Undergraduate Blog

Finding a Future with the “Charting a Pathway in Finance” Event

Sponsored by the School's Center for Investors and Financial Markets in partnership with the Black Student Alliance and Office of African-American Affairs, the panel discussion aims to offer students embarking on a career in finance the opportunity to learn more about it directly from Black alumni working in the field, across a variety of areas, and with different levels of experience.

Ciara Blackston, Miles Jackson, and Jimi Larkins

Panelists Ciara Blackston and Miles Jackson, and panel moderator Jimi Larkins

Managing Director for BofA Securities, the institutional broker dealer business of Bank of America (and formerly Bank of America Merrill Lynch), Jimi Larkins (McIntire ’07) understands that for Black students today, mapping out a career path in finance can be an ambiguous and daunting prospect. And as a result of conversations with Commerce Professor David C. Smith, he’s doing something to clear up the confusion for the next generation of finance professionals emerging from underrepresented groups, having helped conceive of and serve as moderator for the inaugural “Charting a Pathway in Finance” event, being held virtually on Oct. 14, 2020.

Sponsored by the School’s Center for Investors and Financial Markets (CIFM), the panel discussion aims to offer students embarking on a career in finance the opportunity to learn more about it directly from Black alumni working in the field, across a variety of areas, and with different levels of experience.

Joining Larkins will be Ciara Blackston (McIntire ’20), Investment Banking Analyst with Lazard; Jordan Jackson (A&S ’15), Market Analyst with J.P. Morgan; Miles Jackson (McIntire ’16), Associate with Ares Management; and Assiatu Williams (McIntire ’11), Senior Associate with IMB Partners. The event will also feature a special welcome introduction by Nicole Thorne Jenkins, John A. Griffin Dean, McIntire School of Commerce.

The Moderator’s Path
Larkins admits outright that he knew nothing about investment banking when he was a first-year.

Though that may have been true, as a Black student from Michigan who originally came to UVA for the Commerce School’s business program—and to get out of his home state for warmer temperatures and “a new and different experience”—he already had some finance in his blood: His mother is an accountant and his father, a consultant.

As Larkins’ fundamental knowledge base grew, and upon concluding that his Accounting classes weren’t resonating with him as much as some of his other coursework, he gravitated toward the idea of consulting and working with clients. After a summer internship between his second and third years at a minority-owned firm on Wall Street, he was newly inspired and driven, having cultivated a better idea about his potential future in finance.

Post-McIntire, he really couldn’t have guessed he’d have such a direct shot in his ongoing success in the field. He’s been with BofA Securities now for nearly 14 years, ascending its ranks with startling regularity, from Analyst to Associate to Vice President to Director and to his current role as Managing Director, which he has now held for almost a year.

To what does he attribute his longevity with the same firm?

“Many analysts come in for two years, and then they go to private equity. People coming out of business school become an associate for two years, and then they figure out something else. It’s a pretty transient community unless you find something that you’re really good at, or you like the culture. For me, it was the fact that it was a young, entrepreneurial investment bank at the time, and the culture of diversity of sponsorship and support worked for me.”

Essential Figures
Recent graduate Blackston, an M&A Analyst within Lazard’s Real Estate, Gaming & Lodging Group, says she’s “been having a great time” in her new position, calling the sector “super intriguing.” The responsibilities that come with her position has Blackston relying on the skills she learned at the Comm School, especially due to the current remote situation necessitated by the pandemic. “Banking requires constant, effective communication, and McIntire certainly helped me become both a better communicator and team member.”

As someone beginning her career in finance, she notes the pivotal role that McIntire’s Black Commerce Student Network (BCSN) had in helping her to attain her internships, a point she’ll likely want to stress to students at the upcoming panel.

“Through the organization, I was able to enhance my professionalism, as well as join a community of future Black business leaders. Furthermore, through my leadership positions in the organization, I was able to become a mentor to the younger generation of Black Commerce students, which is a role I hope to maintain even now that I have graduated from UVA,” she says.

