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Managing financial risk with physics: Market Risk Project Manager

Adu’s master’s project inspired him to pursue a career where he applies physics and maths skills to reduce the risks in buying and selling commodities for international companies.

Large room with lots of  computers

“I’m a geek at heart, so I love using maths to solve problems. That’s what physicists are and that’s what I enjoy most.”

First name: Adu | Job title: Market Risk Project Manager | Organisation: Mitsui Bussan Commodities Ltd | Qualifications: MSci, Physics, Imperial College London

How did you get to where you are today?
My initial wish when I started my physics degree was to become a physicist, but I didn’t go into it knowing all the possible fields of work you could end up in. I did my master’s project on something called the Black–Scholes model [a mathematical model for pricing financial option contracts], and I did really well.

That made me want to go into trading, but graduating in 2009 was the worst year for that because of the global crash. So I just wanted a job to be honest, and I found one for a company called OpenLink, who provide software for commodity trading firms. I joined their graduate scheme, they trained me up and, because of my background in physics, I ended up becoming a market risk specialist. I worked for several different companies after that, including two of the ‘Big Four’ in the accountancy world. And, to cut a long story short, I am where I am now.

Could you explain what your job is and what it involves?
My official title is Market Risk Project Manager for commodity trading firm Mitsui Bussan. They trade oil, gas, power, all sorts of energy trading commodities. My role essentially is to monitor or help monitor the market risk we’re taking.

I work on products like European power. The power you get to your home is bought wholesale by big companies. Obviously power’s not like crude oil,­ you can’t store it easily. People like Elon Musk [owner of clean energy tech company Tesla] are trying to change that, but for now power has a price per hour that you can trade – buy and sell wholesale – and there are different prices: you can buy power for a day, or buy power for week or weekend delivery. We build models that represent how those power purchases combine, and on a high level we can buy and sell contracts based on that.

What do you enjoy most about your role?
I’m a geek at heart, so I love using maths to solve problems. That’s what physicists are and that’s what I enjoy most – having a problem, breaking it down into its components, and then using quantitative methods to solve that problem.

Can you describe the types of skills companies in your sector are looking for?
If you have a background in physical sciences, it definitely helps – people are looking for that. And it’s good to have a quantitative skillset and be able to code for what I do. I remember coding during university and thinking “I came here to do physics and maths, I didn’t come here to do coding!”, but now I enjoy it. It’s an advantage to be technically savvy in that way.

Do you have any final words of advice for a young person interested in a career in finance or market risk?
Don’t do anything purely for the money. When I was a broke student, I was thinking “I just want to be paid”. But I’ve worked with people who have an awful lot of money, and they’re some of the saddest people I’ve ever met. You can only sleep in one bed at one time, and drive one car at one time. So do something you love. If you want to get into risk, do it because you love it or you’re interested in it.

Career stories

Hear from people working in some of the most rewarding, exciting and innovative industries about what their jobs involve and how studying physics helped to get them there.

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