Episode 37

Inside IBKR’s Internship Program – Keys to a Successful Career (Part 1)

By:

Senior Market Analyst at Interactive Brokers

IBKR’s resources are key to maintaining the success of its business, and its internship program is one critical path towards identifying and recruiting the best candidates. Join us for the first installment of this two-part podcast series, as IBKR’s human resources and data management leaders provide their insights into the 2022 summer internship program, its record turnout, the recruitment process, the company’s culture, and much more! This is a must-listen for anyone seeking an internship or applying to work at IBKR.

Listen to Part 2 here.

Summary – IBKR Podcasts Ep. 37

The following is a summary of a live audio recording and may contain errors in spelling or grammar. Although IBKR has edited for clarity no material changes have been made.

Steven Levine

Hello, and welcome to IBKR Podcasts.  I’m Steven Levine, senior market analyst at Interactive Brokers, and your host for today’s program. We’ll be speaking with members from IBKR’s human resources department: director Michael Kerrigan, and HR generalist Irina Yakovleva – we’ll also be hearing from our Chief Data Officer Ilya Degter – about their insights into our company’s summer internship initiative for 2022. But that’s not all – we also have three interns here with us today – Danielle Vetere, Mira Lukazik, and Amol Gharpure – to give us a first-hand account of their experience.

Now, we’ll be bringing in those interns in just a few minutes, but first, I want to find out more about this year’s internship program – because, as I understand it, this is the largest we’ve … probably ever had …. Is that right, Michael? Let’s start with you.

Well, first of all, welcome! It’s great having you here, thank you for taking the time!

Michael Kerrigan

Thank you, Steve. I really appreciate it. I’m looking forward to it.

Steven Levine

Absolutely. Very excited to have you here. I actually want to thank everyone here – Irina, Ilya, thank you so much!

Irina Yakovleva

Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Ilya Degter

Hey, Steven, good to be with you today.

Steven Levine

So glad you’re here. Thanks so much for taking the time!

Ilya Degter

Absolutely, my pleasure.

Steven Levine

That’s great, thank you!

So, Michael, am I right in saying that – that this is the largest pool of interns we’ve ever had? I don’t know. I mean, how many are in this year’s pool?

Michael Kerrigan

They are 39 interns.

Steven Levine

39. Would you say this is….? Is that average?

Michael Kerrigan

This is by far the largest intern group.

Steven Levine

And how long has the program been in place? I know we’ve had some interns kind of come in … maybe they were family members or something, but when was the start of the formal program? When did it officially launch?

Michael Kerrigan

So yeah, the internship program started before me. Was it very formalized? No. It was basically individuals had a nephew or had a friend or someone that wanted to come learn at IBKR and wanted to learn about the business, and they brought them in as an intern. And it was really more of temp help than internship. Now, in 2018, we formalized an internship. We came up with a recruiting process. We came up with a selection process. We came up with the number of recruits we want. We looked specifically mostly at programmers, but we did expand it to non-programmers. And we brought them in really just because we had the senior leadership, we had managers, we had employees who’ve been here for a long time, and we were looking for a younger talent.

Steven Levine

And the number of interns interested in joining our program has increased over the years to where it Is now, or…?And have we had much success hiring from the pools we’ve had, or how has that worked exactly?

Michael Kerrigan

Well, you know, obviously Covid kind of dramatically reduced the last two years. The first year I think we had about 27. So, since 2018 … since we had the official program … we’ve probably had close to, and I’m only speaking to the U.S., probably close to 90 interns, and we’ve probably hired 10.   

Steven Levine

Ok.

Michael Kerrigan

Yeah. So, those were interns that graduated the year after they started our intern[ship program]. So, they were more of like juniors … seniors … and ready to leave and go into the workforce. We do have interns now that are going from their freshman year into their sophomore year, so, we may like them, but obviously they have three years before they finish and get their degree. We may not look at them again. I guess you’re looking at probably around 10% of the people that go through our internship program that we’re hiring.

Steven Levine

And how would you compare the size of our program with others in the financial services industry?  

Michael Kerrigan

I would say it’s probably about average in the industry.  I don’t think it’s too high. I don’t think it’s too low either. I think it’s probably the norm. You do have intern programs that probably have [a] successful [hiring rate of] 50%, but they’ve been well established. They’ve had restrictions where they only have interns that are going into their senior year. So, they know they only have to wait six, seven, eight months before they’re out, and they get job offers straight away. So, they tend to have a higher percentage of hiring groups, but since we don’t narrow it down to that age group, we probably have a lower internship percentage. 

