Career News, Updates & Insights

What drew Spencer to economic consulting?

Hi all! If you are looking at this, then you will probably want to know who you are reading about. My name is Spencer, and I am a first year analyst in the Financial Economics Practice here at Charles River Associates’ Washington, DC, office. Hyperbole is cheap and crass, but I am going to break my rule just this once for myself, because my first six months here have been incredible and immensely rewarding—but before we get to that there are basics to get out of the way.
Who am I? I grew up in Connecticut and fled the East Coast to Tennessee when I got bored. I graduated from Vanderbilt University last spring, with a degree in Economics and Finance, and fled right back when my thin Yankee blood couldn’t take the heat anymore, and someone told me it never got hot in DC (turns out it does, and this person and I no longer talk anymore, but that’s beside the point).
Why am I here? I think large human systems and their interactions are fascinating, so I have always been drawn to subjects like Sociology, History, and, ultimately, Economics. In a way, finance is the system that underscores and ties together that last system, which is what drew me to that field. I knew I wanted my first job to have intellectual rigor—no matter what task large or small, short or long, should challenge my thinking in a way that stretched your knowledge and made you reassess what you knew.
Fortunately for me, I was going through the Economics Honors Program at this time, the central focus of which was writing a senior thesis. That experience hooked me on the research side of questions: what it takes to solve an unsolved problem, and what it even means to “know” it once you do. Conversations with my advisor led me to research this field called economic consulting and the top firms in that field, which led me to CRA—and eventually this blog (but that came much later).
​Within consulting, economic consulting is a unique intersection of contrasting fields that is both exciting and refreshing. If it is difficult to explain what consultants do to non-consultants, it is even more difficult to explain the difference between economic and management consultants—to start, my group, Financial Economics, is the former. To get a feel for that difference, it can be instructive to look at the graduate schools junior staffers pursue after CRA. Rather than being a one-path route ending at an MBA, some at CRA go to business school, a second group pursues law school, and a third goes on to PhD or MA programs. This all stems from our niche within an intersection of business, law, and academia. For me, this highlights our distinctiveness and the unique challenges we face in our day-to-day. For each client, we have to deliver rigorous data analysis, knowledgeable business advice, and in-depth sector knowledge. In my group’s case, that sector is finance. On various client projects over the past six months, I have created sophisticated statistical models to analyze mortgage lending patterns, investigated allegations of lender discrimination in the auto finance market, and helped develop the defense of a Fortune 500 company undergoing a headline-courtroom battle, all within CRA project teams led by senior consultants of no more than three to four people. It’s been an exciting six months so far, from boardroom to courtroom, and I look forward to seeing where the future takes me.