Sunday, November 29, 2009

Harvard Business School's New Curriculum: Everyday Finance

Posted By: Lisa Matthys

Written By: David K. Randall

Harvard Business School is the place where the chief executive officers, hedge fund stars and Goldman Sachs ( GS - news - people ) partners of tomorrow learn their craft. Now, in a break from tradition, a new course is focusing on the troubles of everyday consumers.

Consumer Finance, as it is known, will look at topics ranging from the best ways to boost the savings rate to how banks can deliver better products for low-income customers. Instead of proceeding along the conventional HBS path and delving into corporate case studies, students will focus on the financial lives of real middle-class families. In one exercise, they create a budget for a Boston family of average means, figuring in costs for such everyday staples as food, transportation and insurance.

"By the time our MBAs graduate, they will have looked at financial statements for hundreds of companies," said Peter Tufano, the professor who teaches the course along with Howell E. Jackson, a faculty member at Harvard Law. "Other than in our course, they would have never looked at the financial statements of a single household."

Traditionally, business schools have shied away from teaching consumer finance, despite the fact that households represent $61 trillion in assets. As business schools grew in the 19th century, they traditionally taught men how to run corporations, while the study of household finances became the focus of programs tailored to women.

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