Event Recap: ‘Focus on Finance’

Written by Sharon Lee, Jessica Lian, Lauren Volkodav on Tuesday, 07 September 2021. Posted in Event Recap

On August 29, 2021, Girls For Business hosted our 10th virtual event, ‘Focus on Finance’! The event featured five accomplished panelists, Lauren Risenhoover, Sanjana Prabhala, Nicole Beck, Amie Nguyen, and Sylvia Blount, who shared their experiences in financial management and their advice to girls.

Lauren Risenhoover is a junior at Northwestern University where she majors in Neuroscience and minors in Business. She spent the summer as an Investment Banking Summer Analyst at Goldman Sachs. She is also the Vice President of Finance for Northwestern’s Women in Business organization and is the Co-founder of their chapter of Scholars of Finance. 

Sanjana Prabhala is a senior at New York University’s Stern Business School. She has a B.S. in Finance as well as Computing and Data Science. She has experience working as an Investment Banking Summer Analyst at Guggenheim Partners. Her extracurriculars include being Treasurer at Stern's Private Equity Group, part of the Finance Team at NYU Hyperloop, part of the business  and outreach teams for NYU CubeSat, marketing for The Gould Standard Newspaper, and a consultant for Bridges for Enterprise. Her hobbies include reading, nature walks, and medical dramas.

Nicole Beck is a senior at Southern Methodist University majoring in Finance and minoring in History. In the past, Nicole has worked as a Portfolio Manager and Junior Analyst for Boulevard Investment Group. She was also a Girls Who Invest Scholar and interned for Vista Equity Partners. She is an incoming Investment Banking Analyst at Moelis & Company.

Amie Nguyen is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, where she majors in Business Honors and Finance. Her finance experience includes working as a Summer Analyst at Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets and being the Co-Founder of Thousand Thread, a mobile app that promotes sustainable fashion. She has also been a Girls Who Invest Scholar and a Program Manager for SLA Foundation. She expects to attend Harvard Law School in 2024 as she is part of Harvard’s Junior Deferral Program. 

Sylvia Blount is the Associate Director at Bardi Co. There, she  works in wealth  management, investment banking, and hedge funds. Her focus lies in Private Placements and Buy-Side M&A, with her sector in TMT and Consumer Staples, and she has licenses in FINRA Series 79 and Series 63. Her hobby is making TikTok content.

After each panelist introduced themselves, they dove into a live Q&A with the audience. 

Question: Why did you choose finance?

Sylvia started finance 7 years ago, when she was randomly placed into a finance major instead of the business management path she initially signed up for. She decided on sticking with finance, since she enjoyed her classes, seeing it as a good opportunity and was unique from her peers' areas of study.

Sanjana said that when she entered, she did not know what specific path she should take. She chose finance because of how it gives you a good basis of knowledge and how diverse and non-constrictive it is in terms of career options.

Amie agrees with Sanjana in that in high school, she was not completely sure about what she wanted to pursue. She knew that finance was a large industry with a wide range of opportunities, which intrigued her. However, she mentions that at first, she was deterred from finance and business after watching The Wolf of Wall Street because of the many misogynistic references. The movie ended up showing her exactly what was wrong with the business industry and felt motivated to be a woman who helped to change the course of history. She began her business journey when she found Girls Who Invest and tried it out to get an internship. She explains that while many “choose” finance, she “fell into it,” which she explains can actually be a good thing. After trying it out, she realized that she liked finance and wanted to pursue it further. Her favorite part about finance is that she works with tangible actions and can make big decisions. She explains that it is particularly important that women begin to make the “power” decisions that go behind a company, and she wanted to become a part of that movement and bring more women into the industry.

Lauren’s interest in finance stemmed from her passion for healthcare. After volunteering at hospitals in high school and continuing her interest in college by majoring in neuroscience,  Lauren became interested in finance because of its interdisciplinary nature. “Finance and consulting touch virtually every field,” explained Lauren. 

Nicole’s interest in finance started at an early age. After speaking to family members and friends working in the finance field, Nicole developed an interest in finance. Later on, Nicole completed a finance internship in highschool to better explore her interest and enrolled in finance classes before deciding to continue her interest by majoring in finance. 

Question: What is your advice to young girls getting into finance? What should they do to make sure they are on the right path?

Sylvia mentioned that, contrary to popular belief, a strong math background is not what is most important in finance—rather, it’s communication and relationship building skills. She also mentioned that originating new clients and business is a necessity in this field, and what companies are looking for in their employees.

Sanjana agreed with Sylvia, building on by mentioning that the most critical “people skill” is fitting into the culture of your working environment. She cited her own experience of when she was working at Guggenheim, saying that working well and fitting in with everyone was what they emphasized most. In building people skills, she added that “it’s never too late to start early,” and to put yourself out there.

Lauren spoke on the importance of exploring multiple interests while in college. Since finance intersects with virtually every other field, like healthcare, it allows girls to pursue multiple interests in addition to finance. 

Nicole suggested enrolling in a program like Girls Who Invest that helps women explore their interests in finance by exposing them to different opportunities in the field. 

Amie echoes what everyone else mentioned. She adds that when you are looking for opportunities, there are many female programs at banks and firms that allow you to apply and work with a mentor. She explains that she could apply as early as her sophomore year of college, and it really expedited the process of exploring the business world.

Question: What are some challenges that you have faced/mistakes that you made in the business field? How have you overcome those challenges and what advice would you give to girls facing similar challenges?

