Matt White among first students pursuing master’s in fintech at UMSL
When the pandemic hit, Matt White, who teaches world religions and ethics at a Chicago high school, had to pivot to online learning, along with most teachers across the country. More than a job adaptation, that major adjustment sparked White’s curiosity about how technology impacts our lives.
This was just another addition to the St. Louis native’s already varied interests, having earned a dual degree in history and political science at Loyola University Chicago and a master’s in philosophy at Fordham University in New York. He even taught screenwriting at famed comedy organization Second City in Chicago, exploring his creative talents.
Now, having fleshed out his interest in technology and its daily impact, he’s ventured into finance and technology, pursuing his Master of Science in Financial Technology, or fintech, as part of a program launched in January at the University at Missouri–St. Louis.
“My political science degree definitely made me interested,” White said. “I studied a lot of international relations and particularly the global economy. That’s kind of where I focused my studies, and constantly I would come back to my research and the classes and realize how everything is just incredibly connected.”
White found out about the new program from his sister, Katie, an UMSL alumna who graduated with a degree in nursing. As he looked for an opportunity to refresh his knowledge, he was intrigued. He wasn’t sure at first what he might get out of the fintech courses, but he thought he’d at least connect to his enjoyment of learning and teaching about the evolution of societal functionality.
“I think now we live in a time where we actually have some understanding of the impact of the way things are changing,” White said. “Just take, for example, how over the course of a couple of months, our whole understanding of numerous institutions and relationships can be changed by one small advance like AI. A year ago, I never knew the phrase ChatGPT, but now it’s kind of all you hear. So I think it’s exciting to live in this time when not only things are changing, but we’re really aware of it. I think the possibilities are great.”
UMSL is the only university in the Midwest offering the unique fintech program, a 30-credit-hour program designed to build a highly trained fintech workforce with the knowledge of not only traditional finance modules and data-driven financial modeling and analytics but also fintech tools. Those include everything from blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning to mobile payment systems, robo-advising and more.
At $20,000, the program, compared to other master’s programs, is cost-effective. Professor Nasser Arshadi, who chairs UMSL’s Department of Finance and Legal Studies, wanted the program to be accessible.
“A lot of times new programs end up being kind of expensive,” Arshadi said. “So my intent was, we’re a state university, we have this fantastic program and we have great people to teach it. Let’s keep the cost down so as not to create a barrier to enter the program.”
Arshadi also wanted the program to be very specific to fintech, omitting extraneous courses and material to give students the most focused experience possible.
“We created a 30-credit-hour program,” he said. “It’s a really very compact program.”
Though the courses only began in January, White has found areas of the curriculum he connects to and can apply to everyday life.
“At the core of fintech is how technology has really, really opened the possibility for consumers to perhaps have a better experience, certainly a faster experience,” he said. “Whether it’s ordering something on Amazon or just even consuming information, quickly looking something up that otherwise we couldn’t. So I’m really interested in that. I’m really interested in the way that artificial intelligence and machine learning can help human analysts consider factors that would impact markets. I think of things like robo investing or the use of computer algorithms.”
In addition to learning about AI and how it works, White is learning how to use it effectively to his advantage but not to rely on it for reports and analysis. Tim Dombrowski, who teaches two courses in the program, including AI Applications in Finance, explained this further.
“How do you use AI to supplement your work and complement your work rather than just being replaced by automated tools?” he’s asked his class. “Because, as we’ve seen, some of the new AI tools that have come out the past few months are getting very impressive. So we’re learning how to use them and make your job easier and use them the right way, as opposed to just trying to have it do all your work for you and then you realize, ‘Oh, my employer doesn’t need me.’”
Though White doesn’t know exactly how he will implement what he’s learning in the fintech program yet, he understands that the knowledge will be a professional asset.
“I really want to build a solid financial skill set,” he said. “I want to figure out how that skill set can be augmented and applied through really solid technology. Not necessarily through things that simply look good because they’re the next new thing but really are solid. I would love to gain the skill set through this program. I think I will be able to really discern the pieces of technology that are truly going to shape our lives.”
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