Jan Polách comes from Olomouc and currently works as Climate & Finance Quant Manager at Baringa Partners in London. Honza graduated from IES in 2015 with a Bachelor's degree, having already obtained his Master's degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He focused on finance. He stayed in London. During his undergraduate studies, he picked up an internship at Leo Express, while another internship has already taken place in the summer of 2016, at Rathbone Associates in London. Following these internships, he joined Moody's Analytics, working his way up from Research Associates to Assistant Director. After just under 4 years at this firm, Jan left to become a consultant at True North Partners LLP, where he worked briefly before taking up his current position at Baringa Partners.
Why did you start at the IES, what was the determining factor for you when you were choosing where to go after high school? I ask because many high school students are now wondering how to choose from the range of schools they were accepted to.
It was mostly the fact that I saw the IES as the best place to study ‘pure’ economics in the country. I liked that the intake was relatively small compared to the programmes at different universities, and that the course was quite generalist; at that time, I wasn’t 100% sure which specific area of economics or finance I wanted to focus on later in my career, and so the broad scope that the course encompassed at the time was perfect. It was more about learning transferrable skills (Maths I to IV :-)) rather than specializing too much too early on. Other smaller factors were also the programme’s top position in the annual ranking by Hospodarske noviny or the great ‘Open Day’ at the IES I attended in January before starting later in September.
After the IES you were accepted to LSE. What do you think was the decisive factor in your admission? Can you define it exactly? How complicated is the admission procedure itself?
It’s hard to pinpoint it exactly – at the time there were no exact acceptance criteria, only a minimal set of requirements every prospective student had to meet. I think in my case it was no single thing really – I did reasonably well on the GMAT exam, had a solid grade average from the undergraduate degree at the IES, and was backed by great recommendation letters kindly written by Dr Gregor and Dr Novak at the IES. One other factor was an essay all students had to write – although it’s of course hard to assess this, I like to think that mine was quite good, I really spent a significant amount of time on it, trying to put my specific case forward.
Did you get any scholarships for your studies?
I did not, no. Financing the studies was of course challenging but I ultimately managed to do so thanks to the incredible help of my family. It’s quite common for students in the UK universities to be leaving their undergraduate institutions with tens of thousands of pounds of debt from tuition fees and general costs of living to which they add more when they decide to do their graduate degrees. I’m very grateful that I did not have to do this.
You are now working as a Climate and Finance Quant Manager, what exactly is behind your position, what do you actually do?
My background is in credit risk management and research. I’m now combining this with and linking to economic and financial risks of climate change at a consultancy that helps its clients manage the transition and physical climate risks. My role is revolving around defining and modelling how various climate scenarios will impact firms’ abilities to repay their debt or how other securities issued by these companies will appreciate or depreciate as a result of these risks. From there, we help banks, asset managers, and insurers better understand the pockets in their portfolios most exposed to climate risk and how they can manage these better. Climate risk as such has gained an incredible traction in the past two or three years and it has the potential to only become more relevant in the near future. The regulators in the UK take this topic extremely seriously and it is only a matter of time before this trend spreads to other countries – if you don’t know which area you want to focus in your career, this could be a good option :-)
How are you feeling about the situation around Covid-19 in the UK? In your case, having lived in the UK for a long time I assume you have already built up a network of contacts which makes the situation easier… Have you had desire to move back to the Czech Republic during this period, or even, has it really been possible with companies introducing home offices?
It’s definitely been a very challenging 16 months. A lot of non-UK nationals have moved back to their home countries as a result of the pandemic and the additional pressures from Brexit. I was lucky to be able to spend the last summer in the Czech Republic with my family which I enjoyed a lot. The lockdown rules have been quite strict in the UK – meeting people even outside was against the rules for a long time and only allowed again a couple of weeks ago. The rule of 6 is still in place for meetings indoor. The 2020/2021 winter months were especially difficult; my partner and I were planning to spend Christmas with our families back home, but the government cancelled all travel due to the infamous Kent variant. With the rollout of vaccines, the situation has been improving here, but the pace of receiving the second dose is a little disappointing. It will be interesting to see how employers approach the post-pandemic future of work – some companies here have said that “the old office culture is dead”, but some investment banks, for example, seem to have the opposite view.
You worked in the London office of Moody's Analytics for almost 4 years before that, how would you describe working there? As a consultant, or currently a manager, do you do something significantly different, is it more organizational work, less analytical, or is it essentially the same?
Starting my professional career at Moody’s was an invaluable experience. I had the chance to meet and work with many talented people from all over the world as part of the quantitative research team and learnt a great deal from them. Being part of such a big, well-known brand in the industry was amazing – it gave me an opportunity to work with the best-in-class credit risk models and help and advise top banks and other institutions. My current organization is a bit different – it is not a traditional credit risk firm, and so it relies on my knowledge in a lot of the related areas. This fact gives me plenty of freedom to drive the initiatives the firm is undertaking in this space and I can shape and influence things much more, being a team lead. The models we build here are naturally less sophisticated in the pure credit risk world, but we’re trying to bring a unique, innovative connection with the field of climate risk, which is the reason so many clients want to work with us.
How do you spend your free time? What do you enjoy doing?
Before the pandemic hit, I enjoyed going out to the theatre, concerts, museums, and galleries, which London has an abundance of; as for many others, for me this has mostly been replaced by Netflix. I also got into road cycling – the countryside here offers plenty of amazing routes for one to pick from, including some modest climbs in Surrey Hills or long flat stretches going into Windsor. When I’m in the mood (and when it rains outside), I try to spend some time on various coding and similar side projects to keep up with new trends within the fintech space.