Former Intelligence Analyst Embarks on a Career in Banking

The following blog post was written by Timothy “Fisher” McKenna, 2017 MBA candidate

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to travel the world. As a 5-year-old, I used to pore over the photos of exotic lands in my grandfather’s National Geographic magazines. I have always enjoyed athletics, and as a cross-country runner in high school, it was a special treat for me to watch gifted sprinters demonstrate their love for their countries in the Summer Olympics. When I got a little older, my imagination ran wild reading spy novels centered on international political intrigue.

Later, I discovered a facility for learning foreign languages, and by the time I enrolled in my first year at Cornell University to study applied economics and political science, I was sure of my path: I wanted to work for the government and be a globe-trotter. Shortly after finishing my undergraduate studies, I attended graduate school at the University of Maryland in the Greater Washington, D.C. area, obtaining a Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.) in international economics. While there, I explored the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) and ruminated on career choices. I thought about the Foreign Service, the military, and even the Peace Corps. In the end, I was recruited to work with the US Intelligence Community via a selective national security fellowship targeting young, civic-minded Americans with strong academic records. Coming of age after the events of 9/11, and having lost a family member from the attacks, I felt I had finally achieved a medium to fulfill my patriotic duty.

isher stands on the quad with Rush Rhees library in the distance.

Fisher stands on the quad with Rush Rhees library in the distance.

My time working in counterterrorism intelligence brought me to multiple corners of the globe. Travelling to war-torn countries, however, incited an unexpected epiphany: Capitalism could be used as a conduit to encourage positive change. If people have access to capital through a stable financial system, they may achieve upward mobility through small business loans or impact investing, for example. For many disaffected youth, economic opportunities could be the perfect antidote to antisocial or illicit behavior. With a background in economics and an equal interest in mathematics and writing, I was compelled to learn about finance — the language of business — and sought to work in the field.

Pivoting to banking was a serious move, so I knew I had to apply to business school. After being accepted to several highly ranked programs, I chose Simon Business School at the University of Rochester because of its stellar reputation in finance, its small and international class profile, and the University’s scholarly setting, featuring iconic Rush Rhees library. In addition, my father’s cousin attended Simon, and I was proud to begin a new family tradition. Looking back, I have no regrets. Anchored in the highly-ranked University of Rochester, Simon’s curriculum is reminiscent of the academic rigor I experienced in the Ivy League.

Moreover, the career preparation I undertook in my first year propelled me to a competitive associate program in the summer of 2016 at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) in market and country risk in New York City. My decision to work in risk was influenced by my passion for government and my proficiency in qualitative and quantitative analyses. Risk at bulge bracket banks represents the confluence of government regulations and financial services, an interesting space in which balancing the core profit-generating activities with mitigation of threats to clients, consumers, and shareholders presents a dynamic intellectual challenge.

As a former intelligence analyst, risk analytics was a natural fit for me. In addition, my education in political science and applied economics—and now finance—as well as my work with the government, proved to be particularly useful. Within country risk at BAML, I conducted economic research and empirical assessments and wrote about current events to inform the Bank’s business strategy in Brazil. I was never lacking for material as the summer of 2016 was an interesting time in Brazil, with ongoing political scandals and a worsening recession. The field of country risk is fascinating, and Simon’s economics-based framework of dissecting business and policy issues helped me to evaluate the various ways the Bank should approach its risk exposure in an important emerging market.

The highlight of this experience was collaborating with partners in BAML’s offices in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to formulate holistic recommendations for predicted problem areas. I interfaced with C-suite executives and witnessed in real-time how macroeconomic research and data analytics drive strategic decision-making at the highest levels of one of the world’s largest banks.

Simon equipped me with the skills I needed to be successful in my summer associate program, and the School’s diverse and global culture continued to fuel my passion for a career in international banking. I look forward to a lucrative and stimulating career in banking. I will always remember the courage of the men and women in the military with whom I worked and will look back on my time at Simon fondly.

If you have questions for Fisher, feel free to contact him

Comments (1)

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  1. Aditi Verma says:

    Incredible Journey!! Proud to know you as a classmate and friend.