What is it like being a Quantitative team member?

What is it that the number crunching team members do all day? We asked Victor, who joined NewForesight in 2018, with a break for travels in between, and Andrés, who joined in February this year.

Let’s introduce you. What is your name and where do you live?

Victor: I’m Victor Dagnelie. I was born and raised Dutch, and have been living in Utrecht for the last 10 years. The atmosphere here is great, and a 15-minute commute by bike is too!  
Andres: I’m Andrés, I am from Mexico City and currently living in Utrecht.

What is your background and why did you choose to join NewForesight Consultancy?

Victor: My background is actually in Theoretical Physics; a purely academic field of work where you can spend your entire life hypothesizing about particles that may or may not exist. At the same time, my awareness and passion for sustainability grew, so I believe it was only a matter of time before I decided to make the drastic change. NewForesight fit my ambitions perfectly: a fast-paced company working on sustainability strategies with quantitative work involved.

Andrés: I started my career doing financial planning and IT consultancy. A lot of my previous work was performing analysis on how companies could improve and optimize their processes and providing the tools for them to automate them.
My background is in Environmental Management, so I’ve always wanted for my work to be contributing to the development of more sustainable business models.
I found NewForesight was offering exactly what I was looking for: working at a global scale, driving change, and addressing tough sustainability challenges.

As a quant you can work in different domains. In which domain do you work?

Victor: With my quantitative background, I naturally ended up in the Impact Analytics domain: the team that focuses purely on data gathering and analysis projects.

Andrés: My previous experience proved to be very helpful for my role as quantitative analyst when I joined the Impact Analytics domain. Basically, the goal is to perform data-driven analysis while making the case for sustainability solutions. This has a lot of similarities with what I used to do, which was collecting and processing business intelligence and data analytics in the financial analysis space. Now, I focus more on building sustainability strategies but still the data-crunching is a big part of the day-to-day work.

Some specific project examples that I worked on are:
-Helping estimate the net impact of interventions in agricultural markets. For this project we were tasked with supporting the development of an impact framework and its operationalization, through a model that could add up the total impact of the entire portfolio of interventions.
– Setting up a benchmarking tool to calculate the living income, or minimum required earning for a worker to be able to afford a decent life, in different setting and industries across Africa

Can you mention some tasks that you do as a Quantitative Consultant (and what you did when you started as Analyst)?

Victor: As an (Junior) Analyst, you will immediately start working on our projects. That means joining in client calls, doing desk research on topics, and continuously improving your model-building and report-writing skills. A lot of creativity is required: if we need to answer a certain question, we first need to ask the right questions and get data on it. That means interviewing experts or writing farmers surveys. The next step is to model the data that was gathered (usually in Excel) and create useful graphs from them. The graphs are then written into reports (usually PowerPoint) that explain the implications and result in recommendations for the future.

Once you grow towards a consultant, you will start managing this entire process. What is the client’s request, and how can we answer this? What data do we need, and which partners can help us get that? Then you contact your partners, delegate tasks to Analysts and combine all the results into credible and actionable reports. Quantitative consulting in a nutshell.

Some of the specific projects that I have worked on the last year were:
– Assessment of the potential impact of a multi-million investment on the livelihoods of smallholder barley farmers in East Africa, including a detailed risk assessment, for a major impact investment bank
-Feasibility study of innovative farming methods in the Sahara desert for a large multinational
-Development of a methodology and tool to calculate the price a company should pay to its suppliers around the world in order for them to reach a Living Income

Andrés: I think that the most recurring tasks are being able to develop business cases that involve tangible and intangible variables. For example, having to estimate the impact of a sector-wide policy and how it would translate as economic benefits for individual smallholder farmers. As a quantitative analyst you need to be able to provide practical solutions to these challenges, while the consultants will support with providing the insights and practical knowledge so that the assumptions that are fed to the models are reliable and well-built. 

How much of your work do you see back in the end result for the client?

Victor: Our quantitative work is the core of the end result! Most of my reports have a graph or figure from our data on nearly every page. From these we highlight what works, what doesn’t, and under which circumstances. In many cases, even the Excel models that we build are delivered to a client, so that they can keep modelling for years to come.

Andrés: Everyone really appreciates when we can provide results in a readable report or concise PowerPoint presentation. Most of our quantitative work ends up one way or another in the final reports, at the end we need it to back up our conclusions.

Are you also in contact with colleagues from the other domains?

Victor: Sure. We are a small company and we are close to every one of our colleagues. Everyone is also involved in internal work, which does not follow the domain structures as much.

Andrés: Yes, we work a lot together. NewForesight has the 4 domains, but they are not built as silos. The quantitative analyst should be able to support in projects across all domains, which brings in a lot of learning opportunities.

If candidates are invited for an interview, they need to do a case. What is your advice on how to prepare for an interview case at NewForesight?

Victor: I may disappoint you here: there is no real way to prepare for the case study, because that is the way it is supposed to be. We want to test an interviewee’s skills, not their preparedness to do homework. The upside is that we are very forgiving in small mistakes or lack of specific skills that occur during the case: in our opinion, these can be learned later. My advise would be to remain calm and communicate all your steps. The case study is more about us following your structure and logic than it is about you showcasing the latest Excel formulas.

Andrés: It is easy to get nervous when you have to do a case study in the middle of an interview. Then you can easily make mistakes or fail to arrive to the correct results. The good news is that in the interview you need to show how you approach the problem, and it is not that important if you are able to finish or not. So my advice would be to be ready to present the train of thought and the process you would use to solve the case, of course being able to work in Excel helps too!

Victor: I was a perfect example of the above: I had never used Excel before in my life. Instead I wrote my calculations on paper and talked out loud as I did it. I never had the feeling I did a great job; some of the assignments and figures that were shown to me did not ring a bell. But I was not afraid to say what I did and did not understand.

What do you do to relax outside working hours?

Victor: Oh boy! Let me list a conservative amount of my hobbies. The main one is rock climbing, ideally in the great outdoors but by necessity regularly in the gym. I also love a great many of crafts, including beer brewing & whisky making, woodworking, painting, photography, gardening, leatherworking, sewing, bonsai… and, to be honest, if you come with an inspiring story about your favourite hobby, I will probably add it to my list.

Andrés: Right now, I am spending as much time as possible with my family taking care of a newly born daughter!
So, to relax I mostly take short walks. Utrecht is a beautiful city and it is ideal for walking around, also there are a lot of nice places by the canal to sit for a drink.
Due to covid-19 restrictions I haven’t been able to meet face-to-face with a lot of colleagues but some initiatives within NewForesight, like going for (e-)walks or having virtual coffee breaks are making sure we stay connected.

Are you interested to work at NewForesight too? At the moment we are looking for people to join our team, for example quantitative Junior Analysts and quantitative Analysts. Check out our vacancies and apply!

If you still have questions about working for NewForesight as a quant, then I have good news for you: you can contact Andrés or Victor with your question via e-mail.