The CTA has contacted Severin to talk about his experience as a former student of the Master’s program

Can you briefly introduce yourself? What was your academic and professional background before joining the 2015-2017 Master intake?

After high school, I decided to do my bachelor’s degree in St. Gallen. During this time, I also created a start-up, an outlet golf store (a niche market in Switzerland). After finishing my Bachelor in Business Administration, I worked for one year before obtaining a master. My first internship was at one of the Big Four Accounting Firms, whereas the second one was in corporate banking.

What have been the main motivations for you to complete the program?

My second internship in corporate banking was definitely an important factor: We were dealing with some of the biggest commodity houses, which allowed me to get more insights into their business. I have always been interested in the trade flow of commodities and all the opportunities in this industry, and this second internship has confirmed my high interest in the commodities industry. For that reason I applied for the master as this was a great opportunity to acquire knowledge of subjects such as technical analysis, hedging, and maritime insurance – always taught by well-known and experienced professors and guest lecturers.

What do you consider as the main advantages and strengths of the program?

It is the variety of the courses and the knowledge of the professors. There is no other master that teaches you so much about commodities than the one in Geneva. Everybody interested in commodities should consider this option since you also have a comparative advantage if you applying for a job compared to students from other disciplines, which do not have such an understanding of the commodities industry.

You won the prize of the best Master grade in 2017. Your thesis was dedicated to blockchain in the commodity trading industry. Could you describe in little bit more detail what was exactly the scope of the subject, and what is blockchain and how it can impact the trading industry?

Blockchain is an industrial ecosystem incorporating security and resilience — a decentralized distributed ledger that records transactions in chains and is not run on a single server but distributed all over the world. This new technology has great potential to disrupt the industry by eradicating certain inefficient procedures in trading houses.

The biggest potential improvement could be seen in financing processes of trading companies and in supply chain management. Successful application of blockchain in a company can increase efficiency and potentially lead to a massive decrease of headcounts. A major advantage of blockchain is the peer-to-peer network that provides trust and optionality without depending on an intermediary. Blockchain promises solutions to significantly reduce counterparty, country, and settlement risks. Because ledgers are immutable, the record-keeping would be simplified and would allow for easier compliance and KYC procedures.

Currently, the blockchain technology is still in its testing phase. From your perspective, do you think that those project will eventually find real-life applications within the industry in the coming years?

The technology still needs time and improvement before it can be used marketwide. Security and scalability need to improve quickly to ensure that all parties are willing to join. From a regulatory point of view, authorities need to make sure that there is a clear guideline in place, which would allow institutions to use blockchain without being prone to any consequences from regulators. Only once a proper regulatory system is in place will the technology be able to unveil its full potential.

Trading companies have already shown great awareness of the possibilities and implications of this technology. Nevertheless, they need to follow the trend closely to avoid being sidelined once blockchain can be used in the day-to-day business of trading companies.

What is your current position within the industry and what aspects of your job you find particularly interesting, motivating and challenging?

After having worked in the Finance Department at Access World AG (which involved two short term assignments in  Barcelona and Lima, I was promoted to the position of Group Commercial Analyst. The aforementioned assignments in Spain and Peru offered me the opportunity to work with different cultures and in interesting environments. Working for an international company means that you should be able to work with a wide variety of cultures and more importantly to understand their mindset.

In a fast changing environment such as the commodities industry, you are always able to detect new opportunities and arbitrage possibilities, however, you also have to think outside the box and grasp the opporutnities that present themselves. In the future, I definitely want to use my knowledge regarding blockchain and trading houses to develop a more efficient way of working.

What would be the main advice for all the prospective students of the master program in order to find a job in the industry?

It is all about your mindset and willing to go the extra mile. Nobody expects you to know everything but you need to be willing to learn, invest energy and time. Upon acceptance to the master’s program, I highly recommend to attend all lecture and pay attention. The time with each professor is very limited but the knowledge that you can get from them is enormous. Participating in a master’s degree like this one is unique, the courses are tailor made for the commodities industry and this is the reason why this degree is so interesting. Ask questions – all professors are very open and always happy to share their knowledge, the more you ask, the more you will learn. Finally, and most importantly,  enjoy the university and your classes. You will spend a lot of time with your classmates, either for a presentation, study group or a beer after a hard day at class. All of them work in different companies and everybody has a different background, you will be able to make great friends and build a network in the industry – seize the opportunity!