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Aug 2, 2019 2019-08 Faculty Finance

Zeume fascinated by the dark side of finance

At their best, finance CVs can be dry. And at their worst, they promise new cures for insomnia. But Stefan Zeume’s CV is not like most. From bribery to organized crime, his list of research topics contains all the ingredients of a blockbuster Hollywood crime drama.

“I’m interested in the dark side of finance,” said the new assistant professor of financeStefan Zeume who’s fascinated by illegal business activities and the companies that engage in them. On the one hand, he says, companies complain about the cost of corruption, but on the other, they willingly pay protection money to keep competition out and prices high. It’s a dichotomy he finds interesting.

“The great thing about these research topics is that almost everyone has something to say about them, especially in a classroom full of international students,” said Zeume. “It’s always hard to stop the discussion at the end of class.”

He enjoys that give and take, which is why he’ll be teaching a case-based financial strategy course at Gies that draws on his experience in auditing and consulting.

“The consulting experience involves agency conflicts,” said Zeume. “A lot of what I study in my research is driven by individuals caring more about their own wealth rather than the value of the company, so that’s something that will show up in what I teach.”

With the broad international makeup of the classrooms at Gies, Zeume also believes that his global background will be helpful. A native of Germany, Zeume earned a master’s in finance in Scotland and PhD in France. He also once spent three months in the Caribbean helping a cocao plantation develop a business plan, which taught him a lot about applying theoretical models. When you’re trying to allocate costs between cocao plants and other organic vegetables, he says, the textbooks take you nowhere. That’s why he says it’s important to not just teach students which models to use, but also how to use them and when.

Zeume is excited to be joining a college with new people arriving who will be keen to do research that’s on the edge. Not all of his interests are on the dark side, though. Zeume also enjoys corporate governance and finance, and he has recently been exploring the not-for-profit sector with a special interest in how they cope with fluctuations in donations.

“We teach capital management for for-profit organizations, but we want to actually see how this applies to not-for-profits,” he said. “Do they invest more cautiously knowing that some years the stock market is down and people are less willing to donate, or do they take a risk in their investments?”

When it comes to teaching, Zeume says he really enjoys helping new students navigate their academic careers and decide if finance is their thing or not. Even when it’s not, he knows they’re walking away with something valuable.

“The nice thing about finance is that it teaches you an awful lot, not just about work life, but also about a personal life — how to save for a college education for kids, how to save for retirement and why to start early, to diversify rather than put everything on one horse and so on. I like having students come back and say, ‘Look, I really used that,’” said Zeume. “That’s why I do it.”