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Interview with Bernd Will (Senior Manager)

Personal details

Bernd Will, Senior Manager

After graduating in physics, he joined d-fine (at that time, still the 'Financial and Commodity Risk Consulting' group of Arthur Andersen, the precursor of d-fine) in 1999, today he is a Senior Manager at d-fine.

Why d-fine?

Bernd, you have been working in consulting for quite some time now. Why did you decide to work for a consulting company and why should people come to d-fine?

It was clear that I wanted to work in a highly varied working environment after I graduated - an environment in which I could apply the knowledge and methods I'd learned at university. During my studies I looked at a number of professional options and decided that joining a corporate consulting company was going to be particularly interesting for me. After seeing a couple of job ads in specialist journals, I came upon Arthur Andersen and saw a wonderful opportunity of combining natural sciences and business administration. I had interviews with various corporate consultants and gained insights from employees and about the philosophy of the respective companies, then I decided to take up the offer from Arthur Andersen. The reasons for joining were not only based on the positive feedback I got during the interview, but also on the excellent training and development opportunities Arthur Andersen was offering each employee back then. After the transition from Arthur Andersen to d-fine, these opportunities simply got better; every employee can now do a post-graduate masters degree - either as an MSc in Oxford or Frankfurt, or an MBA in Mannheim or Lausanne. On top of this it was important to find a company or a job with long-term prospects. What I mean by that is that the job offers attractive work, career and income options and where the work-life balance fits too. The whole package - the excellent development opportunities, the interesting work and a healthy work-life balance - still impresses me at d-fine today.

Requirements

In your opinion what are the requirements that need to be met before someone can join d-fine as a consultant?

Any consultant looking to make a success out of project-based work needs to have certain key skills. Of course, the central challenge is the ability to work independently and in a structured manner on complex issues. The experience we've made is that natural science graduates and mathematicians have usually acquired a particularly structured approach to problems and issues during their undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and this is essential for project-based work. Besides this basic style of work, relevant knowledge is of course crucial for projects to succeed. This is the sort of knowledge that more experienced colleagues pass on during special courses and on-the-job training. At d-fine, projects regularly deal with complex, often mathematical, issues. This is another reason why many of my colleagues at d-fine are natural science graduates or mathematicians - the mathematical knowledge acquired at university is the basis for understanding complex financial models. We use these models to value financial products, for example, and to calculate key risk indicators at banks and industrial companies. The spectrum of work covered at d-fine ranges from problem analyses and descriptions of solutions through to their technical implementation. It is therefore important for us that consultants grasp specialist problem situations quickly and thoroughly - and this requires a high degree of flexibility, interest and curiosity from our employees. In addition to this, in line with our claim of being able to offer clients professional support in the implementation of plans, our consultants have to have well-founded technical skills. So we look for sound IT skill in all our applicants. Last of all let me just say that our consultants are in constant contact with our clients, and as a consultant you have to enjoy working together with other people and should see taxing conversations more as a challenge than a threat.

Sample projects

Can you go through a sample project that illustrates the work of a consultant?

A good examples of a project was the introduction of treasury software at a large international industrial enterprise. A treasury system is a software tool used by various departments in which tasks such as financial planning, trade, the processing of financial transaction, bookkeeping and cash management are carried out within a single company. As part of the project, d-fine worked on a variety of tasks, such as analysing the legacy system to be replaced, recording and describing the requirements of the treasury system, comparing various treasury systems, drawing up specialist concepts, adapting the software to the specific needs of the client, running tests, compiling documentation, delivering training courses and so on. Generally speaking, these tasks were handled in mixed project teams. In other words, client employees and d-fine colleagues worked together in a team on the respective tasks. My job here was to set up the necessary processes and systems to enable quality-assured budget figures to be recorded, processed and reported on in a uniform and systematic fashion across the group for the enterprise's future payments. These budget figures were then used for both foreign currency management and in hedge accounting. The motivation for the process was based on the fact that the client manufactured a large proportion of its products in the eurozone, but sold them outside of the eurozone. Now take into consideration that payment was made in US dollars, USD inflows exceed outflows so that the company regularly posts a net surplus of USD additions. The equivalent value in euros of these USD surpluses hinges on currency translations that fluctuate. The manufacturer was looking to hedge these currency fluctuations by drawing on an active currency management system. This of course is subject to the company being able to assess the group-wide net position in foreign currencies. As soon as it knows this, financial futures such as FX forwards or FX swaps can eliminate, or at least minimise, currency risks. The task of the 'Cash flow forecasting & exposure assessment' part of the project was to plan and implement the processes and systems necessary to record, process and report on budget figures in a uniform and systematic way. These budget figures formed the basis for hedging future currency positions in the FX management system. If the planning tool helps us to establish a group-wide surplus in payment inflows of USD 200m with a value date in three months (i.e. payments are due in three months), for example, this surplus in USD can be sold using financial futures such as FX forwards at a future date and the position hedged against fluctuations in the dollar exchange rate.

Development

When you look back at your time at d-fine, in terms of project work, what have been the key changes from your position as consultant to your job now as Senior Manager?

When you are new to the company, you are nearly always part of a d-fine team. You have a sub-task to do within an overall project which you are expected to deal with yourself. This may involved something like compiling a process design, or even implementing a process. You are supported by a Senior Consultant and/or Manager who helps deal with any questions you have. In my first project I had to describe a process how specific financial futures were to be handled in a trading system. After I had drawn up the process design, I tested its feasibility using a prototype and coordinated the results with the client. My task was part of the overall project that was aimed at introducing the trading system in the client's office. If the methods were not always clear or if I had any questions, I could always fall back on the knowledge of my more experienced colleagues and the competent manager and was able to complete my part of the overall project with success. As a manager the focus shifts somewhat from specialist issues to project management; this includes scheduling project phases, assigning and coordinating staff, connecting with the client, monitoring project progress and the quality assurance of specialist results. Another task consists of acquiring new projects for d-fine, by preparing tender documents or holding presentations on specialist topics at clients'. As our employees are the most important resource we have, recruiting is key. As a manager I get involved in the recruiting process by visiting job fairs, for example, or by interviewing candidates.

Fun factor

Last but not least, what do you particularly enjoy in your job?

I really enjoy working together with other people on a common goal. Each project has its own unique challenges - these can be of a specialist nature, such as working on a new subject area, but can also relate to your own social skills, especially if you're working in a difficult project environment. This means that each project automatically helps you acquire new knowledge and new skills. I personally think it is extremely motivating to look back at the end of a project on the challenges that either you yourself or together with colleagues had to face and to see how the client makes use of the results of the project. Of course, I am also delighted to receive positive feedback from clients for our work. The last point I'd like to mention is that I have met and come to respect a wide diversity of interesting people - both colleagues and client employees, both at work and as part of joint development programmes.