Coding the future of finance

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Two years into his undergraduate degree at Sichuan University, Chao Qian regretted his decision to study business management. “I came to the realization that management skills are better learned outside of the classroom,” he said. “I wanted to learn something more solid and quantitative. That’s where my journey to Waterloo began.”  

Qian enrolled in a dual degree program between Sichuan University and Prince Edward Island University, which allowed him to complete his business management degree and a degree in mathematics at the same time. He had never visited Canada before moving across the globe, but he made the leap in hopes of discovering a new career direction.

Qians’s efforts paid off when a professor invited him to join a summer research project that focused on applying quantitative methods to portfolio selection. Qian spent a portion of the summer in Waterloo, where he worked with a doctoral student in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at the Faculty of Mathematics. “I was fascinated by the work, but I didn’t know anything about mathematical finance as a whole,” Qian admitted. “The people I met at Waterloo encouraged me to apply for the Masters of Quantitative Finance (MQF) program to learn how to apply my programming and math skills to financial problems.” 

Sixteen fast-paced months in the MQF Program affirmed the passion for programming that had first taken root in PEI. “I recognized that it wasn’t enough to have strong math and statistics skills,” said Qian. “I needed to master programming to stand out.” He had learned several coding languages as an undergraduate student, but he noticed that some of his MQF classmates demonstrated more sophisticated programming skills. “The code I was writing wasn’t elegant,” he explained. “Writing generic code is simple, but writing code that other people can understand and build upon is the real challenge.”

When Qian wasn’t applying for internships or studying for exams, he was reading books about coding, practicing on his own, and participating in coding competitions at Waterloo, including Hack the North and Citadel Security’s Terminal Live. “At the competitions, I came across finance executives who were looking for programming skills,” said Qian. “I started preparing for the future.”

After a successful internship with TD Securities QMA, Qian accepted a full-time offer to join the team as a quantitative analyst. In his new role, he uses the programming, statistics, and math skills he honed at Waterloo to support traders. His team, which includes two other alumni of the MQF program, maintains a complex pricing library so that traders have all the information they need at their fingertips in real time.

“I’m passionate about what I’m doing,” said Qian. “I have the opportunity to be close to the markets and provide an important service to traders.” Looking ahead, Qian envisions a future as a quantitative trader. More than 60 percent of U.S. stock volume is algorithmic trading, he points out, but older generations of traders have never learned to code. “In the future, I expect that everyone will need to be able to code and be comfortable with AI and machine learning,” he affirmed. “Thanks to the MQF program, I will be ready.”