Miles Jackson, who was first drawn to work in finance by encouragement from his father, later sought out “roles that offered a combination of quantitative and qualitative work,” which was confirmed after an internship at J.P. Morgan. For students looking for advice, he insists that the best guidance concerns the power of mentorship. “Over the last few years, I’ve learned that all successful people have others they seek advice and guidance from. My mentors have been there to make sure I’m getting the exposure and experience that I need to grow professionally, and they also give me helpful advice when making career decisions. In turn, I have come to greatly value being a mentor myself, most recently as Head of the McIntire Young Alumni Council Mentor Program, and through iMentor, as a mentor to high school students at Bronx Leadership Academy in NYC.”

A Focus on Diversity
Professor Edward Finley, Assistant Director for CIFM, says that the center-hosted “Charting a Pathway in Finance” panel is an attempt to further bridge the gap between Black students and finance-related opportunities, noting that the upcoming virtual discussion joins other planned events such as a women-focused panel in the spring, outreach efforts to the Pride at McIntire student organization and the LGBTQ+ community, as well as ongoing interaction with UVA’s student investment groups.

“The center sponsors the ‘Careers in Finance’ event and is convening this particular panel because, despite broadly advertising it, historically, we’ve seen a significant underrepresentation of Black students there,” Finley explains. “We engaged with the Black Student Alliance and with the Office of African-American Affairs in order to be proactive and address the underrepresentation. The outcome of those meetings was to create this panel, with the idea of inviting Black students from across Grounds to hear some real talk about what the world of finance looks like.”

As the panel seeks to help Black students navigate a potential career in finance, it’s important to underscore the necessary efforts by major firms to attract and retain employees from traditionally underrepresented populations. Larkins says his job has always been focused on recruiting and diversity at BofA Securities, and he remains optimistic about the trajectory for the industry, while confirming that there is still more work to do.

“Whether that’s women or underrepresented minorities, I know that I can have influence on who can come in and be part of the solution. I’m part of the team that looks at all the resumes. I’m looking at all their video interviews. And I’m proud of the fact that the last full-time class of investment banking analysts had diverse hires from UVA, and this year’s summer internship class was one of our most diverse ever. The bank is always thinking about diversity, led from the top by our CEO. Our management team sets the D&I goals of the company, and each member has action-oriented diversity targets that are subject to our quarterly business review process, used as part of talent planning and included in scorecards reviewed by the board of directors. We’ve come a long way, but as an industry, we have a way to go.”

2016 Commerce graduate Jackson counts himself as fortunate to have worked at major firms that each prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts, explaining that since the issues are important to him personally, he’s been an active participant in Black talent recruitment outreach at each step of his career and plans to continue that commitment.

“In my experience, these activities are critical to gradually increasing the amount of Black representation in the financial services industry. Affinity networks and corporate diversity initiatives can help provide access and opportunities to candidates and employees who have historically been overlooked and underprivileged, despite being highly qualified.”

Creating a Game Plan
Blackston says that while many companies are actively looking to recruit diverse talent, one hurdle for students is often as simple as becoming aware of openings with enough time to apply to them.

“In order to set yourself up for success, start thinking early on in your UVA career about what you could see yourself doing after college, or more generally, about your interests,” she says. Echoing Miles Jackson’s advice, she adds that students are greatly served by connecting with alumni working in areas where they have the greatest interest. “Generally, they’ll be the most in the know about different opportunities or common career paths, as they have lived it themselves,” she says.

Blackston also says that in addition to obtaining a solid education in Finance as an undergraduate, she stresses for job seekers the imperative of being well-rounded and kind, calling them “the most important qualities you can cultivate between now and leaving UVA.”

She says that beyond grasping the technical nature of finance, there’s more involved when trying to land a position. “Most people want to work with someone who is kind and a good person, so having these attributes can definitely set you apart.”

Putting It in Context
Larkins believes that the upcoming event will help Black students to get a better understanding of finance, and hopefully, enable them to envision themselves working in it.

“I thought it would be nice to have—for the next generation of first-year through fourth-year students—professionals who look like them, where they could just talk about finance broadly and their experiences, challenges, the current environment. And with different seniority levels: somebody who’s a first-year analyst, somebody who started in banking and went to private equity, and somebody like me, with years of experience.”

He says that the current group of students simply needs to be exposed to what finance jobs actually are, and he aims to demystify as much of the process to entering the industry as possible.

“Because students come to UVA and say, ‘I’m pre-Comm.’ And that’s great, but when you ask them what they plan on doing, many may say, ‘I don’t know—but I’m pre-Comm.’ This panel offers them more context.”

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