New Opportunities in Finance

Drew white first knew he wanted to go into the world of finance when he was a college student at the University of Virginia. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a banker, a trader, a salesperson, or a researcher,” the 27-year-old recalls. “I just knew this was an environment where the best and brightest could show their stuff.”

By the time he graduated in 2005,  White had zeroed in on his niche. With an understanding of politics and economics, as well as balance sheets and company financials, White had the skill set necessary to pursue a career as a trader at the Switzerland-based financial services firm UBS. Last year he moved over to New York-based Morgan Stanley to work as a trader in the company’s fixed-income division.

White appreciates the fact that finance attracts a varied cross-section of professionals. He has worked with business and liberal arts majors, but more important than educational specialty is critical thinking and problem solving ability, since those skills must be applied to helping clients maximize their money.

While the finance industry was among those hardest hit during the economic downturn, careers in finance are on the upswing and arguably more in demand now than ever. Reportedly, in the first quarter of this year alone, Goldman Sachs hired 600 new employees, Credit Suisse added 600 jobs, and Nomura of Japan’s New York-based securities unit has hired more than 700 new workers. While the industry’s projected growth will lead to greater opportunities, “The industry itself has changed amazingly over the last two years, and that’s just a result of the change in the global financial markets,” says Ron Ransom, head of business acquisition and integration for UBS. Calls for more oversight into the way financial institutions are run have culminated in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which contains provisions to regulate banking institutions and create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to make sure Americans obtain accurate information about financial products and services. Of course, those entering the industry will need to learn the new rules and guidelines that will result from the legislation. The personal losses of the Great Recession have led some people to educate themselves about their finances, which may lead them to be more vigilant about whether the financial advice they receive is actually panning out. “There’s more scrutiny over who you have managing your money. Because of that, the more talented [advisers] will survive,” Ransom adds.

The rebuilding effect
“If you look at the aftermath of the Great Recession, people are going to have to rebuild for the future,” says Joe Watson, author of Where the Jobs Are Now: The Fastest-Growing Industries and How to Break Into Them (McGraw-Hill; $18.95). “For most people, this is not an area they’re comfortable with, and so they’re going to be looking for guidance and advice.”

There is a range of opportunity for those looking to work in financial services: Financial planners and wealth managers help people plan for important financial goals such as their retirement and their children’s education. Corporate finance professionals help businesses manage money and strategically plan for the future. Insurance focuses on protecting wealth through vehicles that provide financial support in case of catastrophe. Investment bankers help investors purchase and trade stock as well as manage financial assets. Commercial bankers extend credit to individuals and businesses. Financial analysts help businesses and individuals make investment decisions. Money managers and hedge fund operators manage money for institutional and large investors. The federal government also hires its share of financial professionals, with such jobs as financial analyst and budget analyst on its website.

Across the finance career spectrum, the prospects for growth are bright. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the finance and insurance industry is expected to increase by 5% between 2008 and 2018. The greatest demand, according to the Bureau, will be for personal financial advisers, which will see the number of jobs grow by 30% between 2008 and 2018. Financial analysts will be next in demand, with a 20% increase expected by 2018. Jobs in the securities and investment management sector will expand 12% by 2018. The insurance-related industry will grow by 14%.

One size does not fit all
“As a young person you’re taught not to ask people about money and what they make, but those are fundamental questions of our business,” says Ransom. “You have to give people a comfort level so they open up and share personal details.” Some knowledge of psychology helps financial advisers to manage client concerns, he adds. Solid interpersonal skills are important in developing a rapport with clients. A sales background is advantageous as well.

“Across the board, we’re looking for people who have a comfort with numbers and analytical acumen, as well as intellectual curiosity,” says Keisha Smith, firmwide head of recruiting at Morgan Stanley. Since politics and international trends affect financial markets, a familiarity with world affairs and an ability to anticipate how they will influence the economic landscape will help one to excel. One must also be able to think and act quickly since financial markets can change with dizzying speed.

Since those with careers in finance are literally holding their clients’ financial future in their hands, there is great pressure and accountability that come with the job. “You need to have compassion to do this,” says De’Lante Rawls, managing principal of National Insurance Consulting Group, an insurance advisory firm in Washington, D.C. “You’re basically helping someone get ready for retirement or their kid’s college or just living their life debt free. When you help people succeed, you’ll succeed because clients will refer you, which is the lifeline of this business.”
Most positions in financial services require a bachelor’s degree, though it doesn’t have to be in finance, economics, or any other business-related area. Much of the financial knowledge needed to advise people about managing their money can be learned through on-the-job training. “As an adviser you’ll have resources around you to give advice and guidance to clients,” explains Ransom.

People come to financial services from a variety of career backgrounds, though an understanding of business and how corporations are managed is an asset for some finance positions, such as those in investment banking. Some go to business school to acquire a financial background. In such cases, “we’re less concerned with what their previous careers were. We focus on their ability to apply what they’ve learned,” says Smith.

Now that all financial services companies are interacting more with the government as a result of financial reform, people with compliance expertise in the financial services industry are in demand, says Smith. The projected growth of financial services firms will also translate into an increased need for people to fulfill support-related and other corporate positions. “Yes, you can be an investment banker, or a trader, or financial adviser,” says Smith, “but you can also work in human resources, legal, compliance, or operations.”