The Journey from Sport to Finance: Swiss National Olympic Épée Fencer, Peer Borsky

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Peer Borsky talks about his transition to finance and making tough decisions around sport vs career.

 

Peer started fencing at age 6. Training 3-4 times a week by the time he was 9. Competed at the Rio Olympics and is now 6 months into his new London hedge fund credit analyst role…loving the challenge.

 

How did you get started in fencing?

My mom fences as well and when I was little I always wanted to join. So, my parents said you can start when you’re 6. I started right away and very soon I was entering competitions. I was pretty good as a kid already. I won a few competitions and obviously if you win you start to enjoy it more. It became more serious and I started training 3 or 4 times a week when I was 9 years old already. I really liked the whole competition thing and comparing myself to others. The winning is what I think really motivated me to go to training so much and stick with it as I got older.

 

Tell us about your road to the Rio Olympics in 2016…

When I was 16 I joined the Swiss national team at the junior level and it was amazing to go to the Junior World Cup for the first time. It went quite well: in my last year as a junior, I qualified for the Junior World Championships with the Swiss team where we came in third in the team events. This was a pretty big thing – I think there was only one Swiss team before us a few years ago that got a medal actually. After that, when I was 19, I started full-time at the professional level. I’d done a few professional world cups before – usually the juniors get the opportunities to get used to the level but then when I was 19 I already started doing all the world cups on a senior level and then in the end of 2013 – when I was 23 – I made it into the ‘proper’ first national team and started doing the competitions.

We were awarded the bronze medal in the 2014 World Championship which was the second time we got a team medal in 10 years. We also became European champions for the second time in a row in 2014. I got to join a pretty cool team with a pretty good teacher and we continued to work hard and do well at competitions. We came in third in the European Championships and World Championships in 2015 which was a very big step towards the qualification for the Olympics in Rio because those events give loads of points and then in February 2016 we made sure that we got a spot at the Olympics. So this is how I ended up in Rio.

We unfortunately didn’t get a medal in Rio, which was a big disappointment. Looking back, a year later, I am not entirely happy but I’m also not sad about the sixth place in Rio. I mean that experience was amazing and just the fact that I got to do this is incredible.

So at this point you decided to put your studies aside?

No, but I did take a bit more than five years to finish my undergrad instead of the three years. So, I said to myself I really need to be done with studying. And the best option for me was to go to the UK and do my masters there because it only takes one year instead of two. This was basically me gaining a year and I still competed in every world cup last year- in every season- but obviously it’s a lot harder to do everything in one year instead of 2.

At this point I still wanted to go to competitions but I had to work way more in between the competitions so I couldn’t go practice every day anymore and a lot of things were taking up my time. I believed for this year studying was more important and now I have to work. There is not a lot of money in fencing in Switzerland so I have to work and try to do as much fencing as possible.

 

So is it the end for top level competitive fencing for you?

I actually did go to another World Cup in Geneva a few weeks ago but it was like a B division World Cup. I really liked it. I decided to not do the first of the three World Cups of the season and just really focus on getting up to speed again and going to practice a bit more. I train 3-5 times a week now. Three times being the bare minimum but I really go for five times just see if I can get to a good level again then I’d like to start competing again at the end of this year or beginning of next year if it’s possible with work and everything.

 

Tell us about the new position at the Hedge Fund…

Yeah it’s amazing, I’m really happy I got the job, I work as a credit analyst in a hedge fund based in Knightsbridge. I’m really surprised coming to London how competitive and how hard the financial sector here is. It’s competitive in Switzerland as well but if you want to find a good graduate programme with a respected investment banker in London you’re one of hundreds of applicants. It’s so competitive and starting off in a hedge fund is really amazing for me – I never thought I’d have this opportunity.

Tell us about your average day as a Credit Analyst…

It really depends on the day; mainly it’s company analysis, looking at the credit side and ranges from normal company analysis, financial modelling, the legal stuff, talking to other analysts, talking to the company itself like gathering and processing information, which basically is what the whole banking sector is doing. I am always trying to find an edge and get a bit of an advantage compared to the others.

 

Did your studies help you with the type of work you do now?

It gave me a good basis to have a basic understanding of how financing works, how it’s linked to macroeconomics and things like that, but the in job I’m learning so much new stuff every day. So many specific things that are just too much detail to teach everyone in university. I think it prepared me well but what I’m actually doing I’m learning a lot from scratch now on the job.

 

And has your fencing career helped you so far on the job?

Yeah, I think sports in general, not just fencing, is something extremely valuable for your professional life. It teaches you hard work, dedication, time management, functioning under stress and stuff like this is really important especially in entry level roles.

You try to be the best and in the investment industry this is what it comes down to – if you’re not better than the others then why will people give you their money to manage. In this kind of industry it’s really super important to not be over-competitive but still you have to prove yourself and you have to demonstrate that you can be better than others. So I think this is just something that you really pick-up through sports as well.

 

What has the highlight of the job been so far?

That’s a difficult one as I only started 6 weeks ago. To me the highlight has been that I actually get to do things – it’s not just like somebody dropping some spread sheets and saying, “Go through this.” I get some responsibility and they tell me, “Have a look at this company and then once you’re done do whatever it is that you need to know; find it out and then we sit together and we exchange views.”

 

Any downsides so far?

Everything’s been going pretty well. Obviously working is not the same as university anymore – I don’t have the freedom to just skip classes to go fencing or just to relax. This is probably the main difference and probably the thing that I’ve not struggled with, but I’ve realised that changes the most.

 

And how have your new colleagues taken to the news that you’re also an athlete?

They actually value the whole experience I’ve gained through fencing. I was quite surprised because obviously I applied to other companies but it never seemed to make a difference.  Here, though, it’s different. In my interview they asked me specific questions about fencing – exactly what I did – the skills, what I learnt. This is really cool that they valued this and I never thought it would have helped me this much. The industry always says they want diversity, but form my personal experience I didn’t think people really put great value on that but here I really think that it’s something that they value a lot and that’s super cool.

 

Would you do anything differently?

I don’t think so. First of all, I am extremely lucky to have this amazing job opportunity. If I didn’t have this now maybe my answer would be different but I really think everything’s gone perfectly. That moment when you walk into the stadium at the opening ceremony at the Olympics is something so few people can experience in their lives. Having something like this in your life is amazing and I would never give it up.

If it hadn’t ended this way then maybe there would have been some points I might have regretted; not giving more to my professional career and not doing summer internships because I had competitions. This crossed my mind throughout the year when other people were getting jobs around me. It was quite hard. But in the end I got an amazing job. I wouldn’t change anything.

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