The Financial Mathematics Team Challenge 2023

11 Aug 2023
The Financial Mathematics Team Challenge 2023
11 Aug 2023

On Thursday, 20 July 2023, in room 6.14 of the Leslie Commerce building on UCT’s upper campus, the Financial Mathematics Team Challenge (FMTC) is coming to an end. The annual 10-day challenge is a collaboration between AIFMRM and University College London (UCL). Each team has an academic or industry practitioner mentor, PhD student team leader and three Master's student team members. The 2023 FMTC had four teams with participants from UCT, UCL, Riskworx, ETH Zürich, University of Technology Sydney, University of Vienna and Reykjavik University.

Some minutes into his introductory presentation, Professor David Taylor says, “This is the highlight of our year – that’s for sure,” – and you can only believe him. Nods of agreement from longstanding AIFMRM faculty validate this: in the winter light, their facial responses, however minuscule, are clearly genuine. Everybody here, it seems, cherishes the FMTC. And, while they eagerly await Professor Taylor’s announcement of this year’s winning team, they reflect upon the ten days that have just passed.

“It’s tough for them, but not for us,” says Ralph Rudd, an Assistant Professor at Reykjavik University and mentor of the winning team. “I think I looked at what? One or two of their equations? Otherwise, it was all them.”

Rudd’s pride in his team – and the fact that he did not describe, event by event, what the team went through – is enough to make you think that, perhaps, these four groups of students have just achieved something language can’t quite equal. To try to sleuth together the actual volume of the work, you must listen out, at this celebration, for small pieces of information that might put together a truer picture.

Mostly, what you receive is exhausted, sincere laughter and anticipatory chatter on behalf of the students.

And: delight, pride, and passion from the faculty.

And you might perform an equation of your own: students’ emotional state + faculty’s emotional state =?

It doesn’t seem like there is a clear answer. But further speeches indicate that the students applied what they learned to the maximum of their capacity, testing and perhaps going further than the limits of themselves. A large reason behind the FMTC is so that students recognise what they can achieve in a short amount of time, given the right support – and do not go into their careers with lowered expectations of themselves.

So: AIFMRM student + FMTC = even better AIFMRM student.

This is something known to employers in financial services, Professor Taylor says.  Companies actively seek out students who have completed the FMTC for employment; such is the reputation of the challenge.

“This is tough because we can only have one winner,” Professor Taylor says, “even though there’s been so much hard work. But this is for you – and it’s by you. Without you, we wouldn’t be in this room. And in any case,” he adds, “champagne is something that we drink in victory and sorrow.” A few audience members turn their heads toward the four bottles of champagne and twenty glasses at the room entrance.

And then the victors are announced – Team 2: Team Leader Hanna Wutte from ETH Zürich and UCT team members Kate Davies, Ntsika Mthwazi and Amogelang Motloutsi. They have spent the week working on a challenge their mentor, Ralph Rudd, assigned to them: “Physics-Informed Neural Networks for Option Pricing.” Outside, Rudd explains to the writer the (self-admittedly) highly technical problem: option pricing is something that financial mathematicians do best – it is a well-known problem. However, it can be very hard to solve numerically, so new techniques are always being sought. The group used leading-edge numerical techniques that specifically use neural networks to solve partial differential equations. It is a technique more widely known in physics; their project involved adapting it to financial mathematics.

As you leave, the people inside are having their photographs taken with their award, their mentors, or just with each other. It’s a happy image. You’re left with one final sum, but you’re not sure if it’s right. And your sample size is just Leslie Commerce 6.14. Nevertheless, for 30 minutes on 20 June 2023, it feels like mathematics equals people.