Episode 78: Pu Liu
Dr. Pu Liu is a professor of finance and chairman of the department of finance at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Liu recognized the importance of a Master of Science in Finance program after seeing the need to address the challenges of a digital economy driven by technology and innovation. In this program, students learn essential financial skills and gain the expertise to excel in their careers.
00:07 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be Epic, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, and what those values mean in business education and in your life today.
00:29 Matt Waller: I have with me today, Dr. Pu Liu, Professor of Finance, and Chairman of the Department of Finance in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Dr. Liu has been a very successful researcher for decades, very successful teacher, he's taught at the undergraduate level and the graduate level, and his department is very entrepreneurial and innovative. And they've come up with many successful things that I want to discuss, even though we're focused today on the Masters of Science and Finance, which is a brand new program. We already had a MBA with a... Where you can take finance, and, of course, we have a PhD in finance and we have an undergraduate degree in finance. But this is a new program, and it's called The Masters of Science and Finance, and we're gonna talk about that, but before we get into that, Pu, I know you've got a lot going on, so thank you for taking time to visit with me about this.
01:32 Pu Liu: Matt, thank you very much for having me.
01:35 Matt Waller: And, Pu, your department, under your leadership, has grown dramatically in the past few years. I don't have the exact numbers in front me, but how much have you grown?
01:52 Pu Liu: In the past six years, the degree awarded as well as the student enrolled, majoring in finance has been doubled in six years. I would not say I play much role, it's basically the contribution of our faculty and particularly the support from the dean's office. And we are also very grateful to our company partners, because every year we visited those companies, we listen and they told us what are the talents and expertise and the training student need. Basically, we provide the trainings and based on the comments and suggestions from our business partners. So we are glad that our students can be hired and then can be used by the business communities, by financial institutions. That's the reason the enrollment can continue to grow.
03:00 Matt Waller: Yeah, and I think you all have quite a few faculty that just seem to have a lot of care and concern for students, and I think students sense that when they're talking to professors. I would like to talk about a couple of other things before, again, before we get into the master's degree. A couple of courses you all have created have been extremely valuable to students. I know... I went to the University of Missouri for my undergraduate degree, and my wife and I both did, and I graduated a long time ago, over 30 some years ago. But one class I took in college was called Personal Finance and they talked about how do you buy real estate, how to get credit, how to invest money, what types of insurance to buy.
04:03 Matt Waller: I remember real clearly in the course, they encouraged the purchase of term life insurance instead of other types of life insurance. And sure enough, once I got married and had a job, and I was the main breadwinner, which is how you determine whether or not you should buy it, I bought term life insurance and had it most of my adult life. But there's just so many practical things, many students will say that's one of the most valuable courses they took in the undergraduate program, and I've heard the same thing about both Your Money and Credit and Personal Finance.
04:46 Pu Liu: Yes, we realized that there is a great need for financial literature when we learned from the studies of many prestigious universities, as well as the Federal Reserve Bank, we begin to realize several years ago that there is a lack of financial literacy in the States. Therefore, we begin to offer such a course. Those courses, one is named Personal Financial Management for business majors, one is Your Money and Credit for all other non-business majors. Basically, we talk about personal finance, from buying life insurance, to housing insurance, to financing the purchase of a car, to buying houses, from retirement to education finance. We talk about all aspect of personal finance.
05:49 Pu Liu: When we started, we know that there's a demand, but we want to do that gradually. We started from one section of such a course, then gradually just semester after semester, we continue to offer more and more such courses, such sections. What do we realize was no matter how many sections we offer we can never satisfy the demand, so we started from one instructor to two instructors, from one sections to multiple sections. Last semester, just one instructor who had almost 500 students taking his courses. Yeah, we realized there's a demand for this course because it can meet financial literacy needs of students.
06:45 Matt Waller: That's good. Well, thank you so much for you and your department's service, not only to the college, but to the entire university. Having financially literate citizens in the state of Arkansas will help the whole state. So thank you for your contribution.
07:06 Pu Liu: We are pleased to play such a role.
07:07 Matt Waller: Now, on to the MS Master's of Science in Finance. Would you mind explain what is the focus of that program?
07:19 Pu Liu: Basically, the focus of this program is to enhance the marketability or the placement of our student. Over the past several years, virtually every year, we took a group of students, almost 40, sometimes up to 50 students to visit more than 20 major public companies or highly recognized private companies in Dallas, in Houston, in Little Rock, in Tulsa, in Northwest Arkansas, and sometimes we even traveled to Kansas. When we talk to the business managers and executives, we realize the demand or the requirement for the skills and the talents change over time. Basically, the design of such a course is to meet the demand of the companies. Therefore, it can enhance the marketability and the placement of our graduate.
