The supremacy of a French master who dominates a niche in global finance

Take the directory of former students of the teacher “El Karoui” and choose a year at random: 2017, for example. In alphabetical order, the first of the list works in the city in the American establishment Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Two names ahead comes another, also based in London, recruited by Pimco, a very large fund manager. So, still in the British capital, they are employees of Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg, Citi … And we are only at the letter “E”. The former students of the Master of Probability and Finance, to take its official name, jointly organized by the University of the Sorbonne and the Ecole Polytechnique, monopolize the first financial positions in the City.

“In the small world of finance, this training is the grail, which guarantees you a good job in London or elsewhere”, explains Michael Vincent, a former student of this teacher, who worked for a few years in the British capital before reorienting himself towards financial regulation in Brussels. An urban legend, unverifiable, ensures that a third of “how many” – those who do finance “quantitative”, based on mathematical models – in the world is French. It is probably greatly exaggerated, but the anecdote gives an idea of ​​the dominance of the French in this very specialized environment of financial mathematics.

Almost half of the students are settled in France, but a third work in the City, the rest is divided between the United States and Asia.

In the trading rooms of London, near the office of the “how many”you can hear Molière’s language a lot. “Some banks have even banned speaking in French here, to make sure everyone understands what’s going on”says Gilles Pagès, the teacher’s director. “Basically, in between how manythere are French, Russian and Chinese”summarizes a former teacher, who prefers to remain anonymous.

The explanation dates back to the 1980s. At the time, Société Générale was one of the most advanced banks in derivatives, which began to develop. Nicole El Karoui, a brilliant French mathematician, realized very quickly that her specialty – probability – was going to be in high demand. “His genius is to have understood that the meeting between finance and probability was not a flash in the pan”, explains Mathieu Rosenbaum, another director of the master. Success is very fast. In September 1990, the training opened its doors. “After ten years, we had about a hundred students a year, underlines Gilles Pagès. For an AED, it’s monstrous. »

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