Elon University will offer a new FinTech major this fall in the Love School of Business for students wanting to pursue data analysis and programming within the field of finance.
FinTech, a combination of finance and technology, merges the theory of finance with the more technical side of payment processes and automation. The new major will offer electives in trading and markets, blockchain and other technologies like artificial intelligence.
Chris Harris, chair of the finance department, said the major teaches financial theory with the application of current and future technology.
“Technology is really changing the pace that things happen and how they happen,” Harris said. “It was unheard of not even that long ago that you could just send some cash to a friend online. Now it’s just so natural and common.”
Harris said the major requirements include a liberal arts elective that will help students understand the ethics of new financial technologies, especially AI.
“If I’m trying to accomplish a financial task, how will these other things make it possible?” Harris said. “And how will it — hopefully if I have some type of moral grounding or ethical grounding — allow that to happen in a responsible way?”
According to Harris, the university created new electives for the major in addition to using courses already offered.
The three new courses offered next fall for the major are FIN 4973: Blockchain and Emerging Technologies, FIN 4974: Trading and Markets and FIN 4975: Data Analysis in Finance. Each has been offered at least once this year and will apply toward the major, which was officially approved in December 2022.
“Let’s not think about it in terms of the electives we already have,” Harris said. “Let’s look at it to say, ‘What is the future about to be, and what would be the things that students need to know to be ready for that?’”
Harris said the decision was made collectively between members of the finance and management departments, as well as the business school dean’s office, who came up with the idea in fall 2021. Elon will be one of roughly 20 schools nationwide that offer FinTech as an undergraduate degree,
Joe DelGrippo, a senior finance major, said he wishes Elon offered the major earlier.
Last spring, DelGrippo held an internship with Alinea Invest, a FinTech startup with an app that encourages young people to invest in mutual funds and competes with apps such as Robinhood or Acorns.
He worked as a business development specialist and worked with blockchain technology — new to him at the time.
“I definitely had to learn on the job when it came to blockchain and things of that nature like blockchain, finance and cryptocurrency — just more of the new age finance,” DelGrippo said. “I wasn't as prepared for it as I could have been.”
He also said FinTech allows average citizens to invest without a middleman.
“There’s a new wave of finance coming. Personal finance is really being put into the hands of the retail investor,” DelGrippo said. “Instead of going to your financial advisor or your broker and saying, ‘Hey, I want to buy X many shares of this,’ you can just do it on your phone now.”
Professor of finance Thibaut Morillon currently teaches Blockchain and Emerging Technologies and will continue to teach the course next academic year. Morillon said his course teaches the basics of blockchain, which is often associated with digital currency.
“Bitcoin comes to mind, but that's hardly the only thing you can do with it,” Morillon said. “In fact, cryptocurrencies are barely just one application of blockchain.”
Morillon said blockchain acts as a digital public ledger that allows people to track transactions.
“It cannot be tampered with,” Morillon said. “So it holds a lot of value because it allows you to track something extremely accurately.”
Morillon said while the concept seems intimidating, it’s easier to understand once students have an understanding of the basics.
“Most of it is not outrageously complicated,” Morillon said. “It's more complex than complicated.”
Morillon said he has seen students excited to learn about new technology in finance.
“Students are happy to just to dive into something that is brand new,” Morillon said. “A few of them told me that it was amazing to have the possibility to study something that is happening right now.”
Adam Aiken, professor of finance, will teach two of the three new electives next year and said it will be necessary for finance faculty to keep their courses updated as technology changes.
“It's up to us to stay interested and to stay engaged, and not get set in our ways,” Aiken said. “You never can lose sight of the foundation or the fundamental principles — those will never change — that's the core of finance, but how you go about things will.”
Aiken said the FinTech electives have been popular so far.
“Students are revealing a preference to get some of those skills to be able to approach problems from a programmatic way — the coding background — but still very much within the business discipline in an applied way,” Aiken said.
DelGrippo said the addition of the major is a good decision, especially because technology will continue to advance in the finance industry.
“FinTech is definitely here to stay — in the way people are investing, especially our age and our generation,” DelGrippo said. “There's just a lot of potential to cut out the institutions and the advisors.”
He said the major will prepare students well for the future of finance.
“It seems like a new way. It just feels very fitting and it feels like it needed to happen because of the way technology's advancing,” DelGrippo said. “Finance is such an old-fashioned field.”