NERA Economic Consulting Interviews – Moving Up in a Down Economy


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NERA ECONOMIC CONSULTING

Interviewing with NERA Economic Consulting? Well, NERA is no MBB. In fact, if you look at a list of top 20 consulting firms, NERA won’t be on it. That being said, NERA is still a major player in the consulting industry and here’s why: NERA Economic Consulting is the top economic consulting firm, period.

Let’s just quickly discuss the difference between a top management consulting firm and an economic consulting firm. While MBB’s main focus is strategy, economic consulting firms like NERA’s focus is on economics first and strategy second. 

Of course, that is a very broad generalization because, as we’ll talk about soon, NERA has 30+ practice areas ranging from bankruptcy to statistical sampling and analysis.

Although NERA is concentrated on the East Coast of the U.S., NERA reviews the global economic landscape. The firm advises government divisions, law firms, and major global corporations on governmental regulation (like anti-trust rulings), public policy implications, public, competitive forces, and private financing. NERA helps companies predict likely lawsuits and litigation, which anyone would think valuable – but it doesn’t make them the darling of the advisory industry, especially when analysis or research predicts bad news.

Today we continue our super popular Firm Profile series with an in-depth look at the smarty-pants boutique firm that serves as a great career launching pad for Economics undergrads and PhD’s alike.

NERA ECONOMIC CONSULTING KEY STATS

NERA Economic Consulting Website: www.NERA.com
NERA Economic Consulting Headquarters: New York, NY
NERA Economic Consulting Employees: 515
NERA Economic Consulting Locations: 26 offices
NERA Economic Consulting Chief Executive: Dr. Lawrence Wu
NERA Economic Consulting Revenue: $75M

NERA Economic Consulting Engagement Cost: ~$350K

NERA ECONOMIC CONSULTING HISTORY

NERA (National Economic Research Associates), Inc. was founded in 1961 by two leading economists, Dr. Irwin Stelzer and Dr. Jules Joskow with the vision of establishing the first economic consulting firm. The firm initially consisted of 17 employees and the 2 founders. NERA’s first clients were in the natural gas industry. As NERA grew, however, the industries they worked with started to include major utility and telecommunications companies like AT&T.
 
By 1971, 10 years after its founding, NERA had more than 60 staff and in 1974 the company opened their first West Coast office in LA. Evidence of the high demand for NERA’s economic consulting services was seen in the company’s quick growth, which made NERA a target for the 80s consulting consolidation. Marsh & McLennan Companies, which also now owns big brand Oliver Wyman as well, acquired NERA in 1983, renaming the company – appropriately – to NERA Economic Consulting in the process.
 
NERA has developed quite a reputation, but has managed to keep itself small, clearly focused and prestigious in the process. The consultancy that started up in 1961 with only 17 employees currently has 500+ employees and is a global authority on economics with an impressive client list from over 120 countries and in dozens of industries. 

NERA ECONOMIC CONSULTING ORGANIZATION

NERA Economic Consulting is a subsidiary of parent company Marsh & McLennan Companies, a Fortune 500 company in the diversified financial industry who also owns a number of firms including Mercer, a HR Consulting firm, and Oliver Wyman, one of our Top 10 Financial/Strategy Consulting firms. See the diagram below for a clear structure of how the Marsh and McLennan Companies are organized.

Marsh & McLennan Companies

 

NERA has one president, currently Dr. Lawrence Wu, one chairman, currently Dr. Andrew Carron, and ~40 senior vice presidents/directors, ~40 vice presidents/associate directors, and ~50 senior consultants/principals.

Practice Areas

NERA has a large number of practice areas (30 as of right now) that the firm divides up into 5 categories:

  • Corporate/Advisory: Corporate Governance and Compliance, Risk Advisory Services, Transaction Advisory and M&A Support, Transfer pricing, and Valuation
  • Finance: Bankruptcy, Consumer Protection in Financial Services, Financial Institutions and Banking, Financial Risk Management
  • Industry Related Practices: Energy, Environmental Economics, Health Care and Life Sciences, Insurance, Postal Services, Communications Networks and Media, Transport, Water
  • Litigation: Antitrust and Competition, Class Actions and Class Certification, Commercial Litigation and Damages, Intellectual Property, International Arbitration, Labor and Employment, Mass Torts and Product Liability, Securities and Finance, Statistical Sampling and Analysis, Survey Research, Design and Analysis
  • Regulatory: Auctions, Regulatory Economics

As you can see, the firm covers a much broader spectrum of practice areas than many of the core strategy consulting firms we profile. The key reason? Economic consulting is used less for strategy, and more for litigation or regulatory compliance issues. Economic consultants provide a third-party perspective on issues such as antitrust concerns (standard and M&A related), anti-competitive action, etc.

Office Locations

NERA has established quite a global presence with 26+ offices in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. Despite recent global expansion, the core offices are still located in the U.S. in the mid-Atlantic and northeast academic hotbeds.
 
NERA Map
Click here for contact info for each office.
 

Career Path

The career path of NERA is not too different to that of other major consulting firms.
 
