Mario Schlener

Manager responsible for the Quantitative Modelling and Risk Analytics group, Deloitte Financial Services Industry Advisory, Vienna, 31, Austrian

What is your educational and professional background?

I have thirteen years of financial industry experience, nine spent in banking and the rest in financial advisory. I started in private banking, working in a small bank of the Erste Bank Group as junior account manager for some five years. I then moved to headquarters to work as an account manager for SMEs with a focus on corporate finance. After a five-month training programme in New York in 2003, I joined the treasury department to work in fixed-income structured product sales. I developed and structured guaranteed products for the bank, and also advised the bank’s wealth management operations on private placements of corporate bonds and structured credit.

In 2007, I joined Deloitte to work in a new group focusing on risk management and investment management in the financial services industry. The activity has enjoyed fast growth and the group grew rapidly from a handful of people to twenty-six now. My major responsibility has been to generate and develop new ideas to address problems faced by financial institutions especially dealing in structured products and alternative investments. Three years ago, another manager and I were asked to set up the quantitative modelling and risk analytics group. The unit delivers tools and advice to banks and investors and has been focusing on transparency, regulatory risk, model risk. The crisis has vindicated our approach and we continue to grow in Austria and plan expansion into Central, Western, and Eastern Europe. What set us apart is our independence–we do not hold positions–and the individual advice we are able to give. Our main competitors are the investment banks and the advisory boutiques rather than the other three members of the “Big Four”.

My current specialties are the analysis, pricing, and restructuring of alternative and structured portfolios; financial and risk due diligence including bank valuation; quantitative modelling and validation of pricing and rating models; and implementation of enterprise-wide risk management.

I have acquired my academic background in parallel to my career. Over the course of my undergraduate and graduate studies in banking and finance, I focused on corporate finance and risk management; and I gave an economics and finance bent to my MBA. I give lectures for the financial and actuarial mathematics institute of the Vienna University of Technology; teaching helps me to keep up to date and to spot talent. Because I believe that the risk management industry needs support and a platform to uphold high professional standards, I set up and help steer the Vienna Chapter of PRMIA.

It seems you have been very successful professionally and you have just completed an MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Why do a PhD in Finance now?

First and foremost, it has to do with my personal view on life: a day without learning, without being inspired, is lost. The MBA programme gave me an excellent overview of economics, finance and general management and introduced lots of interesting ideas but offered little opportunity to get beneath the surface. You cannot evolve from being a consumer to being a producer of information by simply applying methods you do not fully comprehend. You need to go through a doctoral programme to thoroughly understand what you do and innovate.

Second, it has to do with our business. Our department is highly research-oriented. To lead and inspire the people around me, I need the knowledge to read and really understand research, identify and use every single tool that makes sense. It is about bridging the gap between academe and the professional world. Over my career, I observed that many empirically-proven facts were not recognised in the financial industry. By reading, interpreting, advancing, and explaining research, I can be on the edge and play the role of bridge.

Why choose this particular programme?

As it turns out, EDHEC-Risk Institute acts as a bridge between academe and industry by doing research that stands out for its relevance to the industry. And the Institute did a very impressive job at bringing together the best professors globally under a single programme. Finally, the format of the programme was very appealing for professionals. The quality and academic diversity of the faculty were major decision criteria for me; my professors at Chicago were very impressed by the line-up of faculty and the wide range of expertise assembled by the programme.

How did the programme deliver on these high expectations?

My expectations were exceeded. I knew of the research credentials of the faculty, but their pedagogical skills are extraordinary. The core courses give you very useful tools to look at problems; every single angle is reviewed with professors identifying what is available and what the areas for further research are. It is eye-opening.

The learning conditions could not be better: the ability to watch courses again over the Internet is extremely useful and relieves you of classroom stress. And the faculty is very supportive. What comes across is that they want to share with you everything they know, they do not hold back. You get their trust and that really inspires you to do much better.

The class itself is an outstanding group in terms of personal characteristics and industry experience. Most of participants are at the top of their fields and have proven their case already. The discussions, in class, after class, are very high-level and highly stimulating on a personal and a professional level. Plus, it is not a bunch of individuals, it is more like a team–we help one another, spending quite some time in conference calls to work together– and this makes the whole work/life balance and the outcome of the programme more efficient.

Who is this programme for?

It is for those who want to be leaders in the financial industry from an academic and professional perspective. I would not say this is for a given sector or job title. It is for all people who want to open their minds and become faster thinkers. Of course, intellectual rigour and a high quality education are prerequisites.

What is your biggest concern?

The programme has a very innovative format and its long-term success depends on all participants; it is our responsibility to ensure that the quality of the “finished product” corresponds to the promise, that we fully exploit the opportunities that the programme unlocks.

In a past life, you were a football player. Could you tell us more about that and what you have learnt from this experience that you still use today?

I became semi-professional at sixteen, played in the Austrian second league and in the national under-twenty- one football team. I stopped at twenty-one, because I figured out that this was not what I wanted to do; besides, at that age, I was not able to take the risk of a failed career.

But the sport taught me something about my personal physical limits and how you can achieve what initially seems out of reach as long as you believe in yourself; this has helped throughout these years when I was studying while working full-time as I am still doing today.

I acquired a lot of skills that I did not recognise at the time, but the key insights that I use on a daily basis have to do with the importance of continuous improvement–you have to train relentlessly to achieve competence and improve–and team dynamics, how you compete in a team, lead a team, and approach a goal as a team.