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Robert C. Merton, 1997 Nobel Prize winner in economics, has been at the forefront of research on many topics in financial economics. In this publication, leading researchers explain Merton’s impact on financial theory and practice.

Robert C. Merton and the Science of Finance

View the full Brief (PDF)


In 2019, MIT hosted a 75th birthday symposium in honor of Robert C. Merton. The event included presentations by students and colleagues explaining the influence Merton has had on the profession and on their ideas. Each presenter focused on a specific aspect of Merton’s life and contributions so that the audience could gain a full picture of Merton’s influence while avoiding repetition across presentations. The brief contains edited transcripts of some of the speeches and panel discussions that took place at the symposium. The presentations cover Merton’s career, highlighting both his foundational work on continuous time finance and the functional approach to understanding organizations as well as recent work on retirement security and trust. Some of the presentations unveil new aspects of his life. Merton’s father, Robert K. Merton, was one of the most important sociologists of the 20th century, being the originator of concepts such as role model, unanticipated consequences, and self-fulfilling prophecies. Another of the presentations makes a convincing case for Merton as the first financial engineer; the presenter argues that a body of knowledge becomes a science when a field of engineering emerges from it. If that is the case, this brief achieves two goals. It celebrates the influence of Merton on the theory and practice of finance through a series of engaging presentations, and it traces the birth of finance as a science on its own.

Updated July 2020 to include “Robert C. Merton’s Seminal Insights, Revisited” by Robert A. Jarrow.

About the Editors

Image of Luis Garcia Feijóo
Luis Garcia-Feijóo CFA, CIPM

Dr. Luis García-Feijóo, CFA, CIPM, is Professor of Finance at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), where he teaches investments and international finance. He is also a co-founder of Economic Index Associates (EIA), LLC. Professor García has served as associate editor of the Financial Analysts Journal since 2012, and he is also a research director for CFA Institute Research Foundation. Prior to joining FAU, he worked as director, exam development at CFA Institute and was an associate professor at Creighton University. Professor García’s research interests include factor investing, monetary policy and asset returns, and behavioral finance, among others. His research has been published in leading academic and practitioner journals. He is co-author of the book Invest with the Fed: How to Maximize Portfolio Performance Following Federal Reserve Policy. Professor García holds a PhD in finance from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He actively served on the Board of Directors of the CFA Society of South Florida from 2009 to 2014 and has been an active volunteer for CFA Institute since 2009.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence B. Siegel

Laurence B. Siegel is the Gary P. Brinson Director of Research at CFA Institute Research Foundation and an independent consultant. He has authored, edited, or co-edited six CFA Institute Research Foundation monographs and is the author of Fewer, Richer, Greener, published by Wiley in 2019. Mr. Siegel serves on the editorial boards of several prominent journals and on the board of directors of the Q Group and the American Business History Center. He has assisted a variety of nonprofit organizations in the role of investment committee chair or member. Previously, Mr. Siegel was director of research in the Investment Division of the Ford Foundation. Before that, he served as a managing director at Ibbotson Associates (now Morningstar). His website is www.larrysiegel.org. Mr. Siegel received a BA in urban geography and an MBA in finance from the University of Chicago.

Timothy Kohn
Timothy R. Kohn

Tim Kohn, vice president, heads Dimensional's US retirement distribution practice, coordinating the sales and service for corporate, platform, and advisor-sold business. In this role, Tim works with clients and industry partners to market, research, and implement new defined contribution solutions. Tim leads Dimensional's DC efforts with academia, industry partners, and key stakeholders, and he also serves as executive editor for the firm's defined contribution newsletter, DC Dimensions.
Prior to joining Dimensional, Tim served as the head of DC Sales and Service and chief defined contribution strategist for Barclays Global Investors (now BlackRock). Tim received his BA in business economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and completed his MBA at the University of San Francisco, and also maintains a master's of science in personal financial planning. Tim is FINRA Series 7, 24, and 65 licensed, and a Chartered Mutual Fund Counselor.