Eastern Europe's quants challenge French supremacy

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French quants have long ruled the roost in London, but they could soon be knocked of their perch by an influx of talent from Eastern Europe.

Hemendra Rai, quantitative trading and analytics practice leader at recruitment firm Huxley Associates, says banks are increasingly interested in hiring quants from Eastern Europe and China.

Former (and current) communist countries have a strong science pedigree, says Rai. The best students in those countries have typically competed in region-wide 'olympiads' - science and maths focused competitions not dissimilar to US spelling-bees.

Rai says olympiad winners are highly prized by banks. "I've placed mathematicians who've won first place in the Romanian Olympiad and gone on to study in the UK for their PhD," he tells us. "Some banks have even begun specifically asking for olympiad winners to fill entry-level quant positions."

The prospect of a flood of highly skilled Romanian and Bulgarian quants could therefore come as bad news to students at the likes of France's Ecole Polytechnique, traditionally London banks' preferred source of quantitative talent.

It could also put a dampener on efforts to increase the flow of quants from the UK education system.

Rai says UK universities are already catching up. Annabel Biddle, head of European graduate recruitment at Bank of America, agrees. The French schooling system is more specialized and vocational than in the UK, says Biddle: "Similar talent is available in the UK, however it is more challenging to identify and target those candidates with these particular quant skills."

Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and University College London are apparently good places to look.

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