Amie explains that her biggest lesson working in business is to be an action-oriented person. She explains that often, people wait around for the right time to do something instead of acting on it. Instead of waiting around, she emphasizes the importance of taking initiative for yourself and being bold. For example, in high school, Amie made a start-up at school when she found a problem. Although she did not have much experience in business, she successfully created a product on Instagram and ran it for a couple of years. She also remembers when she discovered the problem of not having female sanitary products in her school. She took initiative and bought the products to put in her school bathroom, and now her school has begun to regularly supply female sanitary products in their bathrooms. She concludes that when you see a problem, you should go for it and fix it. 

Sylvia said that in her experience, any challenges she faced while in investment banking she overcame with the help of the professionals around her. Blount pointed out that professionals are the people who will help you grow the most. She also said she did a lot of networking and most importantly asked a lot of questions. She highlighted that no matter what, there is no such thing as a stupid question, rather, actively asking questions shows your interest and dedication.

Echoing Sylvia, Sanjana said that it is good to put yourself out there so you can have great conversations and make those necessary connections in order to succeed.

Lauren spoke about how finance can be viewed as an “intimidating” industry. However, she explained that “the majority of people are eager to help you,” and you don’t “need to know everything.”

Nicole explained how important communication is in finance and how it is often undervalued. “When you start a new position, it takes some time to establish trust… ask questions that progress. Communicating helps build clarity and develop trust.” 

Question: What type of math is mostly used for a finance major?

Amie recognizes that many girls often feel discouraged from pursuing finance because of their math skills; however, Amie explains that most jobs in the finance field often do not require complicated math. Amie explains that in her experience, her high-school math taught her enough for her jobs. She recognizes that depending on exactly which job you have in finance, math could get complicated; however, she emphasizes that math skill should never discourage you from trying finance.

Sylvia agreed, mentioning that unless you do some kind of quantitative analysis role in, like hedge funds, the math is pretty simple.

Question: What courses, clubs, or extracurricular activities would you recommend to girls to help them learn about business in high school?

Sylvia recommended researching the stock market and other news. For example, this year she implemented a daily newsletter for their interns and she already noticed that they’re more well-versed in the field.

Lauren and Nicole both encouraged reading about finance to help them learn about business. Lauren specified that she enjoys reading the Morning Brew to learn about the market and familiarize herself with business whereas Nicole enjoys reading the Wall Street Journal. Nicole also emphasizes that if you have friends’ parents, alumnae, or older mutuals who are in finance/business, you should take advantage of the connection and ask them to give you insight. 

Question: When working in finance, how does your work intersect with other career industries?

In Amie’s experience, since she works in an infrastructure private equity firm, she learns a lot about investing in infrastructure. She explains that finance can intersect in almost any industry, so you can combine finance with your other passions.

While working in Investment Banking, Sylvia mentioned that they often work with specific sectors and industries, and in the process of working with them they get to learn about all the different careers and have exposure in those fields.

Echoing Sylvia, Lauren discussed how many companies have sector groups specializing in fields unrelated to finance. For example, Lauren works with the intersection of healthcare and finance, allowing her to pursue multiple passions.

Question: What type of careers can you pursue with a degree in finance?

Sylvia said that with finance,  career options are very broad. She said that in the investment banking job she has, there is a lot to do just within that job title. However, you can also look into careers in capitol market, private equity, hedge funds, portfolio managing, and accounting to mention a few.

Question: How do you successfully gain good internship opportunities?

Both Lauren and Nicole discussed the importance of networking and communication skills when going through internship recruitment. 

Nicole explained that in high school, meaningful internships are not common unless you have connections. However, she explains that in college, most universities will walk you through the process of applying for internships. Depending on the college you attend, they will have different timelines for internships. For Nicole, her university began the internship process early in her sophomore year. She also explains that the organization Girls Who Invest connected her to an internship, and some schools even have career centers to help. 

While Amie agrees with Nicole, she also emphasizes that you should not feel pressure to start too early. She explains that in your early years of college, it is the perfect time to explore; you can study abroad, work at a non-profit, or work at a start-up. She explains that it is important to have fun and truly discover your passions, and by senior year, many internship opportunities will come to you.

Question: What is your favorite finance or business class you have taken in college?

Out of all the classes she’s ever taken, Sylvia enjoyed her M&A (Mergers and Acquisitions) Class. It opened her eyes to this field, and really made her want to work in it because she thought it was so cool.

Amie’s favorite class has been her Healthcare and Policy class. She explains that this class inspired her to apply to law school. She recommends letting your classes guide your interest and career instead of being close-minded the other way around.

Question: How did you choose your college?

Amie knew that she wanted to stay in-state to take advantage of in-state tuition. Since UT already had a strong business school, her decision was pretty easy.

The panel discussion portion of the event has been publicly uploaded to the new Girls For Business YouTube channel, accessible through this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPJVjHdCN6k. We encourage everyone to subscribe to the Girls For Business YouTube channel to stay updated on GFB's educational video content and watch future event panels! 

About the Author

Sharon Lee

Sharon Lee

Sharon is a Business Education Writer at Girls For Business.

Jessica Lian

Jessica Lian

Jessica is the Editor in Chief leading the Business Analytics Writing Team at Girls For Business.

Lauren Volkodav

Lauren Volkodav

Lauren is a Business Analytics Writer at Girls For Business.

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