How Learning VBA for Excel Will Give You a Real Edge in Interviews for Front Office Positions

Posted on December 5, 2016 By

Before the information age, joining the market finance world required absolutely no technical knowledge. At that time, operations of all kinds and any analytical task were done manually.

However, the technological revolution has brought us to a new era where the challenge now is to automate processes as much as possible.

In the same time, this revolution also brought more talented and skilled people which made the competition very fierce to those who now aspire to join the industry. Traders that don’t know how to write code still exist, but they usually came several years ago, and are less and less desirable.

Today if you want to successfully pass an interview for a front office position, you need to know at least one programming language. The most widely used in banks (and also the easier to learn) is VBA.

First of all, what is VBA ?

VBA (Visual Basic Application) is a programming language that was developed by Microsoft in 1993 and is embedded into Microsoft Excel. VBA is a tool that people commonly use to develop automated programs with Excel as the user interface. VBA has some interesting features that are very useful when analyzing financial data, developing charts or format and present raw data.

It is very easy to use and is available on every computer that has Excel installed (which means virtually any computer of a bank).

Why VBA for the financial market ?

The truth is that VBA is not the best language for every finance-related applications, and it’s far from being the most powerful. But the fact that it is coupled with software that everybody knows how to use (Excel), allows it to be widely adopted by front offices at banks. Some banks are using it more than others, but what they all have in common is that some VBA is running at some point to perform day-to-day tasks.

These automated tasks can range from extracting and formatting data from Bloomberg to creating a pricing tool for a particular product. With VBA, an automated process of these kinds can be implemented in a few hours. Some other language can be better at the job, but it will require more resources and more time.

In some banks, they also have special teams of developers that rewrite VBA programs that were written in a hurry by a trader or a front office developer, using another more powerful language.

Is VBA only used by people working at a front office position ?

The beauty of VBA is that it can be used not only in Excel but in most of Microsoft applications such as Microsoft Access, Word and PowerPoint. Any computer that has one of these software can run VBA.

Therefore it makes the language very portable and can be used in other department such as Risk Management, Middle Office and Back Office units. All these departments automate custom tasks using VBA.

Why is it good to learn VBA before applying for a position?

You can try to join the industry without any prior knowledge of VBA but it is always a non-negligible advantage to have a strong command of this language. It can actually make the difference between you and another candidate who is competing for a similar position.

While it is true that you can learn the language once on the trading floor, it will always be better in the eyes of your potential future manager if you are able to understand and fix some of the tools that run daily on his perimeter as soon as you are hired. In short, your value as a candidate will increase, and for almost all positions.

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