The quant agenda

Frank De Jonghe, Belgium

Frank De Jonghe is a Partner at EY and leads our Quantitative Advisory practice in Belgium.

Tell us about your journey to EY.

I started out as a PhD Physics student in 1994. This particular subject gave me a feeling of being connected to an international community, which is an important aspect for me and is the beginning of the rest of my story. I made the move to EY in 2011. I’ve now been here for five years and have always said that I will never move to another Big 4 again, the main reason being the international connections and people I’ve met here at EY. In my current role I am the EMEIA Quantitative Advisory Services Leader.

With your background in quantitative analytics, what was it that drew you to EY?

The thing that I think attracts people like myself to EY is the variety of new and adverse topics that you have the opportunity to work on. Whilst I may find 80% of the tasks I have to do irrelevant at times they do still pose intellectual challenges and trigger my spark for constant learning. For me, I find that writing a proposal is a creative phase which constantly challenges me to improve and better my writing. This is also the case when a client asks you to do a task that you may not have done before, this brings a sense of challenge and learning that is fundamental in this type of work. And in that sense, we are a knowledge industry and therefore it is appealing from that perspective for people like myself.

What have been some of your highlights over the last five years?

There have been so many it is hard to pick just a couple. One highlight I would say was a project I completed in South Africa which brings to life the notion of how we work in an international setting. This task started with a pitch at our South African firm. This project was offered to me by another colleague who thought I was the right person for the job. The first highlight was the mere fact that I was given this opportunity and was being flown over by EY for the day. We had only 50 minutes with the client to convince them to work myself and ultimately EY. That in itself was an experience that made me reflect on the work that I do and ultimately the person that I am and want to be.

Another highlight for me, from a learning and cultural perspective, was when I was a quantitative analyst and carried out a large project for a US bank that had activities in London and Brussels. It was centred around the notion of governance and the soft side of risk management. I was in fact the lead Partner for EY, with a large team of experts in internal audit, compliance and risk management. I was in charge of putting all of the information together to present to the client, and it was such a new experience for me. Adding to the learning experience was the fact that it was in such a soft topic, an area which was not within my preferred realm of quantitative analytics, which allowed me to build on my communication and presentation skills.  Getting positive feedback from senior stakeholders and my fellow colleagues made this experience much more memorable. The final aspect of this project that made it memorable was the fact that I got the opportunity to see how different cultures influence the effectiveness of an organisation where documentation and presentation procedures may differ. 

What do you look for in new recruits?

The first thing would actually be an absolute disrespect of authority. This is based on my own personal scientific spirit, as in a lot of what we do and certainly in my time at the firm, I have very little time to actually think about different topics and reflect on them. Whilst I may have more experience than some of my junior colleagues, I want them to have no fear in the ability to come to me and protect me against my own mistakes. I also don’t want to see any hierarchy amongst my team I just want to see the value of the argument, and for them to all feel that their opinion is heard and respected.

The second attribute is that of pragmatism. I think this can be a challenge when there is a constant inflow of new quantitative analysts coming in, as we have been trained over the span of our careers to learn that problems in science are decidable, meaning that there is a yes and a no answer. Yet problems in reality are most of the time quite grey, meaning the key is to know when to be satisfied with an argument and be willing to go out and defend it because in the circumstances in which we are in this is good enough, therefore developing that sense of pragmatism. Whilst it can be a challenge you don’t want to become a weakness and not be able to defend your outcomes and findings. This brings us to the first point I mentioned in that I want everyone to be looking at me and saying this is where I take a risk and this is where I should be careful. I feel the pressures of the business but they shouldn’t.

What's your take on the culture at EY?

I firstly found it to be a welcoming and respectful organisation, with the ultimate reason being that when I was in the job interview process the senior partners that interviewed me showed me great respect. What I am seeking in my job is diversity, in that I want clients to ask me to do a task that I may not have necessarily done before, allowing me to build a team to deliver that. You have to be able to rely on each other and be open and critical throughout the process of delivering work for the client and this I feel is central to the EY culture.

What would be your advice to fellow quants looking to enter industry for the first time?

The biggest thing would be to keep the curiosity, that’s the personal driver. But the success factor is never assume that the other one understands you, you are the one who has to explain it to others. We are the technicians, so it’s upon us as the most technical group to make the translation to the generalists in the business, it can’t work the other way around. You should not hide behind ‘I know better’ and it’s up to you to understand what it’s all about. You have to make yourself relevant by translating to the others what is needed and never be afraid to ask questions.

 

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