Impact of consumer lending on the financial crisis leads to insightful PhD and outstanding graduate award

19 May 2014 - 10:00

Sensitive to global and local dynamics‚ it is perhaps logical to assume that the latest PhD graduate from the Faculty of Commerce would tackle the financial crisis head on.

Dr Kanshukan Rajaratnam‚ who was this weekend awarded his doctorate in Systems and Information Engineering from the University of Virginia in the United States (a university with a Carnegie classification of very high research activity) has brought singular honour to his department (Finance and Tax) through simultaneously graduating and being awarded the Louis T. Rader Award for Outstanding Graduating Graduate student.

Expressing his congratulations‚ the Dean of Commerce‚ Prof Don Ross said: "The Commerce Faculty is very pleased with itself for having had the good sense and good fortune to have hired Kanshu a few years ago. He is among the most exciting and promising younger researchers in finance anywhere‚ and we’re delighted to be his institutional home. His skills‚ knowledge‚ energy and conscientiousness will benefit our students‚ his colleagues and the wider community for years to come. I warmly congratulate him on his new PhD and the accompanying award."

Dr Rajaratnam’s thesis was entitled Decision Models in Consumer Lending in the Context of Economic Uncertainty and he spoke about the relevance of the topic.

He said: "The financial crisis of the 2000s showed us the impact of consumer lending decisions on the financial markets. Improved lending decisions will result in positive impact on the financial system of a country. In this dissertation‚ we show methods to improve consumer lending decisions for a consumer loan portfolio manager. Business metrics such as expected profit is dependent on the economic conditions prevailing during account performance. However‚ a portfolio manager is required to make accept/reject decisions on loan applications before account performance and hence‚ before the economic scenario is revealed. We incorporate forecasts of future economic conditions into accept/reject and capitalization decisions at acquisition stage. The methods presented in this dissertation results in efficient lending decisions‚ and hence improves business objectives."

Dr Rajaratnam has a slew of academic awards preceding his latest accolade. His undergraduate work was undertaken at the University of KwaZulu–Natal‚ where he completed his BSc Eng in Chemical Engineering in 1998. He won the Sharon Predmore award for service to the department and Omega Rho Honors twice for outstanding scholarship‚ including his masters. He holds a Master of Science degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering specialising in Operations Research from the National University of Singapore (currently ranked 7th in the world by QS ranking for Statistics & Operations Research) where he studied the optimization of a distribution network using genetic algorithm.

He was a delegate at the INFORMS Future Academician Colloquium‚ a finalist in the University of Virginia Engineering Research Symposium‚ he won a National Research Foundation Prestigious and Equity Scholarship from 2006 to 2009‚ a fellowship for outstanding doctoral student and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology–ZLC Scholarship.

He attributes his success in the PhD to the excellent mentorship he has had at the University of Virginia from his advisor Peter Beling‚ as well as George Overstreet and Michael Smith. He plans to bring their passion and care for their students to his work at UCT. In his own words‚ "when I am stuck on a research question with a student‚ my first thought is what would Peter Beling do."

His work experience shows similar star quality. Currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Finance and Tax‚ he has twice won merit awards since joining UCT in 2011.

Not content with a purely academic career‚ he has also worked externally‚ notable at the Capital One Nedcor Alliance‚ Johannesburg‚ and Richmond‚ Virginia‚ USA as a risk analyst‚ responsible for risk and capital adequacy analysis for credit card products as well as developing profitability models to determine and ultimately increase profitability and cross–selling strategies for credit card products. He was also responsible for assisting to increase income through improved statistical models.

Prior to that‚ at Accenture in Johannesburg‚ he was a Process Analyst and developed a security system responsible for electronic file transfer as well as developing the print management functionality for an accounting tool.

Dr Rajaratnam is also an accomplished scholar and has 19 articles to his name with 12 further conference presentations. The latest‚ co–authored with his siblings‚ was published in the prestigious Journal of Banking and Finance and is cited as: Rajaratnam‚ M.‚ Rajaratnam‚ B. & Rajaratnam‚ K. A Novel Equity Valuation and Capital Allocation Model for use by Long–term Value–Investors. Journal of Banking and Finance. DOI: 10.1016/j.jbankfin.2014.02.014. This is the first A* rated paper in a finance–focused journal from his department at UCT.

Apart from his working and academic life‚ Dr Rajaratnam also has a heart for others. His curriculum vitae gives evidence of a service to academia‚ the university and the community. His service has included volunteering as mentor for an undergraduate student on probation‚ volunteering as a mathematics tutor to a transfer student (due to Hurricane Katrina) and volunteering at the University of Virginia Film Festival.

Currently he is working on streamlining and standardising the way transformation numbers are presented by departments at UCT. This joint work with Nikki Cavernelis‚ Jamie–Lee Swarts and Dr Ines Meyer was recently presented to the University Transformation Committee.

Story By : Carolyn McGibbon