My schedule is already packed as a Division I athlete on the Penn swim team. Despite my time constraints, joining the Student Federal Credit Union (SFCU) this past semester was one of the best decisions of my life. The SFCU has opened my eyes to the financial services industry and offered me opportunities and a finance education that I could not have received elsewhere.
When I joined SFCU during the second semester of my freshman year, I had no idea what I wanted to concentrate in at Wharton; however, as one of the five SFCU summer managers (along with rising College juniors Michael Gu and Esther Sham, and rising Wharton juniors William Kline and Christopher Lu), I have already gained so much firsthand experience in the financial services industry that could not have obtained at any other summer internship. Other internships do not offer as much freedom and autonomy as does serving as summer manager of marketing. Being a summer manager allows me to innovate and implement my own projects to further develop and make contributions to SFCU. In this way, the credit union is far more than just your typical Penn student club.
“Most clubs on campus tend to focus on one thing, whether that be marketing, finance or consulting, but given that SFCU is a full-service financial institution, it inherently included all these different functions,” Akshay Almelkar W15 told me about his own experience. He served as the previous chairman of the SFCU board of directors and is currently working at Boston Consulting Group.
For me, not only is working at SFCU a great finance education, but it also brought me into tight-knit community. These relationships are especially fostered by our mentor-mentee program, through which the credit union’s HR department pairs an upperclassman with an incoming teller. Immediately after I joined SFCU, my mentor reached out to me and was extremely warm and welcoming; he helped me understand how SFCU operates, gave me important interviewing tips and even helped me with my classes.
Akshay profited from the informal mentor-mentee relationship as well.
“Being able to chat with upperclassmen in a casual setting allowed me to ask a lot of questions that I was often hesitant to ask at firms’ information sessions. For example, I was able to talk to my mentor about controversial issues like JPMorgan’s London Whale scandal and how that would affect the firm’s reputation as well as its ability to close on deals,” he said.
In addition to helping him discover his interests, SFCU also acted as a tremendous resource during Akshay’s recruiting and interviewing process, as he explained to me. He was able to better understand the companies he was applying through those conversations with his mentor. He also gained hands-on knowledge in the areas he hoped to pursue.
“I distinctly remember an instance when an interviewer gave me a case question about a company that sold credit card terminals—the machines that you swipe your credit cards through during a store transaction,” Akshay said. “Having worked at SFCU, I not only knew what these machines were but also understood their significance in the larger, more intricate financial system, which definitely made the case solving a lot easier.”
Specific knowledge about credit card terminals proved helpful, but the credit union fosters a broader ability to solve problems for all of its leaders and employees. As Akshay pointed out, the SFCU is structured into multiple divisions, and employees must always consider how one division’s actions might affect the other divisions.
“As a (future) consultant, one of the skills that I often hear higher-ups emphasize is the ability to look at a problem and evaluate how it fits in within the context of the overall organization—how might a problem with stringent loan requirements, for instance, affect the performance of the sales team and the entire marketing division,” Akshay said.
At Wharton, success is not only a goal but also a necessity. However, the success of Wharton students does not necessarily come from taking difficult classes with a harsh curve but from experiences outside of school. The Student Federal Credit Union, the first and only student-run credit union in the Ivy League, provides those experiences.
Editor’s note: Read more about the Wharton undergrads who work at the Student Federal Credit Union and the out-of-the-classroom finance education it provides in our blog, “Uncovering the History of a Wharton MBA-Inspired Bank.”