An interview with Rik Kok, consultant at SINCERIUS
Because of the pandemic, we currently spend a lot of time studying from home, but all VSAE members who have followed courses on the Roeterseiland Campus have undoubtedly been closer to this company than they think, as the SINCERIUS head office is located on the Nieuwe Achtergracht, right next to Weesperplein. SINCERIUS is a Dutch consultancy company that advises not only in the financial field but also about corporate restructuring and business intelligence solutions.
I had the chance to speak with Rik Kok, only 23 years old, but already a fully-fledged Consultant BI Solutions at SINCERIUS. As a former VSAE member, his journey must seem very familiar to many of us, so read on and be inspired!
You have studied Econometrics just like me, right?
Yes, I have also studied at the University of Amsterdam. I completed my bachelor’s in Econometrics and Operations Research in three years, after which I immediately continued with a master’s, also in Econometrics. During the master’s, I chose the specialization in Financial Econometrics and I finished it within a year. I was 22 years old at that time. Now I am 23 and I have been working full-time at SINCERIUS since September.
You have really sailed through your studies! Are you SINCERIUS’ youngest employee?
No, not even! There are many young people around here, some of them even younger than I am. In my department, for example, we have two students. Also, one of my colleagues has already completed his master's, just like me, and he is still a year younger than I am.
There is always a bigger fish… And how did it start for you at SINCERIUS?
It all started with a thesis internship in April this year. At that time, it was not my goal to stay working here, but that's how I got involved. For SINCERIUS it obviously has perks if someone does an internship before he or she is hired. This way, both parties can get to know each other and see if they fit together. During my internship, I was constantly busy with so many things I liked, that it felt like a very logical next step to start my career here as well. When they asked me if I wanted to stay, I immediately said: "Yes, I just want to keep working!". In the end, I submitted my thesis in mid-August, then had a two-week vacation, and started working here in September.
So it all started with an internship. How did you find this internship?
The VSAE played a big part in this. I have not been an active member, but I don’t think I’ve skipped many borrels at De Heeren van Aemstel. Those were always very enjoyable. In addition to the borrels, I always participated in career-oriented events. This is how I met SINCERIUS at a speed date event for master’s thesis internships.
I highly recommend the speed date event. Many master’s students have no idea what to do with their thesis. They are often interested in multiple fields, at least for me this was the case, but you can delve into only one of those. And on top of that, you have to come up with a specific subject to write your thesis about. This was my biggest problem, but as companies also come up with proposals themselves, the speed date event was an ideal solution.
When you started in April, the COVID-19 outbreak was already happening in the Netherlands, right?
Yes, that’s right! I was already in consultation with SINCERIUS about my thesis internship before COVID became a serious issue in the Netherlands. I had just signed my contract when word came that SINCERIUS had to close. We did consider postponing the internship but eventually decided not to. In the end, I had to write my thesis myself, so I could just as well start from home.
I was very happy though, when I was allowed to go to the office for the first time. Finally, I met the people I had spoken to many times via Microsoft Teams. Besides, asking for help is a lot easier when you’re in the office, and for me, the office feels more professional, which causes me to automatically work better.
Despite COVID, how were you supported during your initial phase at SINCERIUS?
Regardless of the pandemic, SINCERIUS works with a buddy system for new employees. You will be appointed someone, and that will be your contact person for a certain period. That buddy will help you with all your questions, and you can always call them. It’s very nice. At large companies, you often see that new employees are part of a streamlined process. The buddy system feels much more personal. Moreover, you immediately make a good friend. Especially during the COVID pandemic, when you are not allowed to go to the office and it is difficult to communicate with people, having a buddy is extra nice.
And how did your internship proceed?
I got a lot of freedom from SINCERIUS. I was initially brought in for a thesis proposal that turned out not to fit well within the master's in Econometrics. After consultation with SINCERIUS and guidance from the UvA, I ended up with Cashflows Forecasting.
In the first two weeks, I had my full focus on my thesis, but I soon found that to be boring. That's why I asked if I couldn't do something else, to which my colleague immediately replied: “Yes of course! What do you want to do? Maybe we still have something lying around that you like!” As a result, my internship no longer felt like a school assignment. I felt like I was doing something real, something useful, not just an assignment to eventually get a grade for. Working therefore suits me way better than studying. During my studies, I could hardly manage to focus for 8 hours. The working days here, on the contrary, fly by!
