Bucknell prepares students for the real world

By Tom Zhu

Contributing Writer

I had the most amazing summer of my life working at Bank of America Merrill Lynch for the past three months. I not only gained financial service knowledge from the training program and daily work with financial advisors, but also made a lot of new friends, learned culture and discipline and, most importantly, realized how much my knowledge from one year of study at the University could be applied to Wall Street.

Our first task as interns during the Merrill Lynch training session was to learn professional etiquette. Every day was like an interview day: always presenting a neat, well-groomed and professional appearance at work, staying positive and having strong character and being conscious of one’s body language. I worked at the World Financial Center, the flagship office, which has the highest net-worth clients coming to visit every day. For this reason everyone, including interns, was required to make a positive impression on clients. According to my manager, Merrill Lynch has “the classiest culture on the Street.” Thanks to the Career Development Center (CDC) at the University, I was able to learn a lot about professional etiquette before the start of my internship. The CDC was a great resource for me to prepare for writing cover letters and resumes, and especially to develop my interview skills.

Besides learning professional manners, I discovered how my coursework at the University could help me in my daily work. For example, I was assigned a specific demographic segment (“baby boomers”) to thoroughly research during the summer with my team. I led a team of eight people to create a 15-minute presentation that was presented to over 150 financial advisors and interns, as well as the Office Management Team. This specific project provided practical experience related to a theoretical concept from my statistics class at the University. Professor Donner’s class taught me how to analyze data to study real life cases. I worked with my team to plan the project, including interviews, case studies and further research through secondary resources from Bank of America Research Library, newspapers and Bloomberg Terminal. Eventually, we used data, graphs and even sample cases to present our research on baby boomers’ values, concerns and characteristics related to industry, age and gender. The office manager praised our team after the presentation, saying that our statistical analysis particularly impressed him.

The most challenging part was learning to digest new knowledge every day. Because Merrill Lynch is a one-stop shop, I had the opportunity to access various investment products. Since we usually built our clients’ proposal by their own preferences, I researched mutual funds, private equity funds, hedge funds, stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds, municipal bonds and other tools as potential investment opportunities. The first step was to learn those investment tools. The most challenging part of my work was to apply them in order to enhance clients’ portfolios through risk reduction, asset allocation and investment diversification. Fortunately, my supervisor took time out of her busy schedule to teach me how to use them. I learned that the key to learning is to ask. I wouldn’t just ask any questions, but rather would ask questions after searching for answers first myself.

While academic training aided me in the internship, the experience I had at Merrill Lynch this summer is also directing my future academic choices. Because of reading and analyzing data from clients’ balance sheets, income statements and statements of cash flow, I have realized the importance of accounting. I am going to take the advanced accounting course in my sophomore year.

My 10 weeks at Merrill Lynch initiated a new level for my college study as well as my career path. It was a summer without beach trips and vacations, but was the most productive summer of my life, and the University prepared me for it.

(Tom Zhu is currently the Liaison of Bucknell Finance Network (BFN). Please feel free to reach out to him if you have any questions about BFN or his internship at Merrill Lynch.)

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