Instructor Insights

Writing a Chief Executive Memo

In this section, Prof. Gensler explains why one of the assignments in 15.S08 FinTech: Shaping the Financial World asks students to collaborate in writing a memo to a CEO of a major corporation.

The final assignment for the course is to write a memo to a chief executive officer. I say, “Pick whether you want to write about the provision of credit cards, the provision of automobile insurance, or the provision of mortgages. You have to write a CEO recommendation memo with a clearly stated recommendation.” They can choose whether to write to Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Brian Moynihan who runs Bank of America, or Marc Andreessen who runs the big venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and has a lot of investments in financial technology. Students get to pick whether they want to think as a big tech firm, an incumbent, or a venture capitalist.

A little over half the students pick Amazon. They’re fascinated with writing to Jeff Bezos on how Amazon can provide better, more financial products like Alibaba is doing in China and like equivalent companies are doing in India and elsewhere. Another 30% or 40% of the students decide to write to Andreessen Horowitz to suggest a new venture capital investment strategy. Only about 10% write to Bank of America. And I have to tell you, some of those memos are the best. They really think through what this new technology means for big incumbent finance. They’re all really interesting memos to read, and the students engage.

"There’s tremendous benefit to giving students a real life thing to address."
— Prof. Gary Gensler

There’s tremendous benefit to giving students a real life thing to address. And the students rise to the occasion. They really think about what is going on with machine learning. What’s going on in the insurance field? What’s going on in China, or in Kenya or India, that might be applicable to the US? Or what’s going on in the US that we can transport out to Brazil?

And some students will say, “Can I write it to somebody in Brazil instead?” I always say yes. This year one group wrote a great memo to the CEO of Tencent, the big technology network in China. It was one of the best memos this group of students put together. I would say to other educators, trust the students. If you give them an open-ended prompt like this, a big majority will rise to the occasion.

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