Seeking Sagacity and Clarity from Data Analytics

Hiep Vu (MSc in Business Analytics 2020) has been intrigued by data analytics for years. He believes that in the age of AI, big data and machine learning, analysts who are adept at leveraging the powers of data can formulate better investment ideas, make faster decisions and take on more creative tasks.

“Data analytics enables me to filter out noise and focus my time and energy on important data points; it can augment my financial skills and give me a competitive edge in investment banking,” Hiep said.

From Fascination to Aspiration. From Germany to Hong Kong.

An overseas student from Germany, Hiep’s fascination with data analytics stems from an IT class he took while studying for the Bachelor’s degree in International Business at Germany’s ESB Business School of Reutlingen University. Intent on pursuing advanced studies in data analytics, he decided to come to The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School and fulfil two dreams: to attend a top business analytics programme, and to live and work in a city he has long admired.

Being awarded with a full scholarship from CUHK, Hiep joined the advanced one-year MSc in Business Analytics programme and took up a minor in investment banking.

“My professor in Germany described Hong Kong as having a ‘perfect balance of chaos and order’, a city whose ‘distinctive dynamic pushes people forward’. I thought it would be an excellent place to push myself out of my comfort zone.” ── Hiep Vu.

Mining for Opportunities in New Surroundings

Before long, Hiep realised that his CUHK experience would be “intense”, “challenging” and “dynamic”. He said while the first trimester involved learning about the basics and attending different activities, such as career fairs and talent recruitment events, the second and third trimesters were about diving deep into challenging concepts, such as machine learning models and applications. “Coming from a smaller city and university, I also needed to get used to CUHK’s huge campus and Hong Kong’s dynamic rhythm. Fortunately, Hong Kong is very international. Everyone speaks fluent English, so communicating with others is easy.”

Hiep Vu (4th from left) and Maria Sbarbati (3rd from right) of the champion team pose with Prof. Seen Meng Chew (1st from left), Prof. Joseph Cheng (1st from right) and other prize winners at 2019 CUHK-LSEG Trading Competition.

Hiep began embracing the opportunities CUHK offered as soon as school started. Upon learning about the CUHK-LSEG Trading Competition, in which students compete to earn the largest percentage gains in simulated trading of securities listed in the London Stock Exchange (LSE), Hiep quickly teamed up with an MSc in Finance student – Maria Sbarbati from Italy — to join the competition, and won.

“My partner and I knew we needed a good strategy from the get-go. So we discussed it at length and decided to invest in the European mid- and small-caps markets, buy CDS and ETFs and bet against the UK market during the Brexit discussions and the Sino-US trade war.” Hiep credited the habit of daily news reading for informing him and his partner of evolving impacts on the global socio-economic landscape. “Although other teams did better than us in the first round, our team came ahead in the end when established markets faltered because of the trade war and Brexit.”

“Data analytics enables me to filter out noise and focus my time and energy on important data points; it can augment my financial skills and give me a competitive edge in investment banking.” ── Hiep Vu.

When Chaos Tips the Balance

This ability to find clarity amid tumult, draw insights despite distraction and chart a course forward through nebulous conditions certainly primes Hiep well for the world of data analytics. The mindset also helped him cope with the impact of Covid-19, which abruptly altered the trajectory of his studies.

The coronavirus pandemic broke out just as Hiep’s intense second trimester was about to start. Immediately, he knew the sponsored trip to attend an insight week at the LSE headquarters, an award of the trading competition, would be suspended.

Covid also disrupted his personal life as a student. Hiep had originally joined the CUHK rowing team to enjoy the camaraderie that comes with being a team member. He also wanted to hone his acumen in collaborating with people from different backgrounds, a soft skill that will be useful in his future career. But with all classes moved online and extracurricular activities paused, Hiep could only maintain regular networking virtually.

”I find it admirable that Roosevelt managed to thrive in many lives and careers wrapped up in one, and I want to emulate this achievement as much as I can.” ─ Hiep Vu

Emulating the Positivity of President Theodore Roosevelt

Despite such challenges, Hiep was not dejected. With the cool head and discipline of an analyst, he kept a positive mindset and motivated himself by running and constant learning. He decided to use the period of social restriction to improve his technical skills by taking an online course on company valuation from New York University’s famous “Dean of Valuation”, Professor Damodaran.

Consolidating his knowledge of data analytics and finance, Hiep also started writing on Medium, offering his thoughts on topical subjects such as Tesla’s valuation and sentiment analysis for S&P 500 stocks. In addition to honing his analytical chops, writing offers an excellent opportunity to think more clearly and rigorously and to practice presenting his ideas to the general reader.

Hiep said his interest in continually exploring new roles is inspired by the example of Theodore Roosevelt. “The US president said, ‘Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody’. I find it admirable that he managed to thrive in many lives and careers wrapped up in one, and I want to emulate this achievement as much as I can.”

” ‘The way is the goal.’ Try to enjoy the journey and keep an open mind.” ─ Hiep Vu

“Der Weg ist das Ziel”

Hiep now plans to take the skills and knowledge he acquired and pursue a career in investment banking, as it allows him to work with people while sharpening his analytical skills. “My career plan last year was to work in Hong Kong for at least one to two years to gain more international experiences. Thankfully, I have landed a Market Activity Trainee position at Société Générale working on market and risk analysis. I plan to learn as much as possible, identify areas where I can improve and contribute to the success of the bank.”

For a pragmatist who seeks out the best opportunities from evolving situations, and who assesses options by analysing facts and data, Hiep’s take on the future is surprisingly serendipitous. “There is a German saying, ‘Der Weg ist das Ziel, or ‘the way is the goal’. I will try to enjoy the journey and keep an open mind.”