Michael Monaco, MSMF’12
By Susan Johnston
Growing up in New Jersey, Michael Monaco (MSMF ’12) started private tennis lessons in middle school and grew to love the combination of physical and mental challenges. “Even if somebody’s in a lot better shape, you can still beat them by being more creative,” he says, comparing a game of tennis to a chess match. Monaco continued playing singles tennis on his high school’s varsity team and on a club team at Lehigh University, where his team advanced to nationals in Arizona one year.
Monaco’s strategic maneuvers on the tennis court also parallel his study of mathematical finance in Boston University’s School of Management (SMG). “Math finance is like having sound mechanics,” he says. “If you have a good backhand, that’s good, but it doesn’t mean you’ll win matches. You have to understand how to play to your opponent’s weaknesses. It’s having the tools but also needing to know how to use them.”
While at Lehigh, Monaco joined the fraternity Phi Kappa Theta and spent two summers studying abroad and interning in Prague. But an internship in New York City at Bloomberg’s FX department the summer after junior year sparked his interest in using mathematical tools to better understand the financial markets. “They had me building this model for financial conditions in the middle of the credit crisis, but I hadn’t had serious statistics at that point,” he says. “I was curious ‘how can I do this more precisely? What are the standard practices to use?’” Back at Lehigh, Monaco began taking more math classes, where a professor urged him to apply to graduate programs in mathematical finance.
The length and structure of SMG’s program appealed to the business and economics major, because many of the other programs he found lasted only a year compared to seventeen months at SMG. “First semester is pure math and second semester you start to apply the theory as much as you can based on what you learned in the first semester,” says Monaco. “During the final semester, it’s applied and everything comes together.” He says he also appreciates the balance of theory and application, as well as the diversity of his classmates.
Monaco spent the summer after his first year in Washington, D.C. interning at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) upon the suggestion of the Feld Career Center. With a year of mathematical finance coursework under his belt, Monaco says the internship “was really rewarding to contribute in a meaningful way and contribute with what I was learning.” One of Monaco’s projects at the SEC involved providing calculations to lawyers for a product whose price was in dispute, which inspired him to apply for positions in litigation support at consulting companies.
Once he graduates, Monaco hopes to stay on the East Coast (Boston, New York, or Washington, D.C.), but he’s open to other opportunities, too. Whether building pricing models or practicing his backhand, Monaco’s ability to remain flexible and think on his feet serve him well.