reena Aggarwal, Director of the Georgetown Center for Financial Markets and Policy said.

“Now the students are much more interested in innovation.”

But while they are popular, universities are having a hard time coming up with a syllabus that best teaches fintech, as there is yet a body of textbooks and professors who are experts in the field. Being new and vastly diverse does not help either.

“For fintech, some people mean bitcoin and cryptocurrencies; some people mean the technology JPMorgan uses for trading,” Angela Lee, chief innovation officer for Columbia Business School said to Reuters.

“Everyone thinks it’s sexy, and a lot of people use it colloquially without knowing what it is.”

To deal with this, schools are turning to financial executives to take up lecturing spots or teaching students how fintech disrupts traditional markets as well as how to develop business ideas.

Kenneth Singleton, a management professor at Stanford said Stanford’s course will focus on financial inclusion, or designing affordable products and services for disadvantaged customers. MIT took a similar route in focusing on narrower topics as well, by teaching about blockchain, the predecessor to the virtual currency bitcoin.

“There is no ready-made teaching material that you can put together,” Antoinette Schoar, a professor of finance at MIT Sloan, said in an interview.

“You have to try your own curriculum or develop real life cases.”

Demonstration of a digital money payment unit built by Motion Pay in Toronto. Pic: Reuters/Mark Blinch.

Business is the second most popular subject among international students in the US, after engineering. From 2014/15 to 2015/16, the field saw an increase of 1.5 percent in enrollment among students from abroad, according to Open Doors data.

The universities said students stand to gain from joining these fintech courses, as it would give them an edge, regardless of whether they head to Wall Street or their own startup after graduating.

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