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Mario A. González-Corzo: Putting Business Certificate Students on the Path to Careers in Finance

Mario A. González-Corzo, Ph.D., doesn’t have to tell you how much he loves teaching finance—the way he can rhapsodize about municipal bonds and sovereign debt, it’s instantly clear where his passion lies.

“My students tell me, ‘Professor, you light up when you talk about fixed-income securities!’” said González-Corzo, who teaches the introductory course on finance for Columbia’s Advanced Graduate Certificate in Business program. “They can tell when you’re prepared, and they can tell when you are passionate about teaching. That positive energy comes across whether you’re doing it face-to-face, whether you’re teaching via Zoom or any other platform.”

González-Corzo began his career in the financial services industry. After graduating from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s in economics, he went on to work in risk management at JPMorgan Chase and later transitioned to management consulting for PricewaterhouseCoopers. But his desire to teach led him back to Rutgers, where he earned his doctorate in economics and global studies. He became an associate professor for CUNY’s Lehman College, and in 2011 joined Columbia’s School of Professional Studies (SPS) as a lecturer.

We spoke with González-Corzo about the course he most loves to teach, his employment outlook for the post-pandemic financial services industry in New York City and his unshaken belief that Columbia will continue to provide students with a bridge to careers in the industry. 

Tell us about the course you teach for the Advanced Graduate Certificate in Business.

I teach Introduction to Finance, which is really the gateway course to prepare students for corporate finance, which comes after. The certificate program has a finance component, an accounting component, a marketing component, a management component—it’s really well-rounded! Although I’ve recently taught the course alternating semesters in-person and online, I’ve mostly taught it online.

For every single newly created job in the financial services industry [in New York City], between two and four non-financial jobs are created. There’s no place else in America where financial services has the same positive multiplier effect. 

As an intro-level course—and given the nature of our curriculum and the nature of SPS in general—I deal with a diversified group of students, in terms of their academic backgrounds and interests. Many of them are walking into the class thinking this is a mystical world they’ve never seen before, and many come with a preconceived idea that it is a personal finance course, so I do take the opportunity to make topics relatable to personal finance, and that makes it much more enjoyable to teach. 

The curriculum is quite modular and reduces the sense of many students feeling overwhelmed by such a broad topic. So, we have five general pillars, or modules, that are covered in the semester, and by the end of the semester, students tell me they feel more confident now going into corporate finance and then eventually taking the other advanced finance courses. And by the way, I can tell you—at least anecdotally—we have what I would consider to be a pretty high conversion rate of students who decide to go beyond obtaining a certificate and express an interest in obtaining an advanced degree in finance or a related field.

I’ve been in leadership and administrative positions before, but for me, my passion is being in the trenches—in the classroom! I refer to it as going to a mental gym. When I was en route to my Ph.D., I went a bit crazy and earned three master’s degrees, including one in political science. I studied military history, and one of my favorite tacticians is Gustavus Adolphus, the King of Sweden, who is known for professionalizing the army and the concept of preparing troops and commanders through drilling. And it’s no surprise to me that he also liked mathematics a lot. So, teaching, for me, is like drilling, preparing yourself, but also being very passionate about the topic you’re teaching. So, I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue teaching the same course I like teaching so much.

As the program prepares graduates to enter the financial sector, what is your outlook on the prospects for employment, particularly given the economic impact of COVID-19?

I had published a paper last year about labor economics in the financial markets in New York City, and I’m currently working with another colleague on an updated version looking at the impact of the pandemic. 

At the present time, about one out of ten private sector jobs in New York City are in the financial services industry, which is known by the acronym FIRE, for finance, insurance and real estate. FIRE generates close to 20% of the total economic output, which is called Gross City Output. In terms of private sector wages, the financial sector accounts for 60%. The other important piece of data is what’s called an employment multiplier effect, which we calculate in our paper as ranging from 2.0 to 4. That means, for every single newly created job in the financial services industry, between two and four non-financial jobs are created. There’s no place else in America where financial services has the same positive multiplier effect. 

The industry is already rebounding in many ways. ... I’m optimistic that the shock that we’re having in the city right now will be temporary. My thesis is that financial services will transform itself to a new model of employment. 

So, what is the outlook? Before the coronavirus, there were really good projections for the financial services industry all the way to 2026. Total employment was supposed to increase by 14% between 2016 and 2026. What we’re trying to do now in this paper is to compare the shock caused by the 2007–2008 financial crisis to the shock caused by the coronavirus. In the 2008–2009 period, total employment in the financial services industry in NYC declined around 10% to 11%. But the financial collapse was really a structural crisis, more a crisis of confidence in the financial system. COVID-19 isn’t anything like that. The cause of and the response to the pandemic are different, and the recovery also could be a lot different. 

Before the pandemic, one area of projected growth was personal finance services and wealth management—the kind of face-to-face, personal services where people go in and meet with their financial advisor. Real estate was another area of projected growth. Now, that’s changed because the projections I had worked with were based on the expectation that real estate in different thriving urban centers in the U.S. would continue to thrive at a very fast rate. That is not certain anymore, and that’s going to have a tremendous impact on cities. 

What I’m referring to is the shrinking footprint of real estate. Even though the financial services industry has been an innovator in terms of technology and automation, it’s been extremely reliant on having large numbers of people concentrated in single locations. That excessive concentration will be reduced and phased out to some degree in the industry. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, the Bureau of Labor Statistics or New York State Department of Labor reports that 50% to 70% of workers are working from home on a permanent basis. 

What does that mean for business program graduates?

The industry is already rebounding in many ways. Buying stocks and bonds, that’s not going to change. It’s booming right now. I’m optimistic that the shock that we’re having in the city right now will be temporary. I continue to believe, even after the coronavirus, that the whole percentage of people employed in the financial services will remain about the same. My thesis is that financial services will transform itself to a new model of employment. 

Columbia SPS has a very strong link to the financial services industry—through faculty that have worked or remain employed in the industry, faculty that write and publish academic research on the industry. Our program—our institution—is a bridge to this very dynamic and vibrant sector of the city’s economy.

As for Columbia SPS, we have a very strong link to the financial services industry—through faculty that have worked or remain employed in the industry, faculty that write and publish academic research on the industry. Our program—our institution—is a bridge to this very dynamic and vibrant sector of the city’s economy. I still believe that. 

And I still believe the industry will continue to attract a lot of people. It has a very high attrition rate, and that’s what makes it dynamic. It’s almost like an ongoing Gold Rush of 1849. People come in with dreams, young people—I was one of those people! It hasn’t stopped. It won’t stop. There will be other people coming afterwards, and we have many students who are go-getters, saying, “This is my opportunity. I want to use Columbia SPS as a bridge to go into that industry.”  

Learn more about the Advanced Graduate Certificate in Business at Columbia University School of Professional Studies.