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Statistics Key in Financial Services Industry

1 March 2010 3,544 views No Comment
This column is written for statisticians with master’s degrees and highlights areas of employment that will benefit statisticians at the master’s level. Comments and suggestions should be sent to Keith Crank, the ASA’s research and graduate education manager, at keith@amstat.org.

Contributing Editor
Sami Huovilainen is a senior vice president for CitiCards’ (the credit card division of Citigroup) decision management group. He earned his master of science degree in statistics and master of arts degree in economics from The Pennsylvania State University. Prior to joining CitiCards, he spent five years in a similar group at JP Morgan Chase.

Statistics has a long history in the financial services industry. Initially, the primary application of statistical methods was predicting risk, which intensified when the first credit-scoring systems were built in the 1950s. Today, the financial services industry is considered one of the most information-driven industries, where analytics and statistical models play a key role in decisionmaking every day. Statistical tools are applied in reducing loss, generating revenue, segmenting customers, and modeling web data. The rapid increase in easily accessible data has resulted in the growing need for analysts with expertise in statistics.

What Is Decision Management?

In the consumer bank division of Citigroup, the decision management group strives to improve its global network and experience from an array of markets, businesses, and financial products to do the following:

  • Develop tools and insight to support a comprehensive consumer-driven business strategy
  • Uncover strategic growth opportunities by providing partners an objective perspective and proven approaches
  • Enable partners to make better business decisions through ground-breaking, analytical solutions
  • Supply partners with a cost-effective and efficient process and infrastructure for providing analytics globally

The work entails using advanced statistics techniques and mining large amounts of customer data to help the organization make decisions that enable growth and profitability. The environment is fast paced, and most data-driven recommendations prepared by analysts are quickly executed by business managers.

Working in decision management means continuous problemsolving, and many of those problems involve advanced statistics techniques. Throughout my 10-year career in the credit card industry, I’ve put my statistics and economics coursework to good use. In a broad sense, my day entails keeping up with the global economic environment, understanding competitors’ moves, modeling consumer behavior, and applying statistical methods to various situations to uncover growth opportunities.

Talent Profile

While business knowledge, ability to influence, analytical skills, and financial acumen are all important for success in decision management, a deep knowledge of statistical methods is critical. Today’s competitive environment drives companies to compete with analytics, making it important for decision management teams to stay abreast of state-of-the-art tools and methods.

At CitiCards, about 70% of the analysts have graduate degrees, and about 10% of these are PhDs in quantitative disciplines. Some choose to focus on tool development, while others prefer a combination of applying statistics tools and finance to develop business strategies.

Career in Decision Management

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of my career has been the endless amount of learning and development opportunities. Citi, in particular, places a premium on developing its employees. In addition to enhancing quantitative skills, one can develop people management skills and learn about finance and international markets. Also, given that the industry is information driven, my academic background in statistical methods (e.g., generalized linear models, decision trees) has been strengthened through daily interaction with business leaders. These opportunities have enabled me to provide valuable solutions and insight.

The good news for graduating statisticians is that many industries are applying statistics in decisionmaking, thus creating many career opportunities. The financial services industry is an exciting and rewarding place to work. I’ve seen rapid expansion in decision management’s role—and I don’t see an end to that pattern.

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