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EKP:n ekonomisti Kleopatra Nikolaou

Pyörähdettyämme viime syksynä Frankfurtissa, saimme kunnian tavata erittäin innostavan ja energisen Euroopan keskuspankin ekonomistin Kleopatra Nikolaoun. Seuraavassa haastattelu hänen urastakehityksestään ja muista mielenkiintoisista mietteistään.


Kleopatra Nikolaou
  • Directorate General Economics (DGE), Monetary Policy Stance Division (MSN)

Could you give a brief description of your career development and education?

I did my undergraduate studies in Greece, in Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB). My undergraduate degree was on International and European Economics. I graduated valedictorian. Following that, I went to Warwick University in the UK for my masters in Economics and Finance and I received an offer and scholarship for a PhD in International Finance. I finished my PhD within three years, and at the same time I was also admitted in the Graduate program of the ECB.

In terms of work experience, during my undergraduate I worked voluntarily for private banks (Provision of Loans and Credit divisions) and financial analyst companies (Equity analysis) in Greece for two years. When I finished my undergraduate and before leaving for my masters, I worked in a construction company, in the finance division for a year. The company was very big and was also involvedin R&D (research and development) and I was part of a team which made the Business Plans of the company based on various economic and financial scenarios and also applied for European Grants for R&D. These were useful experiences and gave me a general understanding of the workings of the financial markets and the economy at least within the boundaries of Greece. However, the realization of being an economist came to me after my masters, when I went to London to work for a year in a consulting company, doing economic analysis. This was an interim year between my masters and my PhD. The company was rather small, but global. In this job I was mature and knowledgeable enough to combine my skills as an economist and start putting things together and understand how global markets work.

How did you end up working for ECB?

I first considered applying for a traineeship in the ECB on the second year of my PhD. The first year I had already spent a summer in Norges Bank as a trainee and I had enjoyed the experience tremendously. The second year I was looking for a similar experience and, following the advice of some friends, I applied to the research division of the ECB. At that time, there was the so called Research Graduate program, which was recruiting PhD students, who did part of their thesis within the ECB and profited from the interaction with central bankers and academics. The experience was great The Research Division of the ECB was the perfect hub of students, top-class visiting academics and very highly-skilled ECB staff. It helped me to re-formulate my work and I had a very successful second paper from this experience. (My first paper was complete during my first year of PhD and, in a similar manner, my experience in Norges Bank helped me a lot).

I then left for my final year of PhD, and in the mean time heard about the Graduate Program of the ECB, which was then initiated. This is a two year program where the candidate rotates in two different Directorates of the ECB. I applied for it and got the position, during the third year of my PhD (I finished my PhD during my first few months in the ECB). I was sent to the Directorate of monetary policy (Capital Markets division) for the first year, and to the Directorate of Research (Financial Markets division) for the second year. The allocation was fitting my academic and research background very well. Before the end of two years, I applied internally for a job opening in the Directorate of Monetary Policy (Monetary Policy Stance division) and got the position of Economist in the ECB, which I am currently enjoying.

Is this your dream job? Have you always wanted to work as an economist?

Being an economist was not a dream job for me. I remember I wanted to be a civil engineer or an architect when I was young and build great buildings, thus my eagerness to work in a construction company later on. But soon I realized that what I needed from a job is to feel creative and for the results to be relevant for the people around me. Since I was young, I loved history and politics.  I soon realized that economics and politics are intertwined. In fact, I think important decisions in either field should never be looked or can be explained at isolation. I also loved foreign languages and was good at English, French and German. Against this background, by the age of 16, working for an international organisation and specifically a European one was a very appealing option to me. It was rather my instinct that steered that wish, but I cannot say I had a plan on how to achieve it, it was more like a happy thought rather than a guiding line.

