“I’m a terrible Millennial,” Sebastian jokes. What he means is that unlike most of his cohort, who have a reputation for bouncing from job to job, he’s put down roots at Morgan Stanley. Sebastian has spent his career at Morgan Stanley on the mortgage-backed securities desk, and he’s stayed put for good reason. “People tend to change jobs if they find the learning curve is flattening, but I don’t feel like I’ve stopped learning here. Once I’ve mastered a concept, there’s always something else I can become good at. You pick up a really diverse skill set as a quant,” he says. “The nature of the industry changes a lot, too, so my role evolves as the market evolves.” Plus, he says, “It’s been super fun applying my math skills to try to predict how systems are going to behave.”
To be fair, Sebastian, who hails from Canada and studied math and computer science at McGill University, had already launched and sold a tech company before he joined Morgan Stanley. So technically, he’s had two careers in six years, not one. Here he explains why he chose Morgan Stanley and why he chooses to stay.
How do you explain your job to someone outside the firm?
At a high level: After banks issue mortgages, they get bundled and sold as a package to other investors, allowing the banks to recuperate their capital and keep making new loans. This ultimately helps more people get access to mortgages, and thus be able to own their own homes. I’m the person who uses computer programming, math and finance to analyze the data needed to make that happen.
What accomplishments are you most proud of during your time at Morgan Stanley?
I would point to an e-trading initiative that we've been working on for a couple of years now. Initially, it took a lot of below-the-surface work with traders to get their insights on the market, followed by analyzing the data and building out models. Now, we are putting those results into practice and working with the technology teams to actually get a lot of the plumbing built out. This project is a win-win, helping make our traders more efficient and resulting in a better experience for our clients as well.
How you would describe the culture at Morgan Stanley?
One of Morgan Stanley's defining characteristics is that we focus on collegiality and working together. When you start, there are a lot of mentorship programs to help you transition from school into a working environment. The mentors tend to be people from different teams, which I found particularly helpful, as you have access to someone whom you can ask things that maybe you wouldn't feel comfortable asking your own team. Morgan Stanley invests a lot in their junior talent. Teams tend to spend a good deal of time nurturing new hires, teaching them and bringing them up to speed.
It’s an environment where teams can all succeed together. While competitive, there's no sense that my gain is someone else's loss, or someone else's gain is my loss.
Do you do any volunteer work in your spare time?
We have a lot of options within the firm for volunteering. One that I've participated in over the past couple of years is a program that allows Morgan Stanley employees to mentor students from a nearby high school. Every three or four weeks, we meet with the students to teach them life skills like personal finance and budgeting, as well as tips and tricks around navigating job interviews and work environments. We eat lunch with them, get to know them, and offer personalized advice on how to succeed in their careers. At the end of a mentorship, we get to see them go off to college, which is very satisfying.
What has surprised you about working at Morgan Stanley?
Banks are notorious for being large, impersonal places to work, sort of like the technology companies where I interned during college. I didn't think I had much ownership of my projects when I was working at those tech companies. However, that is not what I’ve found at Morgan Stanley. My experience in Sales and Trading is that each desk feels like its own small unit, almost like a little company unto itself. Your core team is a small group of quants, traders, salespeople and developers, which means you have true ownership of your projects. Working at Morgan Stanley is in many ways the best of both worlds—you get the flexibility of working at a startup and you have all the benefits of working at a big company.
I think people imagine that working at a bank means you're just a cog in a big wheel. At Morgan Stanley, at least, it’s really quite the opposite.