Sunday, August 11, 2013

Introduction to Finance (UMich, Coursera) - a solid beginning finance course with a great professor

The Intro to Finance course offered by Gautam Kaul is a solid choice if you have an interest in finance. It was the first course I took at Coursera that could be considered more technical. Professor Kaul is perhaps the friendliest prof I've seen on Coursera and many of the students seemed to fall in love with him. His friendly demeanor is infectious and really helps make you feel comfortable learning what can be a challenging course for people with math-phobia.

The quality of the course itself was superb and I thought the problem sets were well-done. The problems were a mix of basic to advanced with many problems presenting some subtle nuances that were easily missed and turned out to be very important. This course will require some work but it is well worth it. Like other technical courses the forums can be a great help if you are stuck.

During the first offering some students complained that there wasn't enough time to complete the work so I believe the following offerings have been extended two weeks to accommodate this. I did not find it difficult to complete the work personally but I have a stronger math and finance background than most people who would take the course so it might have been a valid concern. Either way two more weeks, with the same amount of material, should certainly be sufficient.

This is a very basic finance course and it focuses primarily on understanding the time value of money. Risk is introduced at the end of the course but if you are looking for a course on investing or understanding securities you will want to look elsewhere. Of course you really need to understand this course in order to grasp those other ideas at any meaningful level.

At the beginning of the course Professor Kaul talks about the need to understand accounting at some level to be able to learn finance. While he briefly explains some of the basic concepts throughout the course as needed there were no accounting moocs available at that time. That has changed with UPenn/Wharton offering a financial accounting course that begins a few weeks before the next offering of this course (as I write this in the middle of August, 2013). I would suggest starting with that course, and taking it concurrent with this.

I should also note that Wharton will be offering their corporate finance course on Coursera at around the same time. I will definitely be taking that class and reporting on it here. From looking over the brief syllabus that the Wharton class has posted it looks similar to what Prof. Kaul's course teaches although I wouldn't be surprised if it is at a higher level. The Wharton course is also being offered in two parts so I expect that it will go into much more depth than what is offered here. If you are a beginner to finance my suggestion would be to start the financial accounting course and take Prof. Kaul's class when it is offered. Sign up for the Wharton corporate finance course and see how it is going for you the first week.

This is a great beginning course in finance with a great professor that will offer some challenge without being overwhelming. I would recommend it as a great first technical course to take if you have any interest in finance.


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