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The Intersection of Labor and Finance

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As an avid reader, Matthew Serfling constantly absorbs information from a variety of fields. “I’ve stumbled onto most of my successful topics,” he says. “I see something interesting and think, ‘How could this apply in finance?’”

It’s a system that seems to be working for him. Serfling’s research output places him among the top 3 percent of researchers in the field of finance, but he’s quick to downplay how he made it into the upper echelon of publishing academics. “I got lucky and had success getting published in top journals early on,” says Serfling, who came to the Haslam College of Business as an assistant professor of finance and Kinney Family Faculty Research Fellow in 2016. “Trying to replicate that has been tough.”

Much of his research looks at the inter-section of labor, economics, and finance. “I’ve had a couple of papers dealing with labor market frictions related to how easy it is to fire workers or get rid of employees,” he says. “These frictions impact many different firm decisions, including how to finance the firm and whether or not it should take on risky debt.”

He’s also explored topics related to labor mobility and how firms impact labor outcomes. For example, “If a company can protect its trade secrets by keeping workers from going to competitors, they can manage risk, and this should affect how the firm is financed,” he says. “In another recent paper, we looked at how much information about the firm is available to employees, and how this information impacts employment uncertainty and employee wages.”

After taking an early interest in business, Serfling pursued law as an undergraduate. “I had a professor who recognized my interest in finance and encouraged me to follow it,” he says. “I realized it was a better fit for me.”
Serfling’s success is no surprise to Sandy Klasa, Serfling’s PhD advisor at the University of Arizona. “Matthew was the most focused student I’d ever seen, and he always had a positive attitude,” says Klasa. “Today, he definitely has a reputation as an expert on how labor issues can affect firms’ financial decisions.”

Tracie Woidtke, head of Haslam’s finance department and David E. Sharp/Home Federal Bank Professor, says Serfling’s findings could impact how businesses and policy makers think about labor issues. “He examines the effects that certain laws have on important corporate decisions, such as capital structure,” Woidtke says. “Because of that, his research has important policy and economic implications.”

While Serfling’s curiosity and strong work ethic keep him focused on projects, Woidtke says he always has time for colleagues and students. “Matthew spends a great deal of time collaborating and discussing research with students and faculty,” she says. “He also contributes to a strong departmental culture by coordinating monthly socials for the finance faculty.”

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Haslam Magazine is the premier publication of the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.