In the summer of 1987, Lotus Symphony was the category killer in the integrated spreadsheet market. It was also my first introduction to the animals called spreadsheets and financial models. While other 16 year olds were doing things that 16 year olds are supposed to do in the summer, yours truly was digging through Symphony help to figure how to link a financial model together. A side lane off Zamzama, sitting on a sunlit desk on the mezzanine floor of an office which is now just a fond memory, one late afternoon I turned a static worksheet into a dynamic thing of beauty.

It would be an understatement to say that the direction my life was supposed to take changed that day. Many a spreadsheets and a few years later I possibly became the fastest teenaged draw with a spreadsheet you could find East of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea (a dubious claim at best). Fate dealt another kind shove and I found myself in an undergraduate program in computer science and for a while my love affair with spreadsheets was put on a hold. Tempted by semaphores and operating systems, compilers and the C language, the Borland IDE and code, I sort of forgot myself for a few years.

Till one fine evening when I opened the second edition of John C. Hull. I wish I could say it was love at first sight but it was more of a love and hate relationship. I loved the fact that I was finally studying Derivative Pricing and Risk Management; I hated the fact that I couldn’t decipher the language or the material. Oh it was plain English but such a torturous variant that it brought tears to my eyes every time I wandered too far off from the numerical examples. Alas Destiny played me for a victim for 5 long and painful year where I read Hull cover to cover 6 times a year, took the Fellowship actuarial exam on the text, failed it and then tried again the next year and the following year and the following year.

Flash forward to 1999, the year I left my internship at Goldman to start at Columbia Business School in New York. Three people helped break the curse of Hull (forgive the pun) and re-ignited the love affair with the sheet. Maria Vassalou, the Continuous Time Finance professor at the business school who allowed me to sit through her PhD elective that dissected the Black Scholes equation; Mark Broadie, the Security pricing Guru in Uris Hall who for the first time showed me the things one could do with spread sheet if one put his mind to it and Howard Corb, the Derivative Trader from Morgan Stanely who amply demonstrated every Tuesday evening how little us lesser mortals knew about the derivative trading desk and the derivative business and why Morgan and every other bank on the street was justified in not giving us the time of the day come recruiting season.

Twelve years later, I would still be embarrassed if I met Maria, Mark or Howard on the street (or for that matter any of my Columbia class mates who work on the street). Hull has finally stopped tormenting me. I am no longer the fastest draw on a spreadsheet, East of the Persian Gulf. But after confusing and tormenting more than 1,500 students in Bangkok, Singapore, Kula Lumpur, Dubai, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, I would like to believe that I now know a little bit more about pricing derivative securities on a spreadsheet. Certainly more compared to the 16 year old who stared dumbfounded at his screen when his summer long effort finally came together that afternoon in July 1987.

Throughout this 24 year journey I wished and searched for something online that would ease the pain of grasping the alien concepts of stochastic calculus, computational finance and risk management. About a year ago with Finance Training Courses I took the first step in creating a resource that another me in an alternate universe could use. By the end of this week, we will hopefully have the second iteration of that resource out. Armed and dangerous with a video and certainly not afraid to use it!

If you have ever been in love with a spreadsheet or a pricing model; or hated your 18th run of Hull without understanding a word of it; or needed a spiffy answer to a question posed by our beloved Howard Corb, just so that you can make the right impression, the Online Quant Crash Course (for the non Quant?) is for you. Rather than limiting ourselves to PDF and excel files we decided to play with Finance Training Videos, the new home for online video based quantitative training.

Take a look at the Quant Crash Course samples as well as the Quant Training Crash Course pre-course announcement and keep an eye out for the “We are now live” announcement. The announcement should be up latest by this Friday (if not sooner) and we are almost done with the logistics behind the course. And if you like what you see please feel free to drop me a line telling me how I could do a better job. For there is nothing more, that we underappreciated (and occasionally underpaid) authors and trainers like more than a note (abusive or appreciative) from someone we have never met before from a place we have never been to in our lives.

It took two students, over a hundred training engagements in 6 markets and a life working with risk and finance to change my mind.

2007 was a good year in many ways. It was also the year when Abbas Qureshi at SP Jain, Dubai and Adnan Iqbal at Deloitte Consulting, DC asked me the same thing. “Can you please start putting up your training materials online? There are tons of individual out there who would pay good money to let you teach them online.” I wasn’t sure if I was the video guy, if we had the bandwidth or if I really wanted to do this. Two previous attempts to record workshops had worked but with disastrous results.

While Finance Training Courses was a first step in this direction, Adnan and Abbas both felt that something along the lines of Khan Academy would be a lot more useful. There is only so much you can read and a good instructor with a good deck can simply beat plain text hands down. While I wasn’t sure if such a model would ever take off financially, Salman Khan quickly became the inspiration and the guide on the path for putting videos online.

About two months ago we started thinking about putting our slide decks online for the most popular courses on the Finance Training Course portal. The first milestone was investigating WordPress capabilities (you can do about 50 meg per video per post using wordpress), a search on tablets and the tools of choice used by Salman Khan (Wacom Fun Touch Bamboo versus the Genius much cheaper and larger pen only tablet), the software required (Camtasia by Techsmith) for the work Salman has done and we were there.

The first video on liquidity risk management took over a week to plan. While the content had been around for a while, it took me a while to convince myself that I was finally ready to put videos online. Something we had always talked about but never done. The Quant Crash Course took even longer. While the first course on liquidity was just the proof of concept, the second was supposed to be the real thing. This evening we put the first episode of the four part quant crash course online. Hopefully before I head out to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday the whole series will be up and running and available for sale.

Ever since we started preparing ICAAP (Internal Capital Adequacy Assessment Process) submission reports the two areas where clients had the most questions dealt with estimation of internal capital for strategic and liquidity risk. One client went as far as saying that I don’t want to discuss Pillar I at all. I understand Pillar I. It is Pillar II reporting and risk that is giving me reporting nightmares. Specifically ICAAP Liquidity Risk and Strategic Risk Capital.

Here are two posts done earlier on Finance Training Courses for our clients related to these two missing links:

ICAAP: Estimating Liquidity Risk Capital for ICAAP

ICAAP: Estimating Strategic Risk Capital for ICAAP


Jawwad Farid is a Columbia Business School Alumni, a Fellow Society of Actuaries and the Founder CEO of Alchemy Technologies. Jawwad has been teaching and working with the banking industry on ICAAP frameworks and submissions from early 2007 when the Basel II framework was rolled out in the region. For more detailed material on ICAAP prepared by the same team, please see  Sample ICAAP report templatesICAAP Excel worksheets and a primer on ICAAP as well as our ICAAP Training workshop series scheduled for late March 2011 in Langkawi, Malaysia.