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Students and Society: Investment funds and finance societies

Dom Smith speaks to Natassja Krajewski about two of York’s most popular societies, the Griff Investment Fund and the Investment & Finance Society.

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Image Credit: Nattanan Kanchanaprat via Pixabay

‘Students and Society’ is a new series exploring the ways in which York students are giving back to communities both locally and globally. If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with MUSE’s Features Editor at alice.manning@nouse.co.uk.

Some people struggle to find any positives in the digital life that the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown us into. Natassja Krajewski is not one of those people.

Second-year PPE student Natassja is both chief operating officer of the Griff Investment Fund and secretary of York’s Investment & Finance Society (IFS). Griff is a student-run investment fund which holds weekly meetings to pitch, and subsequently buy equities, in order to both educate its members and increase its assets under management. IFS is a careers-based society which aims to help students break into finance through information sessions, speaker events and one-to-one mentoring.

Sitting down for an interview with Muse, Natassja is keen to outline how some aspects of the University of York’s two investment and finance societies have actually improved during the past year.

I ask whether the societies could, if needed, continue entirely online forever onwards. She answers convincingly. “Definitely, for sure,” she says. “I look at the Griff Investment Fund — we have about 50 people on Zoom calls every week, with at least 45 of them having their cameras on, people asking questions, people engaging in their breakout rooms, and discussing things after the main presentation. If that’s not testament to the way that you can have finance societies online, I don’t know what is.”

Natassja explains how the societies have had to adapt the way they operate. “In Griff, we have our weekly meetings. We have some house rules that I set up at the beginning of term, i.e. cameras have to be on at all times, mics have to be muted unless you’re speaking, and if you want to ask a question use the ‘hand up’ function. In addition to that, we’ve done things like using Kahoots to get engagement at the beginning of the session, which started out really cringey, but by the end of it I put out a poll to see whether people wanted to continue, and 80 percent of people actually enjoyed them. You have breakout rooms throughout the meeting to make sure people are engaged with the material, then you come all back together. It works really well.

“In terms of IFS, I can speak a little less. Nonetheless, we have — on the speaker events — up to 50 people, most of whom have their cameras on. You’ll bring a speaker in from another company; that’s enough for people to want to get involved — they can ask direct questions. Events such as the Women in Finance event, where we had three alumni come in, worked fantastically. It was open to women and men, but the speakers were all women, which worked fantastically as a way to encourage girls to get into it. It worked perfectly because guest speakers don’t have to be in York to attend, all you need to do is make sure they’re free for a few hours in the evening.”

That said, Boris Johnson’s “road map” back to normality offers a glimpse at a sustainable way out of social restrictions. However, when things do return to normal, will they ever be quite the same? As may well be the case for many things, aspects of the ‘new normal’ will probably remain in Griff and IFS, Natassja says.

“In terms of IFS events, it’s looking quite likely that some of them will end up being online. It does allow the opportunity for getting a speaker in without having to organise transport, figure out if they need overnight accommodation and everything like that. So for some very busy people, if you can get a Zoom call planned for them, it’s great. I think that’s one of the things that the pandemic has done: fast-tracked our already existing movement into a digital age. This has really accelerated this progress.

“In terms of the weekly meetings for both IFS and Griff, I think they’ll be going back to in-person as soon as possible. As much as engagement has still been pretty high online, you don’t have that same connection. On a Zoom call, you can’t just chat to the person next to you!”

Societies of all shapes and sizes have experienced drop-offs in engagement this year due to Covid-19 restrictions limiting their ability to function normally. Finance societies are no different. Natassja tells me that: “One thing that was really tricky [in Griff] was getting the engagement at the beginning of the year. We definitely struggled to get in applications — far fewer this year than last. However, I do think that the pool of applicants this year was really incredible, because, as a result of having to look for these opportunities more, you have the best applicants.”

“Typically, you don’t have people leaving for reasons such as work. However, we have had a couple of people who are third years who obviously have a lot of work on, who have made the choice to leave this year. They’re simply not getting the value you normally get [due to a lack of face-to-face events].”

But whether digitally in the middle of a virological crisis, or in-person during safer times, Natassja considers involvement in either of these investment and finance societies an enjoyable and rewarding way to explore the industry and plan for careers in similar lines of work further down the line.

“Looking at the people I know, definitely,” she exclaims, when asked whether involvement in Griff or IFS will boost one’s CV. “Speaking to people who were in Griff, a lot of them use that to have the commercial awareness you need for interviews, to talk to people in the industry to gauge ideas about what would be the right career path for them.”

“For me personally, if I hadn’t been in Griff, I wouldn’t have become as good friends with the person who was assigned to be my mentor. She was influential in helping me figure out where I wanted to be in finance. Ultimately, I really don’t think I would have got my spring week and subsequent summer internship had it not been for having those connections in these societies.”

“In terms of IFS, I also think it’s been a great tool for people to find exactly where all the careers are. We have a massive spreadsheet with every company that offers internships and spring weeks and industrial placements related to finance — a great way for people to know what’s out there for them.”

Natassja has seen first-hand how finance society experience can help leapfrog others on the road to a career in this tremendously competitive field. “Most of the people I know probably wouldn’t have been so successful in getting internships had it not been for the facilities and resources that IFS and Griff provide.”

Anyone interested in finding out what Griff or IFS have to offer is encouraged to get in touch with Natassja at njk517@york.ac.uk. Now is as good a time as any!

Featured image courtesy of Nattanan Kanchanaprat via Pixabay. Image license found here. No changes have been made to this image.

Profile image of interviewee courtesy of Natassja Krajewski.

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