In March, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania announced the creation of the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance, which will support research in financial technology.
The center, created with support from Wharton alumnus and Stone Ridge Holdings Group CEO Ross Stevens, is one of the first of its kind. It held an inaugural innovation roundtable in April and plans additional events in the near future.
“With fintech morphing from a buzzword into the rocket fuel of financial innovation, information technology is poised to revolutionize financial services,” Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett said in March. “The Stevens Center will bring together the best thinkers from academia and industry to ensure that Wharton continues to chart the future of finance.”
In addition to being a boon for the Wharton School, the new center underscores the growing importance of financial technology and may be a harbinger of things to come in academia.
Demand for IT Jobs Rising in Financial Services
Much as it has with other industries, IT is beginning to disrupt the financial sector, with technology rapidly reducing the need for professionals such as stockbrokers, market traders, analysts and portfolio managers. There’s a growing demand in the business world for people who can leverage financial technology — which, in turn, is creating a demand for business school courses and programs that teach fintech skills.
“[Fintech has] made our curriculum irrelevant in pretty short order,” David Yermack, chairman of the finance department and academic director of the FinTech MBA specialization at New York University’s Stern School of Business, told Poets & Quants in 2018. “Finance is very rapidly becoming an IT business. Finance and information technology have pretty much merged, and we need to do that in the university.”
Fintech Academic Programs Remain Relatively Scarce
Among others, Fordham University, Georgetown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University and the University of Pittsburgh all offer fintech courses or tracks. And Princeton University holds an annual “Fintech and Quant Conference.”
However, research centers dedicated specifically to financial technology are relatively rare. London’s Imperial College Business School maintains the Centre for Global Finance and Technology, which serves as a “hub for multidisciplinary research, business education and global outreach aimed at greater understanding of the impact of technology on finance, business and society.” And Stanford University is home to the Advanced Financial Technologies Laboratory, which “accelerates research, education and thought leadership at the intersection of finance and technology.”
As business school leaders grasp the growing role of fintech on the business world, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more universities staking a claim in this realm with research centers of their own, along with more classes and tracks centered on financial technology. However, schools are currently struggling to recruit qualified fintech faculty.
“We would introduce these courses even faster if we had people [who were] capable,” Yermack told Poets & Quants. “There’s a real paradigm shift in our field. Older faculty teach stuff no one wants to learn about, and they’re not going to reinvent themselves as fintech specialists overnight.”
Penn Eyes Innovation Among Financial Institutions
As one of the world’s first academic research centers focused on fintech, the Wharton School’s Stevens Center has the opportunity to make an outsized impact on the future of business.
“The Stevens Center will catalyze Penn’s world-leading research and industry engagement and enrich the opportunities available for our outstanding students,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said in March. “The mission of the Stevens Center is precisely this: to ensure that innovations in finance make the greatest positive contributions to businesses and communities across the globe.”