Wall Street/Fintech Project Center illustration

Tackling FinTech Projects on Wall Street—and Everywhere Else

While the majority of WPI’s 50+ project centers around the world offer students a place to complete their Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) work, there are several others that focus exclusively on the Major Qualifying Project (MQP) that students fulfill during their senior year.

A portmanteau of “financial technology,” FinTech is a term used to describe new technology that improves the delivery and use of financial services for companies, business owners, and consumers. At first glance, it may seem as though FinTech’s home should land primarily on Wall Street, but, really, it’s applicable anywhere and everywhere.

“I like to say that FinTech is FinLife,” says project center director Robert Sarnie, a professor of practice in The Business School who joined WPI after 23 years at Fidelity Investments. “It’s in all areas and all companies to make finance frictionless. It’s naturally interdisciplinary. It’s not just about a balance sheet and income statement; that’s just the tip of an iceberg that’s growing fast.”

A growing iceberg is an apt comparison—when Sarnie first took over the reins of the project center in 2019, it hosted nine students doing project work for three sponsors. Now he and Associate Teaching Professor in Computer Science Wilson Wong and Professor of Teaching in Mathematical Sciences Marcel Blais (both of whom also serve as advisors for computer science- and financial mathematics-centered projects at the project center, respectively) collaborate with 11 sponsors and host nearly 40 students in completing their MQP work. The project center also works regularly with the Mass FinTech Hub to curate and grow a robust FinTech network in Massachusetts.

The project center is run like a consulting company to deliver what the sponsor has in mind, everything from building an app and analyzing a customer base, to developing tracker systems and utilizing cloud computing. Sponsors are just as varied as the projects students work on, and include the likes of State Street, Fidelity, Citizens, Fintech start-ups, WPI FAB Lab for Social Good, and even the Worcester Red Sox.

“This whole experience can help [the students] find jobs, get them pumped up, get them connected with what’s going on in the industry,” Sarnie explains. “It’s all about getting the students where they want to go.”

This whole experience can help [the students] find jobs, get them pumped up, get them connected with what’s going on in the industry.

Robert Sarnie

That sentiment is part of why Renee Sawka ’23 chose to complete her MQP at the Wall Street/FinTech Project Center. “I really valued the connection that the project center would create for me at top financial institutions,” she says. Sawka and her team worked with State Street to develop a scalable automated testing framework that would provide constant feedback on the resilience of State Street’s applications and services. Her favorite part of an especially busy term came at the team’s final presentation, where the project sponsors and several others gathered to hear their findings.

“It was really nice to see them take so much interest in the work we had completed as well as future possibilities for it,” she recalls. “I think that this experience was really rewarding, not only in the technical challenges we were able to tackle, but also the professional development that it offered us.”

Austin Zhou ’23 agrees. While working to develop an automated error tracking system for Fidelity’s assets and flows database, he and his teammates learned the ins and outs of navigating and communicating in financial services corporations, a prime example of the contributions and networking opportunities he’d hoped to achieve through his MQP experience. “There were times when our direct sponsor didn’t have an answer for our questions, so we would reach out to other associates for advice … my biggest takeaway was to be proactive about finding the right people,” he explains. “Reaching out for help saved us a lot of time that we spent on working to fix the problem.”

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