In North America and Asia the typical undergrad will start as a Research Associate and, if promoted, the career path will look like this:
 
Research Associate – Associate Analyst – Analyst – Senior Analyst
 
The notable difference is that there are 4 pre-MBA steps – not just 2. From Senior Analyst, in order to get promoted you will typically be sent back to school to get an MBA. MBAs or other experienced hires are usually brought on as Consultants and if promoted go from:
 
Consultant – Senior Consultant – Vice President – Senior Vice President
 
In Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, the career path in terms of responsibilities is pretty similar although they decided to switch up the names and number of positions to be more culturally relevant – reflecting that an MBA is non-mandatory and direct promotion is a standard – although the titles are also more confusing due to the lack of a global standard (which would never happen at McKinsey or BCG):
 
Research Officer – Analyst – Consultant – Senior Consultant – Associate Director – Director
 

Internships

NERA Economic Consulting offers a limited number of 10-week summer internships to undergrads who are currently working on their BA/BS. They usually want to see that you have relevant coursework and experience in areas like economics, stats, accounting, and finance. They post available internships during the winter months on Marsh & McLennan’s recruiting website.
 
As with most consulting firms, the expectation for the summer internship is that you will get an offer – therefore, they get to “test-drive” prospective hires before making a long-term commitment, and for the 80% that are top performers, NERA locks in top recruits before peak senior recruiting season.

Exit Opportunities

NERA is by all means a boutique consulting firm with a focus on litigation and compliance, and unlike MBB firms where ex-consultants usually move on to CEO, COO, and other leading positions in Fortune 100 companies, NERA consultants develop a much more narrow skill set more suited for internal corporate analysis, financial advisory work or legal jobs. While work experience at NERA can help you gain great experience and skills in microeconomics and other related fields opening many doors of possibility, we don’t see many NERA alumni holding key strategic positions in Fortune 100 companies.
 
Although the corporate world at large isn’t quite sure what to do with ex-NERA consultants, they demonstrate a surprisingly entrepreneurial spirit – taking on leadership positions in start-ups or serving as CEOs and Managing Directors of smaller companies. NERA consultants are impeccably trained to understand the rich complexities of the competitive landscape, and as such are confident in their abilities to develop competitive products and services.
If a NERA consultant isn’t thinking about leaving consulting, but wants a different focus, there are also opportunities for consultants to transition inside the Marsh & McLennan organization – to management consulting at Oliver Wyman, HR consulting at Mercer, or corporate image and identity strategy consulting at Lippincott.

NERA ECONOMIC CONSULTING CULTURE

Let’s face it – the work at NERA is less sexy than work at MBB, the people are more brainy, and the culture is less cool. It’s a hardcore reality – when you put too many economists together, you don’t get hipster culture – you get (with some exception) a tendency toward cut-and-dry facts with a bit of social awkwardness thrown in. 

That being said, because NERA’s work isn’t insanely high-pressure – Wall Street earnings aren’t waiting and litigation schedules are intense but not spontaneous – you can expect to work around 50 hours/week versus a standard 60 at MBB firms. Lifestyle is a great reason to choose NERA – predictable hours, predictable travel, in an intellectually stimulating environment.

Because there is minimal client exposure at junior levels for NERA, you can expect – again – a more relaxed workplace. However, folks are hired for brains, not wit, so be prepared to stay pretty serious while on the job – and know that you’ll be chained to your desk more than you would at MBB or even a financial advisory firm.

Some common complaints about work at NERA – it’s repetitive. It’s monotonous. It’s boring. And let’s just say this here – that’s not a huge surprise. After all, running the same statistical regressions on 2 different industries isn’t really that different at the end of the day.

However, NERA people – the ones who stay – love their work, find it interesting and challenging, and enjoy working with the high profile cases that the best economic consulting firm in the industry offers them. In addition, especially as you get more senior in the firm, many people are very NERA-proud – because the firm is privately-owned, NERA reportedly took great care of its team during the downturn, when other large consulting firms churned major layoffs. 

Key summary – if you work at NERA, you might not love every second of every day, but over time you’ll accrue valuable data analysis skills that will enable you to transfer into industry – but in a lower-level position, with a weaker strategic toolkit – than you would at MBB.

Core Values

NERA highlights 5 core values on their website.  We’ve included each here with a point of commentary on each one below.

  • Integrity & Excellence: Because of our commitment to deliver unbiased findings, we are widely recognized for our values and independence. Our clients come to us expecting integrity and the unvarnished truth.

Integrity is paramount in the legal world; NERA is trusted as an unbiased advisor, and retains its prestige (and book of clients) based on this reputation.

  • Meritocracy & Personal Growth: Our training and professional development programs will expose you to new opportunities and ensure that you achieve the professional goals to which you aspire.

This is a common Marsh & McClennan portfolio firm trait – one definitely shared by Lippincott and Oliver Wyman. The firms are hip and cool, and people are valued for contributions – not positions. The exception at NERA are clients who testify as expert witnesses – they are the ultimate kings – but behind the scenes, if you do good work, you’ll get promoted early or will receive accelerated responsibility.

