USC Marshall finds itself on the cutting edge of fintech education

March 01, 2017

Popular classes can launch for unusual reasons.

For FBE 599 – “The Fintech Revolution,” an MBA-level class that has proven a hit across the student spectrum, it all started when one of teacher James Healy’s siblings didn’t know what the term “fintech” even meant.

“I was working at GE Capital, trying to acquire these nimble startups, and I realized that no student could expect to go into finance today without understanding fintech,” he says. “It’s the evolution of finance, and today’s students need to be exposed to it.”

Financial technology, or “fintech,” is the intersection of finance and technology. Investment in the sector reached nearly $4 billion in 2016 in the United States alone, according to one report.

Healy’s friend and colleague Marc Hamud MBA ’10 suggested they approach USC Marshall with a proposition. “Marshall is known for its entrepreneurial bent,” said Hamud. “We thought we could make a strong case that there needed to be some kind of education around this area.”

They were right, and MBA professors and administrators green-lighted an MBA-level course on the topic for spring 2016. FBE 599 - the Fintech Revolution: Disrupting Traditional Finance, was a half-semester class that ran from March to May.

The class filled overnight, and a waiting list grew long. Students chose to sit in and audit the class for no credit anyway, said Healy. Undergraduates emailed asking if they could just sit in the back and listen in. Engineering students from Viterbi heard about it and showed up as well.

Tapping their connections in the industry, Hamud and Healy pulled in C-suite speakers to describe to students how fintech worked in practice. “The first half of the class would be a lesson in payment systems and the second half of the class would be the head of PayPal North America talking to the students,” said Healy.

At the time, USC Marshall was among a handful of major universities to offer a class on this breakout functionality. Healy said that he and Hamud found the students were starving for this information.

“They touch this technology every day,” said Healy. “They use it, and they know there’s a better way to do it.” Many students approached him with business ideas in the space, he said. “Some are even ready to find investors.”

The Hot Sector

Although “disruption” is a favorite business buzzword, it’s an accurate description of what new technology is doing to the financial services sector.

According to a PwC research report, investment in fintech worldwide boomed from less than $2 billion to nearly $20 billion between 2010 and 2015. Some analysts believe Fintech disruption could take as much as 10 percent to 40 percent of bank revenue and eliminate 1 million banking jobs by 2025, according to a Wharton study.

This year FBE 599 is again in the catalog, and has already filled up, according to Healy.

Fintech Seminar

In addition to the class, USC continues to develop as a fintech hub with MBA student organizations launching the first ever USC Fintech Summit, to be held Tuesday, March 7 from 6:30-9:30 in Bashor Lounge in Heritage Hall on campus.

New York and San Francisco are the centers of Fintech, but Los Angeles is rapidly coming up behind them. Healy likes to think USC Marshall has something to do with this.

“The USC students and Los Angeles community are exploding onto the fintech scene with more passion and drive than we ever could have anticipated” he said. “We just feel fortunate to be a part of this incredible community.”