It’s noon on the kind of Monday in July that gives Manhattan its reputation for swampy summers, and the sidewalks are filling with office workers hunting lunch.
Inside the J.P. Morgan building on Madison Avenue, bankers float down on escalators to the frigid lobby, checking their phones before hitting the streets or pinpointing their lunch delivery person from the lineup outside the security checkpoint. Among the bankers is Amigo Khadka ’14, the only analyst on a new team dedicated to wholesale credit risk regulatory management.
For a moment, it’s hard to remember the serious-faced professional was a college student not long ago, but then he pushes through the turnstile and smiles, and it’s Amigo, the energetic summa cum laude business and Wesson Honors student whose contributions are still felt on campus. While completing a four-year degree in just three, Khadka worked to establish Colby-Sawyer as the first certified Fair Trade private college in New Hampshire; was on the 2013 team of student investment fund managers named international champions in the undergraduate Value Investing category at the Quinnipiac Global Asset Management Education Forum III; was recognized with his fellow Eco-Reps with the 2012 President’s Leadership Award by Campus Compact for New Hampshire; helped plan the 2013 grand reopening of the Ware Student Center and a Relay for Life fundraiser in his event management course; and, along with Nischal Banskota ’15, was a driving force in establishing the college’s relationship with Maya Universe Academy in their native Nepal.
Khadka is a long way from home no matter what; it’s a month before he will find his Manhattan apartment, and he’s been commuting two hours each way from Connecticut for more than a year.
At J.P. Morgan, though, he’s carving out his own space in new territory for both him and the bank. All day, often 12 hours a day, he throws himself into the task of meeting new regulatory pressures that swept through the banking industry in the wake of the financial crisis. The regulators, he notes, have been trying to limit the number of risky loans and have set measures for each bank. His team was established to look into all the other risk teams that focus on individual industries and make sure their deals — mergers, leveraged buyouts, corporate investments — meet the regulations.
“All job descriptions require attention to detail, right?” Khadka says. “Working in a firm like this, I realize what could actually happen if you don’t pay attention to detail. It’s very easy to skip one minor number or something. My managers — I report to three vice presidents and a managing director — make the decisions, but when I do the work for them, it’s really important to pay attention because it’s also my job to make sure they see those small details that might easily escape. Minor details make a huge impact.”
Numbers may be the foundation of the business, Khadka has discovered, but above them are the reading, writing, communication, creative thinking and analytical skills required to consider a decision’s repercussions. “Everything we do is both art and science,” he says. “There’s science in terms of how you quantify things, but there’s also an art aspect to the general quality of judgment that needs to be considered while making every decision.”
The idea of evaluating risk isn’t completely new to Khadka. He was on a risk team during his internship at GE Capital, which helped set the stage for his current position, but even before that, Khadka was calculating risks — and hoping somebody would take one on him.
Growing up in Kathmandu, Khadka knew he wanted to formalize his interest in finance and attend college in the United States. “Coming to the U.S. was a risk, but Colby-Sawyer had a lot of other Nepalese, so I never even felt homesick,” he says. “I wanted a liberal arts college with a business program, and there actually aren’t many, but even Colby-Sawyer was kind of a risk for me, as I didn’t know about it before. I’m very fortunate I didn’t choose a big university where I probably would’ve been lost in the crowd. That was a huge decision.”
Khadka’s biggest risk so far has been turning down two fulltime offers with smaller firms and gambling that the offer of a temporary position at J.P. Morgan, with all its global opportunities and internal mobility, would put him in the right place at the right time for a permanent position. He won that bet.
“The huge risk was in terms of strategic planning — if the temporary position didn’t turn into something permanent by the end of the year and my visa expired, I’d have had to go back to Nepal,” Khadka says. “Now I have a visa good for up to six years. I was lucky with the visa lottery; some of my friends didn’t get one. And that’s why you have to understand why companies don’t necessarily hire international students: They hire someone, they train them for three months, and then the visa doesn’t work out. It’s not the employee’s fault; it’s not the manager’s fault. But if you were the manager, would you take that risk? Luckily, mine did.”
For now, Khadka’s happy to be young and in New York City and to see what happens next. Graduate school awaits, and he thinks eventually he’ll return to Nepal and do something in the education sector there. He’s learned, though, from his compressed college years, not to rush things and to allow for flexibility in the short term while sticking to long-term goals.
“Completing my degree in three years seemed like the right thing to do, but I look back and think maybe I should’ve stayed for the full four years,” Khadka says. “But I got scared that if I stayed another year, there might be diminishing returns on what I’d done, and in terms of going out to recruiters, it really shows something if you did in three years what takes everyone else four. So there was a trade-off.”
Some close friends who knew Khadka as a student passionate about justice and supportive of social entrepreneurial activities were surprised he’d choose to work in the banking industry, but if he’s made trade-offs to land his position, he’s clear about why he’s there.
“There’s a stereotype about bankers, but being in the bank, especially in risk, all we do is make sure that something like the financial crisis does not happen again,” Khadka says. “I’m helping, which is hard for people to digest because when you work in the bank, you’re a banker. But I’m liable for whatever I do, right? So I have to make sure I don’t do anything that’s risky that puts me or the economy in danger.”
The lunch hour is over. Packed escalators carry J.P. Morgan employees back upstairs to what will be anything but a warm, sleepy afternoon.
“Really, I’m working to change the industry from the inside,” Khadka says, as he swipes his ID and joins them.