Having come to London at the age of 17 to study for her undergraduate degree, Acacia Taylor (MiFPT2023) now works as an Associate at Howden Capital Markets. She wanted to develop her skillset even further while still managing a full-time workload, so the part-time Masters in Finance was the perfect fit for her aspirations. She doesn’t have a five-year plan but is instead curious and open to opportunities; a mind-set that has certainly served her well so far.
I’m half Irish, half Maori, and I grew up in small town in Ireland. I went to Bandon Grammar School (the same school as comedian and presenter Graham Norton) and I played a lot of sports. I played hockey for Ireland, and I also played tennis and did a lot of dinghy sailing off the coast of Kinsale. Then I moved to London when I was 17; I got into Kingston University and left Ireland within a week of securing my place. I was slightly terrified as I didn’t know anyone, and we didn’t have any family in the UK.
I did my BSc in Actuarial Mathematics and Statistics and then received a scholarship to study a Diploma in Financial Trading at Divento Financials. After that, I started my career at a London-based insurance broker called Ed Broking. I stayed there for two years and I got really into the data analytics side of business. I was part of a team that developed a system that connected carriers, brokers and clients, before moving into the wider team where I worked within the actuarial team.
During this time, a company called Hyperion X (now renamed as Howden X) launched. If you worked in a position like mine, that was where you wanted to be; they were leading in the division I worked in, and I wanted to be part of the leader of a sector. I remember Googling it and thinking, ‘how am I going to get into this company?’ Then they actually called me one day and said, ‘we’ve been given your name and we’d love you to come in for an interview’. And that was that. I now work for a division within Howden X called Howden Capital Markets, which was formed a year ago. We are a boutique investment bank focusing on buy and sell side investment within the insurance sector.
Our main work is risk securitisation, capital raising, yield enhancement and all things insurance analytics. I was part of the team that set that up, and I am excited to see the team grow. I am an associate within a small team working to modernise the traditional insurance transaction by creating innovate structures using the capital markets sector.
Howden is an amazing, progressive company. Last year a pilot scheme was launched in which a diverse group of seven junior members of staff, including myself, were selected to work on an inclusion programme; the aim being to increase inclusivity throughout the company. I’ve been taken aback by how much they’re listening to us; it’s really refreshing to be part of a company where you can get into a room with a senior member of staff and they listen to you and action what you say, too. We think of new initiatives all the time and I’m hoping that we’re going to launch an ambassador page, similar to the one at London Business School. I’m also on the LGBT+ committee at Howden where I use my experience from the LBS committee to bring ideas to the table.
I first decided to study the Masters in Finance because I wanted to learn an extra layer of technical skill, in order to take the next step in my career. I have three main aspirations for the programme. I want to build my technical skills, so I can be the best I can at what I do, and give the best advice I can from a financial perspective. I also want to make an impact and I think you can only do that if you have the skills and know the right people, and a lot of that is about networking. Finally, I want to play out my passion for diversity and inclusion.
When I put those aspirations together, London Business School was the only school that met all three. It ticked every box for me. The faculty is so passionate and that really shines through in the classroom. The School also has a large focus on extra-curricular activities, so it was a no-brainer for me that this would be my school in order to pursue what’s important to me. I first saw the building when I was walking around Regent’s Park during lockdown, and my girlfriend said, ‘that’s London Business School’. I’d never seen it and I was quite taken aback, and I thought, ‘maybe I can do that’. I’d been thinking about doing lots of different things but I couldn’t see how they would all fit together, and how I would be able to do them while working a full-time job. So I researched the School when we got home, and I saw that it offered the Masters in Finance as a part-time course. I liked the timings; having school on a Friday and Saturday is great. I sent my CV off to the recruitment team for review that night.
The people I’ve met at London Business School so far have been incredible, and they push you in a good way. I’ve already grown so much in the last few months. I’m on the committee of the Out in Business club and recently helped organise EUROUT, Europe’s leading LGBTQ+ business conference, which is led by LBS students. This year I worked as Vice President of Sponsorship and we had some great sponsors, including Howden. The conference took place in November and it was one of the most amazing events I’ve ever been to. There was something quite overwhelming about so many people coming together to celebrate the community.
The speakers were incredible the content team really blew it out of the park. If I had to pick one, Inga Beele was my stand out speaker; we work in the same industry and have a lot in common in terms of experiences. She is such an incredible woman in what she has achieved so far and it was an honour to have her speak at EUROUT. The whole environment was so open and liberal and I felt like I made some of my closest friends at the School during just those few days. I’m very, very proud to have been a part of it, and next year I’ll be on the senior team working to organise the event.
Working full time for a Masters while studying is tough, but the workload is manageable if you put in the time, and I really enjoy it. We have a study group structure at the School and it’s something I’ve never done before, but it’s a really refreshing way of learning and it’s great to hear other people’s ideas. In the last few assignments we submitted, our study group generally has a catch up to throw ideas around about the topic. Initially, we thought it would be a good idea to identify whose experience is going to be particularly relevant; for example, if we have an accountant in the group and our task is a very accounting specific one. But interestingly, what we found is the mix of experiences is the most valuable; you listen in class and everyone picks up different angles and aspects of what the lecturer is saying and for me, this is the golden ticket. So everyone in our study group makes an equal contribution and we don’t have one person leading. Someone will always agree to ‘take the pen’, ‘collate’ or tie up tasks like that, but in general we all voice our opinions and then divide up the research. When an assignment is due, we were meeting for an hour or two every second evening, but meeting digitally over Zoom makes it really easy.
Coming from a non-finance background, I really thought I’d struggle at the start, but it’s been fine because my studies are so relevant to my work. I was also well prepared for the programme. I accepted my offer in February and I started preparing straight away; it’s not realistic to think you can carry on your normal life while studying part-time for one of the best courses in the world.
My biggest highlight on the programme so far has been the people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve formed. I’ve surprised myself by how deep the relationships I’ve formed are already, and I think that’s the essence of London Business School. Next, I’m hoping I might be able to do a foreign exchange, and I’m looking forward to going away to Frankfurt for a week with my classmates.
I’m really interested in the investments module that we have coming up, which I think is because I don’t know anything about it. I like learning things from scratch. I’m also about to start an elective in understanding the international macroeconomy, which will be such an interesting thing to know. I love learning something new and then going into work and talking to my colleagues about it. I already use examples of things we’ve been taught in class in my day job, so I’m excited to see how it all comes together.
My biggest piece of advice for people considering the MiF is to talk to as many people as you can. Everyone here has time for prospective students. I’ll never forget the number of people that gave me an hour or half an hour of their time to talk about the programme, because it really influenced my decision. I wanted to know about time management and whether I should do the full-time or part-time programme, and students gave me honest answers. Speak to people on the clubs you’re interested in, too. Then you can step back and decide if it’s the programme for you.
My second piece of advice is to be as authentic as you can. Don’t just say what you think people want to hear. Be yourself. That’s what I love about London Business School; everyone is authentic. So be exactly who you think you are, because that’s what we celebrate here.
A lot of my friends know what they want to do and where they want to go, but I’ve never been that way. I don’t have a set career path. I’d like to be a senior leader soon but I don’t know whether that would be in finance or something completely different. Right now, I’d like to get a really good grade, meet more amazing people and then bring my passion into my work. I’d hate to be closed off to anything; I’ve already discovered so many roles I didn’t know existed during my time at the School. You have to be curious enough to be open to opportunities. I’m a strong believer that if you’re doing the right thing, the right things will happen.