Olga Haislip, a 2004 MA graduate, works at the Bank of the West in San Francisco. In a Blog interview with Olga, we talked about her studies at CERGE-EI, her career, and why she took part in Alumni Local Groups initiative as local group leader for the US.
After your MA at CERGE-EI, you pursued your PhD in Economics at Clemson University, US. Did your CERGE-EI experience prepare you well enough for studies in the US?
I was one of the top Clemson Economics graduate students from day one; scoring straight A’s in the first semester. It is undeniable that the foundation of both my academic knowledge and my mental stamina came from CERGE-EI. My two years in Prague provided me with a superior academic edge that gave me both the confidence and the freedom to be inquisitive and to pursue my PhD on a fast track.
CERGE-EI gave me confidence with numbers. Working in higher levels of both consulting and now banking gave me a real appreciation for the rigorous training I received there.
I also benefited immensely from the life experience I had at CERGE-EI. It would have been otherwise a drastic adjustment to live alone in a foreign country, to study with students from around the world, to speak a foreign language 24/7 in school and around. My experience at CERGE made it easy. To this day, I feel that CERGE for me was a trampoline, the easiest and perhaps the only way to connect a rural girl from Belarus to opportunities offered to the best of the West.
For more than eight years you have been working as VP Quantitative Modeler at the Bank of the West. Can you tell us more about your work?
My first job after my PhD was in litigation consulting, building econometric models of damages for class-action antitrust lawsuits. I used econometrics to tell stories, usually about how our clients had been wronged. I loved the fast pace of litigation and the high profile coverage that the cases I worked on received in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
I almost didn’t mind working 100-hour-plus-work weeks. That changed when I had my first child. I realized that work-life balance is a good thing.
I joined the Bank in 2014 for the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) initiative which became an industry-wide regulatory requirement after the 2008 Financial Crisis. It was a great time to transition as it required econometric skills, and those were in short supply. At the bank, I specialized in building econometric models predicting losses for various bank’s portfolios. Today, I use the same econometric skills that I first honed at CERGE-EI.
For me, an important factor in joining my current work was that I be part of a very vibrant diverse team. Bank of the West is a subsidiary of the French conglomerate BNP Paribus and provides all the opportunities of the international establishment. The CCAR team was originally all PhDs from all over the world. Whenever I felt stuck, I would go for lunch with the team at San Francisco Union Square and talk. Within one lunch, I would have more ideas, solutions, and suggestions than one can imagine.
As banking regulations changed and the bank’s needs evolved, I transitioned into the bank’s Anti-Money Laundering group, which performs monitoring of our transactions to ensure regulatory compliance. As my career continues to evolve, I hope my next step will take me into either a role in the Federal Government or an economic policy think tank – both seem like pretty exciting places to examine bigger issues I’ve seen operationally from a different perspective.
Together with our PhD alumnus George Vachadze, you volunteer as an Alumni local group leader for the US. Why have you decided to take part in this initiative? What are your plans with the US alumni group?
There are certain points in an alumnus’s career when they come to an inflection point and can really benefit from guidance. That can take a variety of forms – be it a simple conversation, a business introduction, or a networking event. George and I formed the group with the idea that it would serve U.S. alumni at these critical career inflection points. We both really want to give back to the community that gave us such a strong start to our professional lives and look forward to setting up opportunities to get to know everyone in spring.
What would you like the US alumni group to be?
I hope that we can focus on two things: connection and mentorship.
Connection will help people find each other. It should be simple in the age of the Internet, but sustaining the connection forged in an elite school setting takes real work. It’s like once we walk down the steps of the Schebek Palace, we all scatter and go off on our separate paths. We need to begin finding reasons to come together. That can mean more events, and I look forward to working with George and others on making those happen soon, but it can also mean deeper digital connection. That can take the form of LinkedIn groups, Zoom events, or other avenues.
My hope is that many of those connections will involve mentorship. Be it career-oriented, professional development, or advice-focused, personal guidance. Sometimes it’s useful to spend a few minutes with someone who has done the thing that you’re looking to do and can offer advice on the right ways to do it.
What do you perceive as the strongest message CERGE-EI gives to its students?
When I first started at CERGE-EI, I was initially intimidated by both the rigor of the program and the caliber of my peers there. But I was able to find my footing and make friends. My biggest learning experience is that I can rapidly adapt and learn in any environment. That’s been important in my professional life as I move and adapt to changes in rules and regulations that govern my industry. I used to imagine that a person was whatever they were. CERGE-EI gave me the ability to see myself as a collection of ever-evolving and growing skills.