How to Make it in the Finance Industry


  1. Develop your emotional intelligence.

While numeracy and IT literacy are most often cited as key requirements needed to be successful in the finance industry, a high degree of emotional intelligence, or ‘EQ’, is just as, if not more, important. Ultimately, this is a people business, but a people business on steroids, i.e. full of big personalities. To make it in this industry, the ability to interact with people as individuals, as clients and as markets, all with complex behaviours that work on multiple levels, is essential. The ability to read a situation and respond accordingly is paramount, while at the same time, not losing sight of your own values or perspectives.

  1. First impressions

While this might sound superficial – and one could argue that you shouldn’t ‘judge a book by its cover’ – perception is reality: you need to look and sound the part. Unfortunately, within the finance sector, as is undoubtedly the case in other sectors, there are plenty of people who think this is enough to guarantee success – a lot of mediocrity hides behind designer labels.

  1. Back up your personal brand with

Do your research; don’t be afraid to bring a different perspective; articulate your views clearly and appropriately, and tailor them depending on the audience. Ultimately, act as business card agnostic. While there will be occasions where the corporate brand is paramount, in most instances business is transacted where people can empathise and have respect for the integrity, capability and personality an individual brings. Believe in yourself, continually build your brand and understand what you want to be known for.

  1. Understand the basics!

On first impression, the finance industry can appear extremely complex and of course, many people hide behind this perceived complexity to bamboozle with acronyms. