The future of education in the world of finance with Inflection Point Intelligence’s Anna Stephenson

Hong Kong-headquartered Inflection Point Intelligence (IPI) has gained a reputation as a quality centre of excellence for financial education with the Henley Executive Hedge Fund Program as its flagship course. HFC’s Stefan Nilsson checks in with IPI’s Founding Partner Anna Stephenson to find out more about the future of education in the world of finance. Together with Steve Bernstein, Anna launched the first hedge fund course in Hong Kong in 2015.

Having initially run IPI’s Henley Executive Hedge Fund Program in financial centres such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, London and New York, you have now taken the program online. Tell us about this on-demand offering!

We ran the in-person Henley Executive Hedge Fund Program (the HEHFP) 14 times in different financial centres around the world, bringing together local students and instructors from the industry in the classroom, and of course, at our famous networking cocktails. But it became clear that this format was quite limiting – the students needed to be in the physical location at the same time as the tutors for each of the 16 modules. That was a big ask from people who were studying and holding down full-time jobs at the same time. Also, people living in other countries were unable to attend the course. And delivering the course in person brought extra costs and was expensive. In the second half of 2019, we started the intensive effort to pivot the program to online, in order to make it as flexible as possible for people to take it. We had instructors deliver their lectures whilst being videoed, and now those lectures are available on-demand, from anywhere in the world, in bite-sized pieces – so students can attend the course however suits them best. Students have taken the program from Tokyo to LA, from Portugal to Iceland! And we’ve been able to lower the cost. We’ve achieved that goal of making it accessible to all who want to learn. Of course, it was sheer luck that we had just gone online when COVID-19 hit the world! Once we realised that every financial centre was going to experience some kind of lockdown, we also moved the IPI Network online. We hold bi-weekly webinars, currently focused mostly on the hedge fund industry, with industry speakers who address subjects that we don’t cover in the HEHFP core curriculum, and other topical items. And we’ve held a popular “speed-networking” event where students, alumni and teachers could introduce themselves to the others. More of that to come!

With a growing network of Henley hedge fund program alumni which has been built up over the past five years or so, you have now launched the IPI Career Network. What’s the plan with this initiative?

One of the most satisfying things about delivering the HEHFP was watching the network grow, and the connections being forged between the people involved – participants, instructors, guest speakers, industry members who came to cocktails. Now that the world finds itself more comfortable with online networking due to the pandemic, we want to extend that web of connections. We believe that the education industry is ripe for disruption – you might say that the pandemic has brought it to an inflection point… The future of education will not only be online but will also be career-focused – already we can see a movement away from the classic multi-year university education and towards shorter, career-focused courses. We have created the IPI Career Network – this annual subscription offers education and career-related services. Members can join the IPI bi-weekly webinars and access the back-catalogue of videos. They have access to a jobs board and the directory of members, and we will be introducing mentoring services shortly. Members are entitled to 15% off the cost of our courses, and other benefits. And of course, once we can get together in public again, the members will be invited to our networking cocktails around the world too.

Recently you brought in industry heavyweight Paul Smith to the IPI team. You have also made several business-development hires in Hong Kong. What’s behind these additions to the team?

The pivot to online is really driving the changes in our company. Now that we are not tied to specific course locations and times, we’ve been able to embrace a bigger vision of our goals. We aim to deliver a suite of courses similar to the HEHFP, based on the proof-of-concept of the online version. Those courses will include Private Equity and Family Office programs, both of which we’ve been asked for many times over the past few years. Online delivery also means that we can easily customise programs for corporate clients. We currently have a corporate cohort taking 10 selected modules chosen by their company and with company seniors taking part as faculty. We’re very excited by that development and hope to see many other corporate customers choosing to customise a program tailored for their own staff’s needs. We’re super excited to have Paul involved and to welcome Ambrose Wan and Peony Mu as we aim to extend the reach of the programs to other countries and financial sectors.

The family office industry is growing fast, not least here in Asia. What can you tell us about IPI’s plans for family office education?

The Family Office Program (FOP) is currently under development. As with the HEHFP, the FOP will feature online lectures by experienced industry professionals, along with curated reading and regular live webinars. It’s aimed at those people who might be thinking of setting up a family office, and also at FO service providers, such as private bankers, and professionals who want to get into the FO industry. We have the 12-module syllabus agreed and have already filmed the first module. Our plan is to start rolling out individual modules starting in Q2 and have the complete program available by the end of the summer. We’re very pleased to be extending the reach of the IPI Career Network into the family office sector and look forward to creating a new segment of our community.

The IPI team has a senior management team with extensive alternative investment industry experience. Is it this that sets IPI apart from other more academic educational providers?

We think that the uniqueness of our offering lies in the practical nature of the teaching, the focus on management rather than technical aspects of the subject matter, and the extensive and active network that we have created. As Steve Bernstein likes to say: “Once you’ve finished the course, that’s just the beginning”. At that point, our alumni are just starting to explore the benefits of the knowledge and connections that they’ve gained joining a growing community of practitioners in the industry worldwide.