Cover Story – Engineers in Finance

By Roger Witherspoon

Gregory Reaves, Credit Suisse Securities

Dr. David A. Thomas, Georgetown University

Photo Credit:, David Thomas Photo - James Kegley

In today’s technological world, a blink of an eye is just not fast enough when you’re investing billions of dollars.

The stock exchange is a venerable institution that began centuries ago as a marketplace where shares in companies or commodities could be bought and sold in varying quantities. Back then, the auctioneer with a loud voice was as high-tech as it got.

In time, higher technology came into play, and the pace of the exchanges, the quantities of goods changing hands, as well as the fortunes won and lost increased astronomically.

“The process began with a phone and paper and telephone calls down to the exchange floor,” says onetime NSBE member Gregory Reaves. “But that’s no longer how it works.”

Today, the exchange of millions of shares of stock or commodities starts soundlessly in the algorithmic mind of a high-speed computer, which roams the world’s investment circuitry in search of the right combination of factors to enable investors to make money.

Global Reach, Local Impact

Reaves is in charge of the worldwide equity trading system for Credit Suisse, which, with assets of more than $1 trillion, is the world’s largest equity trader, responsible for 14 percent of all the trades on NASDAQ. From his Wall Street offices, the 42-year-old, self-styled technology geek from the Bronx manages 120 systems engineers operating in teams in facilities in Asia, Europe and the Americas.

In 1992, three years into his career in finance, Reaves joined the New York City Alumni “XL” Chapter of NSBE, now NSBE Professionals New York City.

“I really thought well of the organization’s mission and what they were trying to do, particularly with regard to community outreach,” he says. “…The connection to all the student chapters and the ability to mentor young blacks in those chapters really attracted me. I was interested in reaching out to aspiring black engineers and scientists.”

‘Huge Opportunity’

By some accounts, the nexus between STEM graduates and the financial world is even stronger for aspiring engineers today than it was for Reaves when he entered the field in 1989.

“The evidence (shows) there is a huge opportunity in the field of finance and banking for people with engineering and, more broadly, STEM backgrounds,” says David A. Thomas, Ph.D., dean of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. “The use of quantitative modeling in trading and financial markets, with the advance of high-frequency trading, calls for mathematical skills, computer programming skills and the kinds of things you learn in computer science and engineering programs, more so than the skills we might have traditionally associated with trading stocks and picking stocks.”

“STEM graduates are also more and more in demand in the back office with financial firms,” Dr. Thomas adds, “where the job is to keep up with all the trading and all the dynamics occurring in the marketplace every day. These are the risk management functions, the monitoring and data collection functions that are key to successful financial operations. There are huge opportunities in the field for those in the STEM world, and it will only increase in coming years.”

Dr. Thomas says it is advantageous for STEM majors hoping to work in the financial world to also take courses in economics and operational research — but that those courses are not required.

“If I’m a bank, and you have the skills I need to do high-speed trading, then you have what is needed to begin working,” he says. “I can teach you the finance, but I can’t teach you the computer skills.”

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