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Nina Zhang is a Cardiff University alumnus who studied her Master’s and PhD in Economics here, leading onto a successful career as head of risk management for an international commercial bank.
Name: Nina (Xu) Zhang
Degree course: MSc in International Economics Banking and Finance (2004) and PhD in Economics (2011) at Cardiff Business School
Current employer: Citibank (China) Co. Ltd
Job title: Risk Head of Commercial Bank, Managing Director.
Why did you choose to study at Cardiff University?
This was purely a matter of luck. I held places at Reading, Sheffield and Glasgow. However, I came to Cardiff to see the place and also in a response to an informal interview. I was charmed by the location and I was challenged by the interviewer who was the Professor of Banking and Finance at the time. It is hard for overseas students to appreciate the specific beauty and charm of a place like Cardiff from just pictures. I was lucky as I was taking English language classes in Worthing and I was able to travel to each of the places that made me offers and Cardiff was the nicest.
Tell us about your course. How was it different from studying back home?
Studying in China is much more regimented and exact. There was a lot more lecture time and no small group class teaching and interaction with the teacher. This is exactly the opposite in Cardiff. We were given more time to interact with the lecturer and we had to learn more by ourselves or cooperatively with others. The course in Cardiff was much less about practical banking than I thought and much more about economics. However, I learned a great deal about the monetary economy, quantitative methods, and I learned to think in an abstract way that helped me in my future career.
What did you enjoy most about studying at Cardiff University?
I enjoyed the student company and the people I studied with. Some of those I met in Cardiff remain friends to this day. I also enjoyed the Gregynog visit and the informal interaction with the lecturers and professors. It was one of the highlights of the programme.
What was the best thing about living in Cardiff?
The friendliness and the cosiness of the place. I enjoyed the nightlife, and also the ease by which I could get to London or to the beautiful parts of West Wales.
Provide a brief summary of your career since graduating.
Since graduating in 2004 I went back into banking from whence I came, but this time I joined a foreign bank. My previous experience was with Chinese banks. My experience and academic training helped me to break in to the foreign banking world in Shanghai. I started as a middle-level manager and now I am a Managing Director overseeing a corporate portfolio in China. I also completed a part-time project-related PhD at Cardiff with Professor Kent Matthews and earned my PhD in 2011.
What is your current role? What’s a regular day like?
I am the Head of risk management for a corporate portfolio. The client base is more from middle sized enterprises. As a risk manager, I need to provide overall oversight of independent risk management across all business coverage in China. As a senior approver, I need to exercise my senior credit approval authority covering large and complex underwritings, capital commitment, derivatives, trade finance, and loans. From time to time, I work as a senior contact with local regulators for risk-related issues. My regular day starts from back-to-back meetings in the morning, and ends with responding to emails or taking conference calls with colleagues in New York late at night. This is the challenge of working in a global organisation. However, I do enjoy my busy days and still feel excited for the business expansion and rapid growth of the portfolio.
How has your Cardiff University education contributed to your success?
This is hard to be precise. What I learned about economics in Cardiff is that it is difficult to identify the counterfactual – meaning where would I be if I had not gone to Cardiff? Certainly doing the MSc IEBF helped me to get into my current bank. As a foreign bank, UK/USA qualifications were more respected. The working language of my workplace is English and certainly my experience in Cardiff helped me to get on in my work. The training in the PhD project helped me to think strategically. All I can say is that Cardiff helped me to get where I am today!
What is your fondest memory of your time in Cardiff?
I am particularly fond of the lecturers who taught me. I vividly remember the jokey style of Professor David Peel and the laughing Professor Patrick Minford who laughed at his own jokes. I also enjoyed the lectures of the charismatic Professor Kent Matthews and the eccentricity of Professor James Davidson. They are all such fun and eccentric people, it made studying an enjoyable experience!