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For This Wealth Management Student, People Come Before Metrics

By Anindita S. Dwiwinata

Symbat Khalel is very familiar with dealing with multicultural situations. The Columbia University Wealth Management M.P.S. student was born in Kazakhstan and has lived and studied in Asia and the Middle East.  

During her career, she has served as a senior team leader in product and promotion sales for Nestlé, a finance team member at Jumeirah Hotels & Resort in Dubai, and a senior associate for PricewaterhouseCoopers Kazakhstan. Currently, Khalel is a financial and accounting consultant at a real estate investment start-up, Spanish Valley Associates LLC. Her location and the program’s flexibility is a top reason Khalel enrolled: “Columbia SPS has proven to be a one-of-a-kind school that enables international professionals to continue their education while simultaneously allowing them to continue working and gaining experience. The program has contributed to my current role and helped to refine my personal perspective and approach,” she says.

Despite her traditional financial background, Khalel takes a holistic approach to her craft. As Khalel explains, it is rather easy for financial professionals to fall into solely focusing on the profession’s technical aspects. “Wealth management is rather a delicate dance; it is not always about the key performance indicators and margins,” she says. “They forget,” she adds, “about the social elements of wealth management.” Khalel credits Columbia’s program with emphasizing a people-centric approach. She particularly appreciates lectures about interpersonal skills and tactics, as well as courses about financial psychology and communication. These courses, the faculty of industry experts, and the research-based yet practical curriculum are enhancing her professional credibility.

Khalel explained that studying and working on different continents has given her a unique perspective on how cultural background influences people's relationships with money and financial planning. For example, in Dubai where she worked and studied, she often had to adapt to cultures of the Middle East. “Once you truly understand it, it won't feel any different from other places. At its core, it's the same values of family-above-all as I have discovered in China. It is important to see and approach clients with an open mind, be a good listener, and really try to understand what they want for life. And more often than not it is the same thing that drives them—care for the loved ones.”

As an international student, Khalel also found the program fitting to her personal, academic, and professional needs. Since most of the educational material is online and asynchronous, she finds it easier to complete the coursework at the most convenient times. She feels that the faculty and her student cohort have been very accommodating with scheduling calls, emails, and group calls. “Professionally, this program is necessary for anyone looking to expand their professional horizons and gain knowledge, especially in the industry in the U.S. Beyond that, every individual who wants to be successful and financially healthy can benefit from this program because of its practical knowledge that is very much useful either in finance or other fields.“

What are the next steps for Khalel, who will graduate in May of 2023? “After gaining more international experience, I would love to get back home and help people like my parents who are in need of financial advisors, either by joining the existing wealth management practices or opening up my own.”

Learn more about Columbia’s M.P.S. in Wealth Management program.