In terms of background, I come from a very small, provincial town, had my primary education in a public school and living and working outside Greece appeared and impossible leap to my people, my family, even to myself for all sort of practical and traditional reasons. The outcome was a result of a lot of hard work, making choices based on my instinct and preferences, a great deal of patience, courage, and, of course, some loneliness at times, and luck.

For example, I decided to study International and European Economics in my bachelor’s instead of engineering, because I found the curriculum more relevant to my inclinations. In this decision I had to confront the prejudice of people in my hometown, who considered that good students should study engineering. Further on, convincing my family and employers to quit my well-paid job in London to become a PhD student was also a choice hard to justify. By that time, I was already considered well qualified and had interesting job offers in Greece from my previous employers, but I was driven by the feeling that I can learn more and do better in a more challenging environment.

As you can only see the truth by looking at it from different angles (this is something that history and politics teaches you), I opted for the PhD. The help of my PhD supervisor to secure the scholarship was crucial at that time. Indeed, I owe a lot to my supervisor, Prof. Lucio Sarno, as it is thanks to his strict and efficient line that I managed to finish within three years and already have publications. Finally, the choice to work in the ECB was also one to defend, as my supervisor would have preferred me to work as an academic and he thought that should be a more fitting career for me. Indeed, I originally entered the graduate program of the ECB with the intention of gathering experience from yet another place and then consider another change in my career. I only stayed because my current position seemed too interesting to let go. I plan to stay in the ECB for as long as working here remains exiting and fulfilling.

What is your normal workday like?

The good thing about my job is that there is no such thing as a normal working day. I have some standard duties, which is to monitor the liquidity conditions of the Euro system and analyze its interaction with monetary policy stance. I also have to do regular tasks within my rotational duties (i.e. standard stuff such as contributions to the Monthly Bulleting, the Annual report, the preparations for Governing Council Briefings, preparations for material for other policy purposes, and preparation of Briefings for International meetings). These duties can change from quarter to quarter according to the rotation scheme that I am involved in. All colleagues take their equal share of such responsibilities.

However, the largest amount of time is spent on ad-hoc notes for the meetings of the Executive Board and the Governing Council.These notes can come at any point in time, they could refer to questions directly from Board members or they could also raise considerations for the attention and information of the Executive Board and/or the Governing Council.

There are also frequent meetings, where we decide further steps to be made or further notes to be written as to best analyze the questions posed by the Board or to tackle the challenges ahead. We always work in teams, which I find great, because I learn a lot of things and I interact with various colleagues. In fact, the working environment is very pleasant. This is especially interesting because working hours can be very long.

Other divisions in the ECB can be very different, with different degrees of interaction among colleagues and urgency of work. The experience in my current division is certainly very hectic, not only because it is close to the decision making processes in the ECB, but also because of the current global circumstances which have significantly highlighted the role of central banks.

Is there something in particular you find especially interesting at your job?

What I find especially challenging about my work is the possibility to think about important current issues and experiencing the decision making process in one of the most influential institutions in Europe. My experience is particularly useful given the current circumstances in the global economic outlook.

Is there some piece of advise you would like to give to a student who wants to work as an economist?

Economics and politics work closely together. In that sense, economic suggestions and subsequent decisions can be judged in the light of the surrounding political environments. It takes strong political will to enforce brave economic decisions. Therefore, a thorough knowledge of politics and history is always helpful.

Your job is probably a lot of juggling with numbers and data but is it also up to date and real time?

Very much so. My work calls for putting our research background and empirical skills into practical use in order to tackle the evolving dynamics of financial markets, which could affect monetary policy decisions.

Inflation or deflation?

The students who have attended my presentation know the answer! It is neither. Price stability would be the desired monetary policy outcome, in order to avoid the caveats of inflation and deflation. Price stability in the medium term involves efficient anchoring of inflation expectations. The ECB has followed credible policies to sufficiently anchor such expectations to a level consistent with its price stability objective, namely close to, but lower than 2% in the medium term.

Thank you for the interview and for your time!

Thank you. It was my pleasure.

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