Dr Brian Shegar studied BSc Banking and International Finance, 1978 followed by MSc Finance, 1979. He has since gone on to work in international banking, and currently lives and works in Singapore.
Why did you come to Cass?
It wasn’t Cass then! It was the Centre for Banking and International Finance, which was an independent centre (not a faculty) that was part of the City University and not the Business School. The Centre was initially headed by Professor Geoff Woods and after a year it was taken on by the Lord Brian Griffiths (then Professor). He was from the LSE and was noted for an important monograph about competition in the UK banking industry. Back then there were only four clearing banks; an oligopoly that badly needed competition!
The BSc (Hons) in Banking and International Finance attracted a large number of applicants due to the close linkages between the City University and the City of London – the world’s largest international financial centre. I was attracted to apply for this course arising from Singapore’s aspirations to be an international financial centre coupled with my interest in this area.
Back in those days, we were competing in the rankings with the likes of Loughborough and Bangor in Wales – but no one was as bold and as visionary as we were! Also we were close to the City and could tap in to City’s expertise and prestigious institutions. Since the degree it was founded by economists, it initially had a strong weightage on economics and a lesser focus on finance. However this evolved over the years into a well-defined and structured programme.
What was your experience of studying at Cass?
There were 24 in our maiden cohort, from all over the world. I came from Singapore, there were other international students from Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa and elsewhere. It was great to be a small and cosy group and we were close to our lecturers, some of whom are still around eg Professor Roy Batchelor, Kate Phylaktis.
It was an enjoyable experience. We had most of our lectures at Gloucester Annex where the centre was based and some lectures in the main University at St. John Street. The only problem with the programme is that it was misleading in its title as Banking & International Finance, because it was mainly economics! After graduating I had not really been exposed to finance proper so I enrolled at the Business School (CUBS as it was then) and did the MSc Finance – which was quite specialised.
I graduated in 1978 from my BSc and I missed the Mais prize by one mark! Then I obtained a fees scholarship for my MSc thanks to JF Chown & Company, a leading international financial and tax consultant based in the city. I was introduced to JF Chown by Professor Brian Griffith and I have been in contact with my sponsor ever since! It was a good programme and we studied accounting and finance, insurance, operational science, corporate strategy and portfolio management. Again we were a small group, this time based largely at Lionel Denny House, at the Business School before it moved to the Barbican.
It was a full one-year programme and I graduated in 1979. We had lectures and exams followed by a thesis. Upon graduation I have had a little bit of contact with lecturers and fellow students. However what is truly impressive is to witness the phenomenal growth of CUBS into Cass Business School which is recognised as one of the leading centres for Business and Management Education in the UK. Additionally the linkages with the City have been further enhanced.
What is your favourite memory from your time at Cass?
The degree convocation at City University back then was a great ceremony in the Guildhall – totally unforgettable. It was a small University and we had an intimate convocation ceremony in one of the most historic buildings in the country. We were called one by one and had to kneel in front of the Lord Mayor of London who was the Chancellor and he would hood us personally. So my Bachelor’s convocation ceremony was certainly a highlight, although I was unable to attend the graduation for my Masters convocation.
On the whole, University for me was about the people. To be honest, the University was based in a pretty run down building in St. John Street. Gloucester Annex, which is where the Centre for Banking & Finance was located, resembled a converted warehouse office building. Back then Angel Islington was pretty depressed and not a very nice part of town, unlike today – it has become a trendy and upmarket location. London itself is an amazingly interesting and multi-cultural society with a rich history. Within London, the City with its one square mile of financial institutions from all over the world had a certain aura that mesmerized me as a banking student.
How did studying at Cass change your life?
In Singapore, after my A’ Levels, it was compulsory to do two and a half years’ military service, so I was older than the rest of the cohort by two years, and I think that made me more mature. This exposure to life after schooling helped, and it was good to not go straight to University. Coming to London to study after military service was an expensive proposition but it was a great way to learn banking & finance. And with hindsight, it was the best thing that I did!
My whole London experience changed my life because I was part of the ecosystem in London and could take advantage of it. I did some internship in the City and was exposed to some of the brightest people I have met. The depth and breadth in the City is awesome and it is the world’s leading financial centre. It moulded my future and passion and interest in the profession of banking and international finance.
My degrees launched my career – thanks to the learning, the exposure and the experience. I started at Midland Bank and Samuel Montagu in international and merchant banking largely in the Asia Pacific region where I worked for 15 years. Subsequently I established a Regional Branch of Nedbank covering the South East and South Asian. Then I moved out of banking to run a hedge fund, following which I returned to banking to establish the regional office of Emirates NBD in Singapore, covering the Asia Pacific Region.