You already mentioned Cashflow Forecasting, but what is it exactly that SINCERIUS does?
Technically, SINCERIUS is a consultancy firm, as a large part of our activities consists of advising other companies. For example, we do a lot of financial due diligence. When companies are interested in taking over another company, they want to know whether this other company has all its financial matters in order. We do not give the final advice: “to buy or not to buy“, but we give the potential buyer insights by, for example, drawing up the balance sheet and the P&L. These are basic examples. We also do more extensive analysis for which we develop models. In the end, we analyze whether a company is running well. That is what occupies the largest team within SINCERIUS and this team is called the Transaction Services team.
SINCERIUS does a lot more. There is also a Restructuring & Performance Improvement team that advises on reorganization and optimization. I am part of yet another team: the fairly new Business Intelligence team. We develop dashboards and related software that companies use to make their data streams easily interpretable. For each company, we take on their wishes and find the best way to process and present their data in such that it can immediately be useful, in a meeting for example. In this way, we ensure that all information available within a company is also used properly.
In general, companies have a lot of data that is not being used. Having a financial overview drawn up once a quarter is actually not enough to be well aware of how your company is doing. In a way, what we offer is “more control”, but in the form of a live report, clearly presented in a dashboard. The creation of reports is automated within this dashboard. These reports can be on financial matters, but also on completely different things. I am currently working with a company that was so impressed with our approach to their financial data that they asked us to do something similar for their HR department.
So you are in the BI Solutions team developing dashboards. Are you a software developer?
We call ourselves BI Consultants, but when people ask what I do, I often indicate that I am a software developer. Yet I am still a consultant, as, in addition to developing the dashboards, I am also busy creating overviews for the customer. Moreover, there is a constant interaction between us and the Transaction Services team, so we are also constantly working on the consultancy side.
I indeed spend a lot of time behind the computer. Within my team, we work with four programs: Excel, SQL, Python, and Power BI. I switch a lot between those four. In which I work depends entirely on what I'm doing at that moment. An example: Last week I started with a new customer. In the beginning, it is mainly building up, ensuring that the balance and the P&L are correct and that all numbers are under the correct headings. Then we have to transform this data into something actually useful to us. This is all done in SQL.
The next step is to visualize this data in a dashboard. We use Power BI for this. This is a nice and intuitively working Microsoft program, in which you can filter data well and present it attractively. We have standard set-ups, but we always adjust them considerably to optimize the dashboard to the wishes of the customer.
Finally, we do a lot in Python. Simply because everything that is not possible in SQL or Power BI, we create ourselves in Python. I like optimizing the dashboard with Python the most. I really enjoy programming.
So you spend most of your time behind your PC. Do you also have customer contact?
Due to COVID, customer contact is currently mainly via Teams. I haven't had much customer contact anyway, but I happen to be visiting a customer for the first time on Thursday. I'm really looking forward to that. Within the Business Intelligence team, these meetings are mainly about feedback. We have developed something and we would like to know how the customer feels about it and whether they expect us to do anything else.
And is it fun at the office?
I think the atmosphere is very good. SINCERIUS works with a very flat organizational structure. No one here feels like he or she is above or below anybody else. I already noticed this on my first day at the office, when I was having a nice chat over lunch with some of the partners. Of course, there is a hierarchy, but it's not visible when you walk in and you see people talking. This flat structure makes it feel like we’re all working together. I never felt like I was working for a partner who needed anything from me.
Besides, no more than 30 people work in this office, so you communicate easily with everyone. It is absolutely not the case that you are merely in contact with your own team, as is often the case within larger companies. That's also why I enjoy going to the office so much. Having the constant possibility to have a chat or make a joke makes this job 10 times better.
That does sound really good. Any last words?
Nothing in particular. Let me just say that SINCERIUS is a very nice place to keep on learning after obtaining your master's degree.
Has this text aroused your interest? Visit SINCERIUS’ website and see what positions are available on https://www.werkenbijsincerius.nl/