June 2021 | 

The Securities Industry Institute Program Goes Virtual

The Securities Industry Institute Program Goes Virtual

It was a hot summer night on Wharton’s campus in 1951. Members of the Investment Bankers Association, who had come for the inaugural running of the Securities Industry Institute® program (SII), finally had enough of the heat and mosquitoes in their dorm rooms and dragged their mattresses outside in search of a cool breeze. The week of personal and professional development, sleeping conditions aside, was a success — and has continued nearly every year since (although the IBA eventually became the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or SIFMA, and participants now stay in a hotel steps from the campus).

In 2020, SII  was just days away from its first sessions, with many participants en route to Philadelphia, when the campus closed due to the pandemic. Although the program had to be canceled, faculty and staff regrouped quickly. “We met the challenges presented by COVID-19,” says Kenneth E. Bentsen, Jr., president and CEO of SIFMA, “by offering an entirely new virtual program created by the dedicated SIFMA staff, the SII Board of Trustees, and our partners at Wharton. With creative solutions, innovative technology, and meticulous planning, SII 2021 kicked off on January 25 with more than 220 virtual and highly interactive educational offerings to over 750 students.”

Christopher Alpaugh, a senior vice president at Fidelity, attended for his first year. “SII created an effective virtual experience and did an outstanding job allowing flexibility while fulfilling each level’s expectations. I especially appreciate the collaborative and interactive approach facilitated by breakout groups and workshops. SII didn’t miss a beat in managing this program while not having us live in Philly.”

Bridging the Theory-Practice Gap

SII, the longest-running partnership between an academic institution and industry association in the world, represents SIFMA’s deep commitment to education and Wharton’s focus on both the theory and practice of finance. Professor Jeremy Siegel, who directs the program, says SII is “revolutionary” because it is built on “mutual respect and interaction. That’s also true of finance in general, which is one of the youngest fields in academia. From the very beginning, practitioners have helped guide our research, and the principles of our work on subjects such as diversification, for example, dominated the advice being given by the financial industry. Finance is not, and never has been, just ivory tower. In SII, the link is direct. Practitioners come to us with issues and concerns, and we respond to them. That’s one of the reasons for the great success and longevity of the program.”

That strong link between theory and practice means program content evolves to meet the current needs and address the most pressing issues of the financial services professionals who attend. Peter Conti-Brown teaches sessions on ethics, a topic he says can be challenging in the classroom. “It can’t be reduced to sound bites, and people are not receptive to being told what they already know is good, right, and true.” The professor of legal studies and business ethics redesigned the curriculum, and notes that “even the most cynical participants, who don’t see the value in spending time learning about ethics or compliance, leave the conversation knowing there is exciting and engaging work to do in their firm’s culture. Done right, ethics takes its place right next to strategy, finance, accounting, and other approaches to business decision making.”

Conti-Brown continues, “Teaching one session each year over three years requires me to get into the content very quickly. It is a fast-moving journey. Students think, discuss, and articulate their own values quickly, and that is especially true when we engage in the ethics around diversity. Over the last two years it has become a more significant part of the curriculum, and it will be for a very long time to come.”

Diversity and inclusion was also the subject of a session led by the dean of the Wharton School, Erika James, mentioned by many participants as a highlight of the program. “As the longest-standing collaboration with Wharton Executive Education, it is befitting that the SII program address one of the longest-standing challenges in the finance industry, creating a more diverse and inclusive environment that attracts and supports women and minorities,” she says. “Learning how to recognize bias and understanding the impact of bias on the individuals and organizations that comprise the sector is an important first step and I’m thrilled that the Wharton School is taking an active stance in this work.”

Challenge Met

Kenneth Bentsen, SIFMA CEO, continues, “For 69 years SIFMA has partnered with the Wharton School to offer the Securities Industry Institute®, which brings together a core group of our industry’s best and brightest leaders for interactive, in-person learning with Wharton professors. I am proud of the work SIFMA and our partners accomplished to successfully execute this year’s SII program and of the outstanding feedback from participants. We look forward to seeing SII students back in Philadelphia on the Wharton campus in 2022.”