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Breaking the ‘Finance Jinx’

Utpal Bhattacharya

Associate Professor of Finance

Utpal Bhattacharya

“Here, we keep the standards high. I’ve taught at a lot of schools, including Duke and MIT, and my best students at Indiana compare with their best students.”

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Utpal Bhattacharya has taught finance at a top university in a different country every summer since 1993—including France, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and the United States—but he’s noticed something special about Kelley’s finance department. “About 30 to 40 percent of the faculty members are women,” he says.

He believes that these female role models will attract more women to the program. “Finance is a great subject, and I want people, especially women, to consider it.”

According to a March 2008 Financial Planning article, women make up only a quarter of the financial services industry, and a 2006 study by Catalyst, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping women advance in business, found that only 16 percent of corporate officers in the finance and insurance industries are women. It’s Bhattacharya’s mission to break this “finance jinx,” starting with his five-year-old daughter. “We work on math problems together all the time.”

She couldn’t have a better teacher. Bhattacharya has taught in the finance department for 11 years and has been invited to present his research at more than 110 institutions in 21 countries. He has been nominated for the Trustee Teaching Award for four years in a row—2008, 2007, 2006, and 2005—and he won in 2005.

His research focus is primarily on earnings manipulation, insider trading, and overall dishonesty in the marketplace—the “dark side” of finance—an area that has grown increasingly important since Enron and similar scandals. He says he looks at the “dark side” because “though finance has caused great things and great value to society, there’s a flip side to it as well.”

Though he says that every university has its own strengths and weaknesses, Kelley is unique by having a friendly, open atmosphere that is still very rigorous. “Here, we keep the standards high,” he says. “The American education system is great for the people who want to take the initiative. I’ve taught at a lot of schools, including Duke and MIT, and my best students at Indiana compare with their best students.”

And breaking the “jinx” will ensure that these top finance students include women. “At the end of the day, it’s dollars and cents. And math is really not that difficult; you just have to get over the math phobia. So that’s my mission, starting with my daughter.”

In Brief

Why he became a finance professor: “The diplomatic answer is I wanted to give back to society, because I think I can explain things well. But the really honest answer is, I did my undergrad in engineering, and I was very good at math and modeling physical systems, and so I thought, ‘Why don’t I do finance? I can do the same thing, and make twice more money.’ Plus, if you’re a professor, you don’t have a boss. And that’s priceless.”

What he teaches: “At IU we teach four courses a year, and they’ve been very kind to me—I teach in the fall and do my research in spring. I teach three undergraduate courses and one PhD. I’ve also been very lucky with my PhD course; they let me teach an unconventional course. I teach graduate students how to critique other research papers and write refereed reports.”

Undergraduates versus graduate students: “I enjoy teaching them equally. Undergraduates are fresh, and I feel like I can inspire them. The PhD students think they know everything, and then my objective is to tell them they don’t know anything. The more you know, the more you realize how little you know.”

Published April 14, 2011