• Role: Associate
  • Location: London
  • University: Oxford
  • Degree: BA Classics
  • Organisation: FTI Consulting

Cassie Lester

Since joining FTI Consulting 18 months ago, I have worked on projects doing everything from identifying potential market irregularities for financial institutions, to valuing European aerospace companies, and working with a regulator to set an appropriate industry cost of capital. FTI isn’t like other economic consultancies – we deal with economic and financial issues, and specialise in valuation, but the range of industries and complex problems you will work on here are broad and the skill set you will develop unmatched.

What do graduates at FTI Consulting do?

It varies hugely by case but typical tasks can include:

  • Research: researching an industry or looking for data to inform our analysis. For example, I recently put together a timeline of the financial crisis in South-east Asia for a financial services client; other examples might be pulling data from a variety of data providers, compiling competitor information or even reading up on relevant economic theory.
  • Analysing data: this is the core of all our work and could involve forecasting a company’s cash flows, examining how sensitive the results of a valuation model are to our inputs, or modelling different scenarios to reflect different growth assumptions.
  • Documenting the research or analysis we have done in order to present our findings to the client.

I think one of the best things about working in economic consulting at the junior level is that graduates drive the problem-solving for our cases: on my first day I was asked to prepare some analysis on profit margins for firms in construction industries across in Central Asia – luckily my colleagues are helpful and patient people! You really do learn on the job, rather than by sitting back and watching others.

It’s not all work though – we have regular office drinks and organise nights out within our peer groups. Employees also benefit from FTI’s corporate sponsorships, and I have been involved in several CSR activities since joining, such as running the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge and helping set up a partnership with a national charity to teach about the financial crisis to London secondary schools. This summer I’m hoping to do the ‘3 Peaks Challenge’ as part of an office team for our official charity.

What are the most stressful parts of the job?

In an ideal world, we would always have a complete and accurate set of data on which to base our analysis. Unfortunately, things aren’t always that straightforward! When I first joined FTI, I was working on a potential arbitration that involved an underdeveloped country, in which our clients alleged the government had expropriated their businesses. The nature of the case meant that little, if any, information was available to us about the businesses themselves, and the nature of the region meant that little economic data was available which would tell us about business conditions in the country.

In order to value our client’s loss of profits (the profits their businesses would have made “but for” the alleged expropriation) we had to build our analysis completely from scratch, including estimating the size of possible markets for our clients’ products, and in one case, working out the size of an army in order to estimate the potential market for a military boot manufacturer! The uncertainty can make this type of situation challenging, but as you can imagine it also reminds you of the importance of testing the strength of your analysis and the assumptions behind it.

What skills are useful in this sector/profession?

Although you will need to be numerate and analytical to succeed here, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to have a degree in economics or finance. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Classics and came to FTI after an internship in corporate banking. Most graduates take a further qualification, paid for and supported by FTI, so if you don’t have a quantitative or commercial background you will be supported through formal training.

Although much of the work we do is analytical, it’s wasted if we can’t communicate effectively with our client, so strong written and spoken English skills are also important.

Finally, a keen interest in economic, financial and business issues is essential!

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?

Make sure you understand what it is we really do – our projects aren’t like those of management consultancies. Even within economic consulting, FTI has a unique practice as a lot of our projects deal with valuation, commercial disputes and international arbitration. Whilst it’s absolutely not necessary to go away and read textbooks on the finer points of valuation before interview, showing a little awareness of the context of our cases and what we bring to them will go a long way!

More generally, demonstrating real enthusiasm and commercial awareness, whether developed through study or internships, is important. Internships in economic consultancy are valuable but by no means essential. You should think about how the skills and knowledge you have gained from your experience could inform your career here.

If I had any advice to give based on my own experience, it would be not to feel intimidated by the technical side of the job. People are here to learn as well as work, and all graduates start with a two-week orientation covering the technical side, as well as softer skills such as business writing and communication. After that, FTI runs regular formal training as well as lunchtime sessions where colleagues present cases they have worked on recently and particular points of theory.

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