In this ever-changing world, regulators and policymakers are always looking for key insights that blend qualitative analysis (global/local trends) with quantitative modeling (Econometrics) to assess the potential impacts of policy decisions on the society and the economy as a whole. 

Runu Bhakta, our next pathbreaker, Economist at the National Stock Exchange, works on macro and market research, to explain historical and current trends of several economic phenomena that helps to predict economic activities in the future.

Runu talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about developing an interest in Economics along with Mathematics and Political Science, which inspired her to pursue a PhD in Economics and a career that combines all the three areas.

For students, until and unless you know your long-term objective, you should always keep looking. Never settle for anything less !

Runu, tell us about Your background?

I was born and brought up in suburban Kolkata in a very humble and lower middle class joint family. Though my parents were struggling financially, they were very supportive in my upbringing and education. Growing up in a joint family from the very beginning, I learnt family values and ethos quite well, which always had a positive impact on my life and career. Though my parents could not contribute much to guide me directly, I was very fortunate to get their support open-heartedly throughout my life to follow my passion and career path.

Due to financial constraints, I did my entire schooling in government funded schools. Despite having all kinds of difficulties, I continued to score well in all my exams and was fortunate enough to get admission in the most renowned high school in my region. I have always been curious in nature and fond of mathematics from the beginning. Overtime, I developed interest in economics which inspired me to pursue my graduation in economics as a major along with mathematics and political science.

Besides, I love to do painting and play with colors in my canvas. But my priority has always been to be an expert in economics and become financially independent. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

Given my interest in economics and mathematics, I decided to pursue my graduation in economics along with mathematics from the University of Calcutta. My curiosity and dedication helped me to rank first in all the exams during graduation with a distinction. This propelled me to complete my post-graduation in economics from the prestigious University of Calcutta with flying colors. During this time, I used to help underprivileged pupils and guided them to excel in their education as well.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

During the final year of my post-graduation, my sole objective was to become financially independent. By end of the year, I could manage to get two job offers, while I cracked the M.Phil/PhD integrated entrance exam at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR).

During that time, I was in a dilemma about choosing my future career. On the one hand, I could have easily chosen one of the job offers and get financially settled in life like many of my friends, while on the other hand, I had the option to continue with higher education from a renowned institute to expand my opportunities in the future. As I have always been passionate about doing research in economics, I decided to pursue M.Phil at IGIDR, which is one of the most prestigious institutes for economics in the country. The institute offered a scholarship that made me financially independent as well. And, I moved to Mumbai alone where the most interesting and uncertain phase of my life unfolded. 

Undoubtedly, my decision to pursue higher education at IGIDR was the most critical turning point of my life. Being an introvert and staying outside my home for the first time in my life was very difficult in the beginning. Over time, the friendly atmosphere at the institute helped me a lot to cope up with all the difficulties. Most importantly, I ranked first in all the semesters during my M.Phil/PhD integrated course which helped me understand that my true potential is much higher than having a settled life in the early stage of my career. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

By the end of my MPhil, I got an offer from AurionPro Pvt. Ltd. as a Business Analyst. The job profile was quite interesting where I became an expert in SAS coding, forecasting, scoring with multiple econometric techniques. For instance, I analysed data of all default customers from an insurance firm to develop a score using logistic regression model to estimate likelihood of reinstating their due premiums (premium that must be paid to activate an insurance policy again after the coverage has ceased). Our model helped the client to cluster all customers into multiple categories based on their chance of reinstatement. This kind of model helps to prioritise available resources towards those customers who are more likely to reinstate premiums or restart monthly instalments in the near future.

With a few years of experience, I moved to Mzaya as Senior Business analyst to expand my knowledge in the field. Here we have developed and automated multiple models in SAS to detect fraudulent trading activities in the securities market. Besides, we used logistic regression, clustering and decision tree modelling techniques to understand existing data and expand existing client base for multiple firms.

However, I was feeling somewhat unsettled during that time, and was trying to identify long term goals of my life. Then, I quit my job and joined IGIDR to pursue a PhD in economics. During that time, I worked as research associate and teachers’ assistant for multiple professors and gained enormous interest in research in the fields of developmental economics, agriculture, general equilibrium modelling, and financial economics. 

During my PhD, I developed a Social Accounting Matrix for India and utilised Computable General Equilibrium Model to simulate multiple policy scenarios to examine how total public expenditure in multiple sectors can be reoriented in multiple sectors to achieve Sustainable Development Goals in India in a shorter span of time.

My sincerity and hard work paid off, and I could complete the entire analysis for my dissertation and prepare the first draft within three years. Then, I decided to take up a job as an Assistant Professor at the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, while preparing the final draft of my PhD thesis. 

In a span of one year, I got an offer from Ernst & Young (EY) as a consultant where I got opportunities to work in the government sector to provide consultations on public finance. We worked with multiple government bodies to understand their revenue and expenditure statements thoroughly across policy initiatives and sectors to guide them on additional resource management and rationalising expenditure in multiple sectors across policies to get optimal outcome in a shorter span of time.

After spending some time with EY, I took up a role as Economist with the country’s renowned bourse the National Stock Exchange that offered me a challenging role in expanded areas of interests. 

How did you get your first break?

I got my first job offer as a business analyst while I was doing Mphil at IGIDR through campus recruitment process.

What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: 

After my post-graduation, I was in a dilemma about choosing the best job option for my future. While I got two job offers post my MSc, I cracked the Mphil/PhD integrated entrance exams at one of the most prestigious institutes in India, IGIDR. Being passionate about research and exploring something new in life, I decided to pursue Mphil in economics at IGIDR. And, I moved to Mumbai alone to unfold the uncertain and most exciting phase of my life ahead. 

Challenge 2: 

The second challenge I faced was finalizing my long-term career goal. Thus far, I changed my profile almost three times to explore something new in my career. Even though the previous experiences were helpful in expanding my thinking process and gaining an understanding about banking, insurance and financial markets, I faced several challenges to learn something new all the time. However, my curious nature, ability to learn new skills and techniques helped me overcome all uncertainties and have a wonderful learning experience till now.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your work

Currently, I am working as an Economist at the National Stock Exchange where I’m working on macro and market research. In this profile, it’s important to have in depth knowledge about macroeconomics and financial economics. Moreover, it is crucial to have expertise in econometric modelling techniques and hands on experience in R, Python and other statistical software. We need to be experts on several databases like CMIE, Bloomberg, Refinitiv etc. Besides, we should be familiar with the latest global and Indian policy developments and have clear opinions about their possible impacts on the society and the economy as a whole. 

How does your work benefit society? 

We analyse and explain historical and current trends of several economic phenomena that helps to predict economic activities in the future. Further, we try to explore possible implications of recent policy changes on economic growth across sectors, activities and different income classes. We bring out insights analysing micro and macro datasets through reports that help both internal and external stakeholders including regulators and policymakers to take or withdraw certain policy decisions in the short- and medium-term. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

In this ever-changing world, we need to upgrade our skills and be familiar with new software and techniques. Recently, I have applied machine learning techniques in R to forecast several macro and micro indicators for our organisations. Being an expert in R and understanding new techniques like machine learning have been quite challenging and interesting for me.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I believe hard work and persistence are the most important criteria to become successful in your career. Besides, you should know what you really love doing. Until and unless you know your long-term objective, you should always keep looking for something new. In Steve Jobs’ words: “Keep looking, don’t settle”. 

Future Plans?

I would like to pursue my career as an Economist and to become an expert in the domain of macro research, financial economics, market research and corporate governance.