08:27 Pu Liu: Particularly in the design of this new program, the new courses and the curriculum basically is to address the challenges of a digital economy driven by technology and innovation. For instance, one example that we realize is the availability of the big data, the large quantity of data. However, to be able to convert the data into useful information for company managers and executives to make good financial or business decisions, there's a need to obtain the data, to clean the data, to integrate and to merge the data and also to interpret, to analyze the data. And so we have been told those are the talents and need by the company, so that's how we designed the course.
09:38 Matt Waller: So, what is the deadline for applying to this program?
09:43 Pu Liu: Because of the pandemic, everything has been slowed down a little bit, therefore, we make our deadline early August, so students or people interested in this program still have a plenty of time to apply for this program. So we will extend our deadline until early August.
10:08 Matt Waller: So, is this a full-time program or a part-time program, and how many courses do you have to take?
10:14 Pu Liu: This is a 30-credit hour program. This is a 10-course program. It can be a full-time. We also understand they are a lot of business managers, a lot of people working right now cannot devote to the full-time, therefore we also take part-time. So if someone takes full-time, because it's a 10-course program, it can be completed in probably 12 months, two semesters, or maybe plus one summer, two semesters plus one summer. If someone would like to spread it out, that can also be done, can be probably doing that in two years.
11:01 Matt Waller: And tell me a little bit about the faculty who are involved in teaching this program.
11:07 Pu Liu: Yeah, so this is a very important program. The main focus is to enhance the marketability and placement of our students, therefore we put our best faculty into the program. There's a significant number of new faculty who devote their energy and resources into the program, and those new faculty members all graduated from nationally recognized and prestigious universities around the country, and most of them have already had a significant number of years of teaching experience. If I can give you a few examples, we have two faculty members who will be teaching this in the program, although we will have probably eight faculty members teaching courses in this program.
12:05 Pu Liu: The two examples I can give both of them not only have the PhD degree in finance from the top universities in the nation, they also have their first degrees in mathematics. However, they will not focus on quantitative mathematics. No, instead, basically, they use the logic, a logical thinking, the reasoning into finance, because how to apply reasoning and interpretation into business decision making is very important. We also have a faculty who started as a computer scientist, end up as a finance PhD and faculty, will spend a lot of time teaching financial modeling and financial data analytics. So this is a course we created basically to meet the frontier needs of business in the financial institutions.
13:21 Matt Waller: That is really impressive. Now, I'm gonna ask you what might seem like a silly question, but how do you know there's demand for students with this kind of a background, masters of science and finance?
13:37 Pu Liu: We not only just design the course based on the information we received from academia. As I mentioned in the past, almost more than one decade, every year, we take students to New York City, and then we switched to Chicago. Now, we take students to Dallas, to Houston and of course, since we're in Northwest Arkansas, we also take students to companies in Northwest Arkansas to visit. So every year we visit probably more than 25 companies such as Northwest Arkansas, of course Walmart, Harvests. In Little Rock, Stevens. Also in Dallas, TD Ameritrade, Texas Instrument. In Houston, we visit Exxon Mobile. In Oklahoma, we visit ConocoPhillips, Phillips66. In Kansas, we visit Coke industry.
14:49 Pu Liu: When we visited those companies, we took our students every year, so that a student can observe how companies actually operate. But also, we invited executives to talk to the students, so that we can learn from those companies executives, what are the skills, what are are the talents and expertise being used by the companies? Because we heard what do they need, we take into account what they told us into the design of our curriculum. Therefore, the curriculum and the course design is not based on vacuum or based on interaction with academia only, but also based on the interaction with the business community. We listen and we design based on what we learned from them.
15:49 Matt Waller: That's a great way to do it, going to the potential employers and finding out what they want. Now, when you have a program like a master's of science and finance, to make the courses relevant, you've got to have data available for students to analyze, how do you get that data?
16:13 Pu Liu: That's a very good question. The data availability becomes more and more. We know that for many companies, regardless of their size, regardless if they are big or small, they all collected, assembled, and maintained their own specialized database. We also know that there are lot of publicly available data such as SECs editors, those are the filings by the companies with SEC. And also there are lot of public available data such as the quarterly and annual reports filed by companies. But in addition to those, the department also have a subscription of large quantity data, for instance, we have subscriptions of Bloomberg, we also have a subscription of Capital IQ, Compustat and many other database. So when we teach students, we can use all the publicly available data and the commercialized data. And also we are pleased that there are companies in Northwest Arkansas, they are [inaudible] us to use some of their data in the project in the classroom. The courses to be offered in the program is not only going to be just based on lecture, it will be based on actual data based on project.
17:54 Matt Waller: Well, Pu, I know you and your colleagues in the department of finance have put a lot of work and thought into this program, and one benefit of creating a brand new program like this is you can really create it to fit the needs of the market perfectly and you've clearly done that. So, congratulations on that.
18:19 Pu Liu: Thank you, we are pleased to be able to contribute to the objectives of the college and the university.
18:31 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of The Be Epic Podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching "Be Epic Podcast", one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, be epic.