Steven Levine

I see. I see. So, when we talk about Interactive Brokers being in the financial services industry. Yes, we operate in that space … and Michael, you mentioned that we were looking more specifically at programmers, because the company really is first and foremost a technology company that operates in the financial sector.  If you look at the history of the firm, it’s clear that its success was built on technological innovations – which we’re continuing that to this day, and for that, I’d like to get Ilya’s insights – our Chief Data Officer – and then, I’d like to address with Irina – those “non-programmers” that Michael also said we expanded the internship program to. And I understand she has an intern, Danielle, who we’ll be speaking with a bit later, in the ESG space – that’s environmental, social, and governance, and we have a lot of focus there with our Impact app, for example – it’s another example of innovation at the company.

But, Ilya … well, first, since I mentioned the history of the company, I know you’ve been here for some time … maybe we can start a bit with your background – maybe you can share something about your role…. Exactly how long have you been with Interactive Brokers?

Ilya Degter

Absolutely. So, I’m a software engineer by trade, as are many of the employees at Interactive Brokers. And we’re going to talk about it a little bit more. I’ve started with interactive in 1998, so I’m closing-in on my 25th anniversary with the company.

Steven Levine

Well, congratulations! 1998. Wow.

Ilya Degter

That’s right, it’s been. It’s been a long time. It’s been really a dream come true. I mean, honestly, I don’t believe that I’ve been here for 25 years – and part of it is that the job is interesting. It’s challenging. The company doesn’t stand still, and we’re really constantly pursuing something else on the technology front, and that’s really the most interesting part for me. In terms of my work as a data officer, at some point, the organization as an enterprise has to get into a certain position in terms of managing its data, controlling access to data … and so there are a lot of these components that are outside of the software development, if you will, but has to do with the overall enterprise data management.

Steven Levine

But 25 years. I mean, that’s really great. Would you say that’s something of an anomaly here? Or…what would you say, it’s average, or, from your experience, is it sort of…normal…tenure? What would you say, do we have high turnover, low turnover….?

Ilya Degter

Well, you’d be surprised to learn that a lot of employees that I know that work around me in my office or different offices – they’ve been here for 10, 15, 20 years. In my group alone, I easily have probably 15 people who’ve been with the department for at least 10 years.

Steven Levine

For at least 10 years?

Ilya Degter

Yes.

Steven Levine

Well, that’s something I’m sure that’s attractive for those interns in terms of their interest in maybe joining the company. But why would you say people stay? And that’s a fairly long tenure, right, 10, 15, 20 years?

Ilya Degter

So, the turnover is generally very low, and I think part of the reason for this is the fact that people feel really engaged, and they see the results of their work, and I think that sort of satisfaction of what you do each day, every day, pays off.

Steven Levine

So, I brought up interactive Brokers as being a company that really is a technology company – operating in – providing and creating products and services – for trading and investing purposes – in the financial services sector. And, yes, this is the reason … I would like to say the primary reason why, as Michael said earlier … we were mostly specifically looking at programmers as interns before opening it up, more recently…. But, Ilya, in your view, what has been behind the company’s success – what is really behind IBKR’s ongoing competitiveness in the broker industry? How would you say it maintains its success these days?    

Ilya Degter

Well, it’s a great question, Steven. I think it goes back to the roots of the company. As our founder, Thomas Peterffy, likes to say: We’re a technology company that happens to be in finance. So, what does that mean? That means that we look at every problem and every opportunity as a software development project. So, we look at this and say: Can we write software to automate this particular function? And why is this important? It’s important because computers don’t get tired. And we can do a lot of interesting things, and we can service many, many clients if we can write the software to support this idea. And this is what the company has been doing.

The history of the company is such that, from the very beginning, implementing trading algorithms was really how the company got started. And so, then, we took it really to the next level. In other words, it’s not just the trading algorithms, it’s everything that the company does – from the client onboarding to customer service to back office reconciliation. All of these functions are supported by the software that we produce, because that’s the only way to minimize the costs. And that kind of then goes to the next step in our evolution. We can offer our services at a lower cost because of our highest levels of automation. So. that’s really the differentiating factor here in my view.

Steven Levine

I see. So, our automation is far superior, or superior, to competitors in the way that we can make all sorts of transactions, or all sorts of processes, automated, and make them faster, and hence lower the costs? is that…? Am I putting that right?

Ilya Degter

Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s not just making things faster, it’s also accommodating the growth of the business, right? Because it’s easier to write the software and buy more computers than hire more people. And, also, over the years, obviously, we’ve produced a lot of software that supports certain standard functionality. So, for example, we know how to connect to an exchange and place orders, and now that we’ve connected to 130 markets worldwide, we can connect to another marketplace very quickly in a matter of days or weeks. It doesn’t take us a month or several months to develop something because we already have these building blocks. But, in general, the automation is what drives the efficiency of our business. We want to maintain that edge by constantly looking into what are the parts of the business that still require manual handling and make sure that we can fully automate those avenues.

