Barbora Máková comes from Lomnice nad Popelkou. She completed her master studies at the IES in 2014. In the same year, she graduated from the University of Economics, where she focused on econometrics and quantitative finance. In 2011, she was an exchange student at the Maastricht University. She also gained a master's degree in economics at the Canadian University of British Columbia. She is currently enrolled in the PhD programme at IES.
Barbora started her work experience already during her studies. Initially, she was an intern in the audit department at KPMG; in 2013, she worked at Roland Berger as a Business Analyst, followed by an internship at PwC's Business Recovery Service. From September 2014, Barbora worked as a Teaching Assistant at the University of British Columbia. In September 2015, she started her eight-month traineeship at the European Central Bank. Since 2016, Barbora has been working in the R&D department at London's fin-tech start-up Credit Benchmark.
In her free time, Barbora likes running and cooking.
Bara, you have a lot of experience with studying at different universities. Is it possible to say which university was crucial for your future direction?
The most important part of my studies was the undergraduate programme at IES, which triggered my interest in quantitative analysis. Courses such as mathematics, statistics and econometrics gave me a good background in data analytics and basics of programming, which I further developed during my graduate studies focusing on econometric, operation research and economic modelling. I believe that quantitative analysis and working with various types of data is essential in virtually any business or academic field nowadays, as I learned during my various work experiences.
I am currently responsible for R&D in a fin-tech start-up and my day-to-day work involves predominantly data analysis. Being in a small, innovative environment, I need to constantly educate myself on new methods and technologies, and I greatly appreciate the knowledge of mathematics and logical thinking that I developed during my studies at IES.
You get one of your master’s degrees at the University of British Columbia, a relatively unknown school for Czech students. Why did you choose this university and was it difficult to get to it?
I was looking for a high quality education at a reasonable price and Canadian universities were the perfect candidates.The economic departments at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and University of Toronto are consistently ranked among the top 30 in the world and the tuition fees are affordable, especially compared to the UK and US. The universities also offer various scholarships; I was offered a teaching assistantship role, which required me to teach a few hours a week in exchange for a salary that fully covered the tuition fees and accommodation costs.
The approach to studies is similar as at American and British universities with a small number of students per class; significantly higher time requirements due to individual and team coursework; and teachers, who see the students as their peers and regularly meet with their students to discuss the studies and research, as well as professional and personal life.
Lastly, the graduate programme is only 12-months long and Vancouver, where UBC is located, is a fantastic place for life with a vibrant culture and both the ocean and the mountains at the doorstep.
The admission process was based on academic record, CV, letter of intent, recommendation letters, TOEFL (English) and GRE (quantitative reasoning) tests. The admission committee pays attention to extracurricular activities such as internships and the letter of intent is a good place for highlighting the overlap between student’s interests and research of the professors. In my class, the acceptance rate was around 10%, we were 3 Europeans in the class of 50 students.
You passed a traineeship at the ECB, how does this ECB training program work? What should students do if they are interested in a similar experience?
The ECB opens many traineeship positions across most of its departments. I worked in the Country Surveillance Division of the Directorate General Economics, which has around 20 regular employees and at the time of my traineeship there were 6 trainees – 4 at the Master level and 2 at the PhD level. The initial job offer was for three months and it could be extended for up to one year, the extension is a common practice.
In my division, trainees were assigned to several projects and helped the economists with data collection and manipulation, as well as basic economic analysis. The co-operation often resulted in co-authorship of a study. I worked on development of a new macroeconomic index used in internal reports on the EU member countries and a long-term project on equilibrium debt.
As indicated by the job responsibilities, the economic department is looking mainly for students with a good knowledge of data analysis, which was also the main topic of the job interview (over Skype), together with econometrics and programming. IES is a great preparation for the trainee position at the ECB and I know at least two other classmates who went through the same traineeship programme. I would recommend students to align their optional modules with the focus of department of their interest.
You are now working in London at Credit Benchmark, which offers a "market view of credit risk". What concretely does this mean?
For most people, credit risk is tightly linked to large credit rating agencies such as Moody’s, S&P and Fitch, which estimate credit risk and provide credit ratings. These companies sell credit ratings to the evaluated companies, which creates a buyer-seller relationship and may lead to conflict of interest. Objectivity of rating agencies has also been widely questioned after the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Credit Benchmark is a fin-tech start-up offering an alternative to the credit ratings based on aggregation of internal credit risk estimates provided by leading financial institutions, mainly banks. The financial institutions are closely watched by regulators, which ensures objectivity of the estimates. Moreover, Credit Benchmark performs extensive audit of assumptions and outputs of the individual models before a new partner is on-boarded to ensure comparability of the credit risk estimates. This results in objective credit ratings driven by multiple financials institution that accurately capture credit risk levels and changes as well as any uncertainty related to credit quality of the specific entities.
The company collects, on a monthly basis, estimates of probability of default and loss given default on creditor portfolios of more than 30 financial institutions, the data then go through a series of quality assurance checks followed by an aggregation process. Our outputs include average credit risk and a set of additional descriptive indicators characterizing distribution of the underlying estimates and uncertainty linked to the credit risk output. My responsibilities include cooperation with clients and developing new indicators and products. For example, I have been working on a model of instrument level credit risk and different approaches to aggregation of the data on regional and industry levels. I also research behaviour of the data with respect to other market indicators.
You worked for different types of employers – global companies, a public institution and a start-up. What are the differences in the work environments of these organizations?
I was lucky as I always worked in a small team of inspirational people and felt that my work was valued. The largest differences can be observed in the emphasis on fast and innovative results, work environment including rules, targets and team, and impact on the company. Audit (at KMPG) and consulting (at Roland Berger and PwC) are fast paced jobs but projects have clearly defined phases and often repeating workflows, my more senior colleagues always navigated me through the projects and the space for innovation was quite limited. My position at the ECB was more research-focused and the pace of the work was slower. In both cases, I had a significant impact on the individual projects but not on the organization.
The dynamic of work at Credit Benchmark is different. I joined a team of 20 people in early stages of the company’s life and there was a clear target that we wanted to achieve but the individual steps and processes were not yet fully defined. Even though the team was full of people with a lot of experience in finance and start-ups, this type of data was new for everyone and the management was open to discussion. Since the first moment, I have had an impact on various parts of the company - data quality checks, processes of mapping clients’ data to reference databases, defining and designing products or writing blog posts. At the same time, I had to learn to think flexibly, not cling on my ideas and listen to other people’s suggestions. The company is growing fast and the targets are changing, from increasing number of contributors and contributions through emphasis on data quality to widening the portfolio of products and focus on new type of clients. It sometimes happens that a project must be redone from the beginning because the targets or rules have evolved. It is a unique experience and I am glad that I have the opportunity to closely follow and affect the company’s growth.
How do you spend your free time? What are your hobbies?
I am currently enrolled in the PhD programme at IES, so I spend most of my evenings and weekends playing with data and doing research for my studies. Credit Benchmark collects unique data and this is a great opportunity to analyse the data using new, innovative methods, which are not very suitable for commercial world due to complexity and development time.
I am a keen runner and I enjoy cooking; I follow the „move more, eat more“ philosophy. I regularly participate in parkruns and if you ever have a chance, you should definitely try the run. Parkruns are free, weekly, 5k timed runs based on volunteering with friendly atmosphere and great impact on the community. They originated in London where you can participate in almost every bigger park and with the growing popularity of running, they have expanded to 23 different countries including Poland and Germany. Czech Republic is unfortunately not yet on the list but a part of the Polish parkrun route in Szczecin crosses the Czech boarders.