In Conversation with CQF Alumni: Borja Garcia Haendler

Borja Garcia Haendler, Head of Market Risk and Product Control Asia, Julius Baer

Borja earned the CQF in 2013. He started his career as a Consultant and has since worked his way up to Head of Market Risk and Product Control Asia at Julius Baer. We spoke to Borja about his transition from law to finance and the importance of interpersonal skills.

Why did you decide to pursue your current career path? 

When I reflect, it amazes me that I started as a law student. My motivation for this transition lay in my desire to gain a deeper understanding of the world. I have always been captivated by the workings of the world and the intricacies of human behavior and have consistently sought out pursuits that can aid in elucidating fundamental questions. Fields such as mathematics, banking, and regulation provide essential insights into the functioning of financial systems and human decision-making processes. I also like to take on new challenges that push me to the limits of my abilities. Through such challenges, I can expand my skill set and gain insights into my own capabilities and the extent of what I can accomplish.

What kind of work is involved in your current role?

My role entails a range of responsibilities within Product Control, Markets Risk, and Treasury Risk. My duties involve analyzing the Profit and Loss (PnL) for the Markets team; overseeing and enforcing risk limits; closely monitoring liquidity risk; and evaluating and approving new products in Asia. 

I am also involved in the bank’s Innovation and Digital transformation. I engage in experimentation, conduct strategy sessions, and evaluate new technological concepts. I have been particularly immersed in the exploration of emerging technologies such as Blockchain and AI. These endeavors reflect my interest in leveraging emerging technologies to enhance the banking landscape.

What do you enjoy most about the role?

I like the constant exposure to new information, encompassing current affairs, geopolitical developments, and emerging technologies. This continually presents me with challenges that demand swift responses and up-to-date knowledge. I also enjoy collaborating with a talented and varied team as this facilitates an exchange of diverse perspectives, leading to a more innovative decision-making approach and continuous learning.

What are some of the major highlights in your career to date?

The major milestones in my career can be summarized into several stages. I transitioned from practicing as a lawyer to programming, which led to a position in IT. During this period, I pursued an MBA, which provided me with insights into the intricacies of the finance sector, enabling me to venture into IT Banking. Here, I actively participated in numerous projects and my work since has taken me to 20 banks in 10 different countries across 3 continents. 

Throughout my career, I continued to recognize the importance of professional education, so enrolled on the CQF in 2013. Subsequently, I was able to transition to private banking where I assumed diverse roles. Since 2016, my studies have extended to encompass Blockchain and AI, acknowledging their significance in shaping the future of finance and other industries. Through these undertakings, I continue to fuel my passion for learning and remain at the forefront of the financial landscape.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in your field of work?

The most significant challenges I have faced can be distilled into two key aspects. Presently, I am employed in a European bank branch situated in Singapore. Relocating to Asia presented formidable hurdles due to the cultural disparities. While the MBA program broached this subject, it wasn't until I embarked on my journey here that I truly comprehended the magnitude of these differences. Secondly, transitioning across various roles, companies, and industries has been a challenging, but rewarding journey. I have learned that my comfort zone lies in continually venturing into the unknown.

One specific example of a challenge I have encountered was a project aimed at overhauling the core operations of the bank. This endeavor was substantial, providing a profound glimpse into the complexities inherent in a financial institution's infrastructure, particularly in the domains of systems, processes, and architecture. The project's scope demanded a comprehensive assessment and restructuring of fundamental elements within the bank's framework. Such an endeavor required meticulous planning, coordination, and execution, as any misstep could have had reverberating consequences throughout the bank's entire operations. This example, however, is just one of many. Throughout my career, I have worked through an array of challenges, and each has brought a unique set of complexities, requiring problem-solving and collaboration to achieve success. These experiences have helped me appreciate the dynamism of the industry, where continuous adaptation is essential.

How have quant finance and the financial industry changed over the course of your career?

I recall a time when models were crafted using Excel. The present landscape has undergone a dramatic shift, largely driven by a surge in data availability, rapid technological advancements, and mounting pressure to expedite time-to-market. The scope of the industry's evolution extends beyond traditional quant finance to encompass data science, AI, and Blockchain, which are reshaping the financial sector.

AI has revolutionized various aspects of finance, such as data analysis, algorithmic trading, and risk management. Tools such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) allow for more efficient interactions between humans and machines, streamlining customer service in the financial domain, whilst Predictive Analytics facilitates better forecasting of market trends and customer behavior. Blockchain, on the other hand, presents an array of transformative possibilities, from the tokenization of assets to smart contracts. The rise of Decentralized Finance leverages blockchain technology to enable peer-to-peer financial transactions without intermediaries, thereby disrupting traditional financial intermediation models. Moreover, the adoption of Blockchain helps reduce counterparty risk, promoting a more robust and secure financial infrastructure.

How has the CQF added value in your career trajectory?

The CQF transformed my career by yielding two pivotal outcomes. Firstly, it gave me essential skills that have enhanced my professional ability, particularly in approaching and resolving complex challenges. The knowledge gained has proven invaluable in navigating problem-solving scenarios within my role. However, the biggest impact of the CQF lies in the second aspect. The program gave me a confidence that has empowered me to tackle any obstacle. This self-assurance is of utmost importance, as possessing the tools alone is insufficient without the belief in one's capability to succeed. 

What skillsets are required to be successful in quantitative finance today?

There are several essential skills, but two attributes stand out: flexibility and an insatiable capacity to acquire new knowledge. The ever-evolving quant finance landscape demands professionals who are capable of assimilating emerging concepts and techniques with agility. As someone involved in the hiring process, I place great emphasis on identifying candidates who exhibit a genuine hunger for learning and a propensity to challenge the status quo, as these traits are instrumental in thriving within the field.

What skills will become more important in the coming years?  

In my opinion, critical thinking will assume more significance as it becomes imperative to analyze the vast amount of data generated and the ability to assess the reliability of AI-generated insights will be pivotal in making informed decisions. Interpersonal skills will, therefore, gain prominence as a differentiator for success. The ability to communicate complex concepts and build meaningful relationships will facilitate the integration of AI-driven insights with human expertise. Adaptability will also be critical as professionals must swiftly respond to changing circumstances and evolving trends. The capacity to learn and reskill efficiently will be vital to remain competitive.

What advice would you offer to someone just starting their career in the financial industry?

The financial sector is poised to undergo profound transformations, with blockchain technology emerging as a fundamental driver of trust and AI delivering insights at a fraction of the traditional cost. Embracing new technologies is the key to unlocking avenues for progress, allowing for the development of cutting-edge solutions. Nurturing critical thinking skills will enable professionals to evaluate the implications of emerging technologies. Simultaneously, the ability to collaborate effectively fosters the development of impactful solutions that cater to the diverse needs of the market. All these qualities form the bedrock of success and position individuals to navigate the dynamic financial landscape.

Find out more about the CQF program

To discover how the CQF program could help you go further in your career, download a brochure or register to join an information session.