Steven Levine

Yes, yes. And interns – if we take a closer look at what the interns involved in software engineering, say, are doing…. It’s not just sort of ‘temp help’ – I think Michael said something to that effect earlier.… We’re not offering an internship that’s like ‘temp help’. These interns now are really getting their hands on projects, right? We have an intern … we’re also going to talk to a bit later – Amol – he’s interning in this space … the software engineering area here. We’ll hear from him, but how would you describe, or maybe pitch, what it might be like to intern in your department? How would you sell that?

Ilya Degter

I would compare it to buying a car online, or test-driving the car, right? When the interns get in, they’re really driving the car, right? They know exactly how it feels, how the car behaves on the road. So, they see this from the inside. And one thing that I didn’t mention, but you know of course, some percentage of these interns, when they graduate, they come back, and they become new hires.

Steven Levine

Yes, I’d like to explore that more. I think Michael said about 10% get hired, on average. So, what, In your view, what characteristics or traits would you look for in someone? For hiring consideration.

Ilya Degter

Well, I think that. Being a hard worker – not even a quick learner, because there are certain things that you can’t learn quickly – but somebody who is willing to learn and willing to work hard. Those are probably the two main kind of ingredients of an Interactive Brokers’ employee, right? It may be an interesting thing that you don’t know – that unlike a lot of financial firms, we have never really specifically concentrated on hiring people with a financial background, right? Because we kind of had this vision that somebody who is smart, somebody who is willing to work hard, and who is willing to learn, is going to learn what they need to learn. We don’t need somebody … of course, if they have a financial background, great. It’s a plus. But we never had this requirement, because otherwise, how does somebody who has never worked for a financial company start out? If every financial company requires the previous background, right?

Steven Levine

Yes, yes, all your personal finances. You have a certain budget, I suppose, or maybe your parents’ budget at a certain age, but you have some money to work with, and I suppose that’s all your experience.

Ilya Degter

That’s correct, because once you get in here, and especially in the IT [information technology], and specifically software development and software engineering … in order to make the software as smart as the humans are, to a certain extent, and to achieve the automation, the engineers, who are in charge of designing and developing that software … they have to have a very deep understanding of the market intricacies.

Steven Levine

All the inputs that go into those algorithms….

Ilya Degter

That’s correct. And, so, I would argue that a lot of engineers that have been here for 10, 15, 20 years, they probably understand the markets better than some of the quote-unquote ‘financial professionals,’ because they really know this inside and out. No disrespect, obviously, intended here, but because we really work with the data and the inputs, as you pointed out, and we have to understand, and have a perfect understanding, of how each specific exchange or market or any other, you know … clearinghouse … operates in order to write software that can communicate with it. 

Steven Levine

Yes, it really is fascinating to see it from that perspective.

So, now, let’s turn back to HR … and our generalist Irina Yakovleva. Thank you for being so patient, Irina, and we’re excited to have you with us!

Irina Yakovleva

Yeah, I’m very excited to be here.

Steven Levine

Great having you here. Great having you here. So, Irina, our resources here at Interactive Brokers are critical, right? You could say that they really drive the success here – much in the way Ilya was describing how interns are sort of behind the wheel of a car, right? They’re driving … or they’re in the driver’s seat. But this really applies whether the intern, or employee, is in programming or some other area – we have another intern we’ll be talking to shortly, Mira … Mira Lukazik … she does her internship in the legal area. But this all goes to IBKR’s culture, right? I mean, this summer internship program really introduces interns to the culture here at IBKR. And I understand you’re mentoring or supervising an intern in the ESG area? I guess cross-over responsibilities with HR? How does that work?

Irina Yakovleva

So, the intern that I’m working with … she’s a hybrid intern between ESG and human resources, and the reason for that is because we really have a lot of common goals and initiatives. So, more specific, one of the goals that she’s working on is our gender equality.

Steven Levine

Okay.

Irina Yakovleva

So that is an important factor of the ’S’ in ESG.

Steven Levine

The social part of it…?

Irina Yakovleva

Yes. Correct. And it also, of course, it impacts the human resources department as well. So, we are always looking to make sure that we’re providing the needed support for women and allies to develop themselves to succeed … to excel in our company. And we always want to stay competitive and provide those opportunities. 

Steven Levine

Yeah, now that speaks to the competitiveness too, I suppose, right? At least as far as that factor…but, I guess more specifically, can you explain how … How does ESG actually contribute to the company’s success? I mean, maybe you could provide some details into the project Danielle is working on – your intern, the intern you’re mentoring – that might help listeners understand how that helps the company remain competitive?

