Voices of a Quant: ‘It’s very tempting to just stay in the world where everything can be understood in mathematical language’

Joris Luyendijk:

We’re meeting for lunch at a restaurant in Canary Wharf, where many of the major global banks are located. He is a man in his late 40s, inconspicuously dressed, and in possession of a firm handshake. He orders a Coke, and then a pasta dish he will dig in with great relish. In his volunteer email he said he was with a software firm (working in investment banking). When asked for a job description, he simply says he is a “quant”.
“My parents discovered that I was of a mathematical bent aged three when I was apparently lining up my toys in order of size and then colour. I was one of these terrible, precocious kids who did their mathematics O-level aged 12. After a long academic career I ended up doing theoretical physics for my PhD, and spent a couple of years at Cern in Geneva. Many people I know from back then are still at universities, doing research and climbing the slippery slope to professorships and fellowships. They work the same astonishing long hours as I do, yet get paid a fraction and, from a purely scientific perspective, get to do some really, really interesting science. I often say (only half jokingly) that I “sold my soul” – I make a little over £200,000 a year, including my bonus.
“I am in a world of data, and I build all sorts of models for banks. For instance, one that helps a bank decide whom to lend a mortgage to. You have all this data about the person who is applying, and then the model works out the risk of lending to that person. You look at both the probability of this happening, and at the size of the loss in such an event.