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Former State Department economist Daniel Ahn ’04 talks financial technology

<h5>Daniel Ahn’s official photo&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of Daniel Ahn</h6>
Daniel Ahn’s official photo 
Courtesy of Daniel Ahn

On Monday, Nov. 14, Daniel Ahn ’04 spoke to students as part of Princeton Entrepreneurship Club’s fireside chat series on his new financial technology startup Delfi and his prior experience working as the Chief Economist at the Department of State.

During the chat, Ahn discussed a variety of topics related to finance, including the mission of Delfi to “democratize Wall Street,” and his personal career history of working in the public and private sector.

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As an economics major at Princeton, Ahn completed his degree in three years before earning a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University. 

After finishing his education, Ahn worked at private companies like Citadel Securities, Barclays Capital, and Lehman Brothers. He also held research and teaching positions at Harvard and Columbia University, before serving as the Chief Economist from 2017–18 in the U.S. Department of State.

“A lot of my professors who had public sector experience said, ‘Daniel, you should get some public sector experience. You should see not just how economics is applied in theory and in the private sector, but also see how laws are made,’” Ahn said.

Ahn said that his family background and gratitude to the community around him influenced his desire to work in the public sector.

“The other reason, beyond just a nudge from my mentors, was simple patriotism and a sense of gratitude. My family is from South Korea, so I’m a second-generation immigrant,” he said. “I really appreciated being able to come to the United States of America and get the kind of education like the one I had.”

“I wanted to do something to pay back the country that had nurtured me and my family,” he added.

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During the discussion, he recalled how his experience in the public sector was reflected in Delfi’s mission.

In a separate interview with The Daily Princetonian, Ahn said that his vision for his startup is to make Wall Street “more accessible and affordable to small and medium-sized businesses and enterprises.” 

The company uses “AI and machine learning to replicate much of the financial risk management and hedging strategies that normally big Wall Street banks do on behalf of big corporate clients,” he said.

In the interview, Ahn also specified the types of banks and businesses that Delfi aims to improve.

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“While the grand vision of Delfi is to really try and improve financial access and inclusion for all small businesses, our financial research has caused us to focus on smaller community banks and credit unions first,” he said.

During the Q&A session portion of the talk, Ahn encouraged students to embrace uncertainty before committing to a career path. He also talked about his own experience in pursuing a Ph.D. and said he encourages students to consider graduate school.

“I usually encourage my students to pursue a Ph.D. It forces people to think outside the box and innovate intellectually, and it is certainly very structured and a big commitment,” he said. “But the mental exercises involved in getting a Ph.D. give you the sense that you’re not afraid of hard work and allow you to embrace other perspectives.”

The chat was hosted on Nov. 14 from 5–6 p.m. by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club in Robertson 100.

Janny Eng is a Staff News Writer and finance beat reporter for the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections at dailyprincetonian.com.

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