Irina Yakovleva

Yes, sure, so go back to your first question of how ESG is impacting the company success. I mean, the most obvious one is our new Impact app. So, it brings diversity to our trading platform. The Impact app gives a chance to invest based on your social, environmental values. So, it’s really value investing, which is important to a lot of individuals, and especially to the millennial generation. So, in going back to how IB [Interactive Brokers] stays competitive, it’s always looking forward. It’s looking at the trends in the industry, and we want to provide people the options and opportunities to invest in these markets.

Steven Levine

Yes, yes. I see. And Danielle’s working on something to do with the Impact app?

Irina Yakovleva

Yes, so she is working on several projects relating to the Impact app. We want to look within ourselves as well, so one of the values you can choose on the impact app is gender equality. And the things that are considered within that rating system is the representation of employee population for that company. How many women are in leadership in that company? So, in providing these resources, we also want to look at ourselves and try to improve our own score.

Steven Levine

Sure.

Irina Yakovleva

So, one of the projects that she’s working on is aggregating our database to see where our women are, and where we can improve, and how we stack up against our competitors. And she’s looking into different tools and measuring tactics such as the Bloomberg [Gender-Equality] GEI index.

Steven Levine

And two women have just joined IBKR’s board, no? And they were introduced very recently to the entire company, and….

Irina Yakovleva

Yes, Jill Bright and Nicole Yuen. So, they were fantastic, and it was really great to see their insight and we had great attendance, so there’s definitely an appetite for employees to connect … to learn from their leadership … to get to know the strategic direction from the company….

Steven Levine

So, this is one example, I suppose, of strengthening – not only our diversity in the company, but also communicating that we …. are representative of it, that we’re not just talking, but demonstrating…. So, how else are we doing this? I’m assuming you and Danielle are looking at other measures within the organization?

Irina Yakovleva

So, we’re not just saying that we support gender equality. We’re looking at our benefits. We’re looking at our family leave. We’re looking at our demographics to make sure that we can say that with confidence and that we can truly say that we’re doing everything that we can as a company to promote gender equality in the broker industry … in the finance industry, and the tech industry …  and be a leader in that.

Steven Levine

That’s really great. And more hands-on experience for the intern, right? Okay, so, before we bring them in, maybe could you just give us some insights into what you might be looking for in an intern, in terms of qualities, as a candidate for hire? I’m sure that would also be very helpful for those listening and wanting some insights into our internship and hiring process….

Irina Yakovleva

Yes, so, what I look for is the ability to drive initiatives … to come up with ideas … to figure out better ways to do certain things, and really take the autonomy to do it, and to be very driven in that. And things that we are doing with improving our human capital, and improving gender equality – I think you need to have some passion about it. You need to care. And I think that will drive you to achieve what we are striving for.

Steven Levine

So, there is a crossover in terms of that personal interest that bleeds into the professional execution of that interest in this project. Somebody who has an interest in it that can drive that passion forward in the project.

Irina Yakovleva

Absolutely.

 Steven Levine

Awesome. And is there anything else that you think in today’s environment is important for somebody to possess if they want to step into this culture and be a part of either the ESG or human resources group?

Irina Yakovleva

I think the desire to learn – I’d never thought I was going to do a podcast – being open to different things. And IB provides these opportunities. You’re not going to be going to work and doing the same job every single day. Your responsibilities will change. You will need to wear different hats. And if you’re looking for something, where you have great opportunities, and you’re open to it, and you say ‘yes,’ then I think it’s a great company to be.

Steven Levine

That’s really great! Really great! Thank you so much, Irina. And thanks so much to everyone for taking the time to do this. This is a lot of great information for, I think, anyone interested in who we are, what our culture’s like, what we’re about — what it means to join our internship program … I mean, there’s no replacement really for getting some direct, hands-on experience, and that’s really what it seems they get … and they get to lead it … drive it.… I mean, that’s really terrific!

Also, for our listeners out there, for those of you looking for more trading education – visit IBKR Campus at ibkr.com. You’ll get a wealth of material. We also have other podcasts that delve into a broad range of topics – from market commentary, to macroeconomics, monetary policy, a diverse array of trading products, including options, bonds, cryptocurrencies, stocks, ETFs, futures, and more, along with other engaging conversations about the company, including from our founder [and chair] Thomas Peterffy. All our IBKR Podcasts are available at tradersinsight.news.

You can also listen to our episodes on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, as well as other popular streaming audio channels – but also stay tuned, and look out for, the next edition of this series on our summer internship program. We’ll hear from the other side of this initiative – our interns Danielle, Mira, and Amol – some of the interns in this year’s pool. You won’t want to miss what they have to say.

And until next time, I’m Steven Levine, with Interactive Brokers.

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