Professor Profiles: Cornell Johnson’s Drew Pascarella

Having the opportunity to learn from the best and brightest minds in business is one of the top motivators for many applicants considering an MBA degree at an elite business school. The professors and lecturers you’ll encounter have worked in the trenches, and bring an incredible wealth of real-world experiences into the classroom setting.

Today, we’re introducing a limited series of interviews on the SBC blog that will allow readers to get to know a bit more about these brilliant professors, what fields most excite them, the trends they foresee, what they enjoy most about teaching at their respective universities, and how it all comes together with their students.

Let’s kick things off by meeting Drew Pascarella, Lecturer of Finance at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

Pascarella is also Managing Director and Head of East Coast Banking of Vista Point Advisors.

Education: MBA, Johnson at Cornell University
Courses Taught: Faculty Director, Fintech Intensive. Investment Banking Immersion Practicum. Investment Banking Essentials.

What triggered your interest in your subject matter?

I’ve spent over twenty years on Wall Street. Throughout my career, I’ve seen multiple boom and bust cycles, the democratization and digitization of trading, and the consistent redevelopment of one of America’s great export industries: finance. That said, over the past 3-4 years, the pace of change – the revolution we call FinTech – has been unprecedented.

Further, unlike many revolutions, or disruptions, which begin in the labs of the great research universities, FinTech really began on the outside. In garages. In coffee shops. It was started by customers who were untrusting of the current system, and unsatisfied by the products and services they were being offered by the financial services firms I knew so well.

These frustrated customers-turned-founders could also build upon a technology trend that was decades in the making: ubiquitously-distributed, handheld, connected, portable devices with ridiculous processing power and intuitive usability. I had to know more.

What’s changed since you entered the field?

The early disruptions were made by outsiders. Paypal is the classic example. Frustrated customers who were not satisfied by the current suite of products offered to make non-cash payments. In the area of wealth management, Betterment is a great story of a newcomer taking on an entire established industry.

Now, in addition to outsiders marching on the the turf of the establishment, traditional financial services firms are disrupting themselves. They are focused on the customer as never before. Wall Street is not known to lie down when it is challenged; the response has been fascinating to watch.

What do you like about the school you are teaching at?

I love the fact that Johnson chooses to lead. If you think about FinTech, very few MBA programs are currently teaching it. There are student FinTech clubs at many programs, but only a handful of schools have decided to dive in and make FinTech an academic focus. Johnson decided to lead in this area, which, as an alumnus of the school, makes me very proud.

What are you most excited about that’s happening in your field?

The next area to watch is insurance; Insurtech. If you think about how insurance works, large, established insurance companies, with hundreds of years of data, can pretty accurately tell you when you’re going to die, the probability of your house burning down, the chance you’ll crash your car.

But AI is introducing a new set of challenges. What’s the probability that a driverless car will crash and seriously injure a passenger? We have no idea, but there are big data companies that are in the process of building capabilities to figure this out and calculate how much that premium should cost.

Traditional insurance companies have had the benefit of watching their cousins in banking get disrupted; you can be sure they’re doing everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen to them.

Can you speak to interesting trends in your field?

I think it’s safe to say that any repetitive decision that involves a discrete number of choices will become software in the next 10 years. If you think about that, there are very few job functions, inside or outside of financial services, that won’t be impacted. So, where does that leave us?

In many ways, it’s too early to tell, but there will no doubt be great opportunity available both to companies and employees to adapt, evolve, and attack new markets. In my function, the key, then, will be to develop MBA talent that will envisage, understand, and lead the changes as they happen.

Best advice for an aspiring business mogul?

Returning to the conversation about the digitization of repetitive decision making, MBA students need to be more agile and comfortable with change than ever before. Alternatively, they can focus on areas which are likely immune to digitization, such as strategy consulting or M&A.

What can you do in the classroom to best prepare students for the real world?

We hear pretty consistently that our FinTech employers expect our students to be cross-functional, fluent in the language of FinTech, and able to hit the ground running on day one. Our FinTech program was built to meet these expectations.

In addition to the great classroom content we provide, we send our students out to a FinTech client for a field project. We want them to be a part of the disruption from the inside. This field project gives them experience, relevance, and a great story to tell in interviews.

How can business leaders make better decisions?

One of the keys of effective business decisions is empathy. We hear that theme over and over from the FinTech industry leaders we have partnered with for the FinTech Intensive. The historical lack of empathy within the big financial services firms led to poor decision making, which created an opening for smaller, nimbler, more empathetic startups.

The good news is that it’s never to late to learn how to be empathetic; traditional financial services firms have made enormous strides in this regard over the past few years.

Thank you Professor Pascarella for sharing your time and insights with our readers!

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