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Back To School: Columbia University's New Wealth Program

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , June 30, 2020

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It is the first time, its framers say, that an Ivy League university has developed a program of this kind. It also plays to a theme of how talent management and development is a key area for the industry at a time of intergenerational transfer.

A new and comprehensive wealth management program is being launched, hosted at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies – the first time an Ivy League institution has done so.

At a time when a multi-trillion dollar transfer of wealth is taking place, and concerns that the average age of advisors is rising, the need to boost the talent pipeline is obvious. 

As part of a move to close the talent gap and help advisors handle rapid change - such as the Regulation Best Interest rule taking effect from June 30 -  Columbia University's Master’s in Wealth Management program comes at an opportune moment. It is a 16-month part-time, online program designed for working professionals. It is Certified Financial Planner Board Registered which satisfies the educational requirements for CFP® certification. The program has a bench of scholars, employed by wealth management firms, such as Boston Private, JP Morgan, Hightower, and Fiduciary Trust International

The program combines foundational and emerging topics, including investment, tax, estate and financial planning as well as client management skills such as communication, psychology, decision-making and relationship management. In addition, the course of study examines areas such as fintech, sustainable investment, fee structures and the need to democratize financial advice.

“We are developing relationships with wealth management firms through advisory council and guest lecturer participation, as well as potential research, event collaboration, and problem-based learning opportunities,” Tracy Schwartz, interim program director, told Family Wealth Report. 

(Faculty members include Aaron Abrahms; Gail E Cohen; Stephen Bodurtha; Meghaan R Lurtz, PhD; Berit Suba; Matthias Paul Kuhlmey; Ronald A Sages, PhD; Jordan Sprechman; and Bill Woodson.)  

Information sessions are being held in June and July before the program kicks off on September 8, 2020.  

The new program is among a small but growing number of such ventures in universities and learning centers around the world.  

Schwartz has a background in the hedge fund world. She was chief operating officer and chief compliance officer at White Elm Capital, a global equity long/short hedge fund from 2007 to 2019. She helped found the hedge fund after ten years as a mergers and acquisitions investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Her clients at White Elm included family offices, high net worth individuals, endowments, foundations, non-profit organizations, pensions and other institutional investors. 

“It was important for me to understand how our strategy fits into their investment mandate and to clearly communicate our investment process and key drivers of our returns,” she continued. 

She enthuses about the new graduate program: “The Master’s in Wealth Management program is a CFP®-Board registered program designed to help students meet the educational requirements for CFP® certification. In addition to incorporating these critical learning objectives, our scholar-practitioners have provided important guidance and input on how to incorporate emerging industry trends into the curriculum.“

“I am grateful for the opportunity to work closely with the faculty on course development to ensure that the problem-based curriculum aligns with industry needs and best practices for teaching wealth management and educating the next generation of wealth managers,” she said.      

Asked why the program was created, Schwartz replied “Columbia conducted extensive research on the industry, saw a growing demand for advisors to enter the profession, and identified a need for a rigorous, multidisciplinary educational program in wealth management.”  

“Courses will be taught by leading industry scholar-practitioners who will design problem-based courses drawn in part from the lecturers’ expert insights and real-world experiences,” Schwartz said.

The program is supported by an advisory council, made up of senior figures in the wealth management sector. This will provide strategic advice, feedback on the curriculum, build community and engage with lecturers and students.

Among recent other initiatives, last september, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law launched a program to train students interested in working for family offices and firms with family office service practices. (See here for our "Back To School" roundup of academic/vocational courses relevant to the global wealth management sector.)




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