  • Innovation & Creativity: Our insights often build upon learning gained in academia, business, government, and enforcement agencies. With this experience comes a dedicated and creative approach to economic analysis.

Okay, innovation here isn’t quite what Silicon Valley would call innovation – it’s not actually anything new. They are saying, however, that they remain on top of cutting-edge forms of economic analysis and bring a 360-degree look at any problem or issue.

  • Teamwork & Collegiality: From around the world, we bring together our individual skills, perspectives, and experiences to provide insightful and practical economic solutions for our clients.

Tie this one to the prior core value – NERA is focused on having the most comprehensive base of economic expertise in the industry. That means being smart about grabbing it from inside its own ranks, not just outside.

  • Diversity & Inclusion: The diversity of our global staff is recognized as an important resource. There are a host of employee networks available throughout the Marsh & McLennan Companies.

Yes. M&M companies are traditionally excellent pioneers of diversity and inclusion culture – check out the below under Interviews & Recruiting.  

NERA ECONOMIC CONSULTING INTERVIEWS AND RECRUITING

 A significant amount of NERAs recruits (we estimate 80%+) come from the firm’s campaigns at standard target schools (see below for list of target schools). The other ~20% come from employee referrals (18%) and application online (2%).
 
NERA’s interview process is very different to the process at the MBB firms – after all, the focus is less on your ability to solve problems and more on your ability to manipulate data.
 
The first notable factor about interviews is that, unlike MBB – where you’ll have an almost identical process around the world – NERA interviews are largely up to the interviewers. This makes sense to us – in a smaller firm (only 500 people vs. the 3000+ at MBB), you don’t always need to rely on standardized practices – the hypothesis is that good people can identify other good people.
 
Second, an interview at NERA can seem pretty laid back during the initial rounds.. You can expect anything from going to dinner with current employees to being invited to a NERA office and chilling with the guys there, so expect some fun and bring some personality into the interview. The employees at NERA are humans – the work can be boring, after all, so at least it should be done in close proximity to fun people.
 
As for cases, ~50% of candidates last year did not having any case questions come up in the interview at all. The other 50%, however, did have case questions to solve – mostly situational. If you study like you are going to interview for an MBB firm, you should do quite well – but remember, the emphasis is less on strategy and more on structure and computation. Brush up on GRE and GMAT math questions, and make sure you remember key economics principles and statistical equations.
 
Finally, during the interview process, NERA Economic Consulting commonly administers a behavioral test to see how well you would fit on your team. On top of the behavioral test, be assured they will also be looking at your past experience and skills and may even test you to determine your quantitive and analytical abilities. At NERA, the fit questions are of utmost importance – they want to know you have integrity, smarts and skills – so it would definitely be to your advantage to be well prepared.
 
Be transparent, show genuine interest in the interviewer, be uniquely yourself (but not weird), and most importantly, don’t let the laid back atmosphere be an excuse to let your guard down too much. Above all else, they are seeking a competent and SAFE professional so be sure to carry yourself  as one.
 

Target Schools

NERA does most of its (U.S. and Europe) recruiting out of these schools – some of them do not match up with core MBB schools (note George Washington University and not Georgetown, for example):

North America
  • Amherst College
  • Atlanta University
  • Barnard College
  • Brown University
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Duke University
  • George Washington University
  • Harvard University
  • Howard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Mt. Holyoke College
  • New York University
  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • Smith College
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Rochester, NY
  • University of Texas, Austin McCombs
  • Wellesley College
  • Williams College
  • Yale University 
Europe
  • Barcelona Graduate School of Economics
  • Cambridge University
  • London School of Economics
  • Oxford University
  • St. Gallen University
  • University College London
  • University of Warwick City

 If you don’t go to one of these target schools, but you’re a master in economics (GPA of 3.7+, departmental awards, etc.), there is a slight chance that you will be hired although they will be looking for the same experience and skills level as those who have attended top tier schools. Just MAKE SURE you network – at such a small firm, a blind resume drop means nothing – and an employee recommendation means everything.

Diversity Programs

Diversity groups are called “Employee Network Groups” in Marsh & McLennan companies. Here are  a number of groups you could participate in while working at NERA Economic Consulting. Note that these groups are inclusive to employees of Marsh & McLennan:

  • Boston Women’s Forum
  • Global Captives Business Women’s Group
  • Marsh & McLennan Companies Asia-Pacific Women’s Group
  • Marsh EMEA Women’s Network
  • Marsh LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender)
  • Marsh WEBB (Women’s Executive Business to Business)
  • Women Making a Difference (Marsh and Mercer women in Pittsburgh) 

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  • Florent Buisson

    Very interesting article ! You mention at the beginning that NERA is a good launching pad for Econ PhD, could you elaborate a little bit on that ? (e.g. starting position, responsibilities, etc.).

  • Awesome post i have read the blog and gain to many new things about the ECONOMIC CONSULTING CULTURE very informative post.

  • Thank you, this was really helpful and comprehensive!