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Credit: Gillian Diebold

Fintech — the interplay between finance and technology — is rising in popularity throughout the country, and that increased interest is evident at Penn as well.

The Wharton School is offering a fintech course for the second year in a row to both undergraduates (FNCE 385) and MBA students (FNCE 885). 

The fintech course has been received eagerly by Wharton students. According to visiting professor in finance Shimon Kogan, while last year, 100 students were enrolled in the course, this year, 140 students are enrolled.

Finance professor Shimon Kogan

According to the class syllabus, the Wharton course provides an “overview of the most significant technological advances that are radically changing the industry, focusing on AI and Blockchain.”

Other top business schools like Stanford University and Georgetown University launched fintech courses for MBA students for the first time last fall. New York University is planning a new course for undergraduate students after introducing a fintech program in its business school last year.

“I think the unique aspect of how I’m teaching is the rather in-depth understanding of the key technologies and seeing their application through business cases and through real data,” Kogan said. 

The course, however, is the only one that Wharton currently offers its students, according to Finance Department Chair at Wharton David Musto, and many seem eager to have fintech play a more formal role in the Wharton curriculum. 

“It’s rare to find classes that focus on the intersection of business and technology in Wharton, so I was personally really excited to see FNCE-385 offered next semester,” Wharton sophomore Cheryl Li said.

Wharton sophomore Cole Pergament, who will be the teaching assistant for Kogan’s class this spring semester, said that the course treats both tools and applications of fintech in an in-depth way.

“There will be exposure to technology; there will also be exposure to finance, but if you’re interested in one over the other, there will be plenty of opportunities to get involved,” Pergament said. 

Pergament said he wanted to see more fintech courses and opportunities at Penn, including potentially a major in it.

“In order to cater toward the changing and evolving world, I think it’s only fair that Wharton moves away from more conditional practices and accepts the evolution of the business industry,” he said.

Kogan said the financial industry is changing quickly, making it important to understand the technologies driving this change. In fact, global venture capital investments in fintech companies have increased from $520 million in 2010 to $2.8 billion in 2014.

“Almost every one of these students will run into managerial decisions that will involve understanding how these technologies are implemented,” Kogan said. “If you are entering into a workplace in 2018 and you don’t understand them on a deeper level, there is a significant gap in your knowledge. And that gap will become more and more apparent as the technologies become more mainstream.”

Musto said that the newness of financial technologies is part of the reason why fintech is currently offered as a half-credit class, rather than a full-credit course. 

“We want to be sure that we’re offering material that is solid and cohesive, and we found that we could confidently offer a half credit course,” he said.

Musto added that Wharton plans to take student feedback into account when developing new fintech programs, adding that the half-credit course is an opportunity to “get [student] feedback, work with it, and progress.” He said that the finance department “is open to” developing a full-credit fintech course or adding more classes.

Finance professor Itay Goldstein said that fintech is becoming increasingly important and it is beneficial for business students to get a glimpse of the subject.

“Fintech is a broad term, and it includes different things,” Goldstein said. “Certainly, something like big data and the way it’s used in the finances is going to continue its momentum.”

He said that the future of technologies, however, such as blockchain, is not as certain as people may think. 

“I would not advise someone at this point to put all their eggs in the basket of blockchain,” he said. 

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