The Berkeley Haas MBA program has nearly 70 student-run clubs, ranging from just fun social groups like the Haas Beer Club to career-driven organizations like the two highlighted here. We talk to Mike Doherty, MBA 20, co-president of the 499-member Finance Club and to Anna Soybel, MBA 20, co-president of the 344-member FinTech Club.
What attracts students to your clubs and what’s the focus?
Mike (Finance Club): Relative to a lot of clubs, the Finance Club is very career oriented. Our events, scheduled nearly every day have two purposes: One is to learn more about specific finance issues, like a talk on what search funds are; or a private markets investment workshop, where you talk about what a general partner is and what a term sheet looks like. Then for those who have made a decision on what they want to pursue, it’s all about networking through events and company visits.
Anna (FinTech Club): We have networking mixers and company treks, too. A lot of the FinTech club is focused around the interests people have. The underlying idea across FinTech is that tech can allow us to provide services more efficiently, expand access, and offer a better experience to customers. Within that are various verticals like payments, robo-investing, or personal finance apps that can help you save or manage your finances better. And, of course there’s blockchain and the whole crypto-currency world. The blockchain world at Berkeley expands beyond Haas, so we’re able to partner with groups like Blockchain at Berkeley.
What are some of the issues club members are wrestling with?
Mike: The big talk these days is the reception of IPOs like WeWork and the large consumer-facing companies that haven’t performed as well as people expected, like Uber, Lyft, and Spotify. It’s not like the sky is falling; it’s more like investors are being more selective. It’s also about how a lot of founders or CEOs have put in place share structures that are favorable to their ownership or control. All of this has put more of an emphasis on corporate governance, which is probably a good thing.
Anna: I think one of the issues our members wrestle with is what’s the limit of FinTech? The idea is to provide financial services cheaper and better and to increase access to financial services for people around the world who are unbanked or underbanked. But the thing I come back to is: when is it beneficial and when does FinTech promote things such as predatory lending that could worsen a consumer’s financial health?
Focus areas can evolve depending on what students are interested in."
So, how do the clubs respond to these emerging issues?
Anna: A great thing about clubs is that because they are student-run, focus areas can evolve depending on what students are interested in. For example, there is a ton of enthusiasm at Haas about impact investing—the idea that an investment can have social and financial returns. Clubs and faculty have worked together to develop classes and programming focused on impact investing.
Mike: Yes, a lot of first years have been asking about it. They want to invest in companies that have a sustainability focus, where the return is both a monetary and a societal good. Where people draw the line is up for debate.
What’s the club culture like?
Anna: I would say that FinTech culture reflects Haas culture. I’ve had such great interactions with people. And what’s special at Haas is that people want to share their expertise and experience. For example, when there is a career opportunity and multiple people are interested in the same job—rather than just compete, they’ll help each other practice their interviews.
Mike: It’s similar in the Finance Club. But also on the non-career side we get involved in community service events. For example, as part of Professor Omri Even-Tov’s “This is Berkeley Haas” volunteer initiative, Finance Club members made and distributed burritos in Berkeley and Oakland to people who experience food insecurity. The food goes to both UC Berkeley students and to homeless camps where we might also distribute water and dog food for their pets.
How do you see your role in the club?
Anna: One of the fun parts is being able to take what folks in the club are excited about and help make it a reality. A lot of the time I’m fielding questions and requests from students, administrators, and fintech companies, as well as connecting people with similar interests in the full-time and evening & weekend MBA programs.
Mike: Yeah, I agree. When I ran for president, I thought I’d be more in the weeds, setting up events—a figurehead who runs around doing some dirty work. And I do that stuff, but I feel like more of my time is enabling other groups to go on and do what they’re interested in.
How do you think the clubs reflect the difference between Berkeley and other MBA programs?
Anna: I think one is the emphasis around FinTech and the closeness to Silicon Valley. We’re such a tech-oriented region. We benefit from that.
Mike: Yes, I agree. Also, there is a broader view here. We’re a business school and finance is a key piece. And yet there is a view that has started to change given our class profile. For so many incoming students, it’s less ‘I want to be an investment banker’ and more ‘I want to make transportation better, or improve financial literacy.’