Presenting new faculty member Andreas Fuster
Prof. Andreas Fuster was appointed Associate Professor and joined EPFL in summer 2021 at the Swiss Finance Institute @EPFL. As the newest faculty member, he has accepted to answer a few questions.
- Can you describe yourself in a few words?
I grew up in the central part of Switzerland (in Schwyz) and did all my schooling there. I then spent four years in Lausanne getting my ‘licence’ in economics (économie politique) at HEC – my first stint at the Lac Léman. From there, I first went to the UK for a master’s and then to the US, where I got my PhD in economics at Harvard. I then spent seven years as a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which is one of the branches of the U.S. central bank. This is a position that is very similar to academia, in that I was able to spend much of my time working on self-directed research targeted at academic journals. In 2018, I returned to Switzerland, working at the Swiss National Bank for three years until finally switching to being a full-time academic in 2021.
- You arrived at EPFL in July 2021, what was your vision of the institution when you applied for the position?
My impression was that EPFL is a dynamic, ambitious place with top-notch researchers and very smart students. In my field of finance, I knew that the SFI group is a “boutique” department, which, while small, is home to world-renowned researchers. I was thrilled to become part of that group, and of the broader EPFL community.
- You define yourself as an empirical social scientist. What does that mean?
I primarily use data – either “naturally occurring” data or experiments, in my case mostly conducted through surveys – to learn about economic and financial phenomena of interest. Typically, the goal behind my research projects is to measure and understand facts that are important either for economic policy or to refine economic models. For instance, I study the effects of technological innovation on household credit markets – this has included both studies measuring how “Fintech” lenders are different from more traditional actors, and also more conceptual work trying to understand how the introduction of machine learning can affect the distribution and cost of credit to households. Another focus area of mine is to understand how individuals and firms form their beliefs about the future, which play a key role in economic decisions. Finally, as a former central banker I remain very interested in the effects of different policies on the economy and in particular on the financial sector.
- You have started teaching in 2021. How do you convey your knowledge to the students?
My two main principles are that I want the students to understand why what they are learning is important/relevant, and that I want to make them resourceful – rather than learning by heart some details, they should understand the general principles, and know where to go look for the details when they need them. I try to combine theory and practice, and I hope that my past experience in central banking allows me to provide some practical applications that the students find interesting.
- Can you describe your typical day during the semester and during semester break? How have you adapted to the Covid-19 crisis?
My typical day is fairly unspectacular and not too different during the semester vs. during semester breaks: I try to maintain a regular schedule during which I work on research projects and on preparing my lectures (which has taken most of my time since last summer). Of course in the past couple of years I’ve been spending much time on zoom, talking to co-authors in this way. I take breaks to work out or go for a run, and cook (although I must admit to also being a regular food delivery customer). On the weekends I spend most of my time with my wife, friends and family.
The Covid-19 circumstances have made personal interactions a bit more difficult, but I’m glad that we were able to do in-person teaching in my first semester (and hopefully also all the coming ones) and I look forward to more in-person events (seminars but also social gatherings) going forward, as “zoom life” is getting a bit old.
- Your lab is currently being built up. What kind of atmosphere do you wish to maintain within your future team of researchers?
In our group at SFI, we have a “pooled” system where we don’t each hire our own PhD students and postdocs, but admit them as a group (and they decide later on who they would like to work with as their advisor(s)). This has made the start for me fairly easy and I am already talking to several students, which I’ve enjoyed a lot. The atmosphere I try to establish in these relationships is one of mutual respect, encouragement, and honesty. And while research is serious, requires careful and thorough work, and can be disappointing or tedious at times, we also shouldn’t forget to have fun!
- Outside of research, do you have another passion/interest?
Like many people around here, I enjoy going to the mountains – for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. Aside from this, I enjoy discovering new music, live or (more frequently, especially the last two years) on Spotify, and watching football, hockey and tennis.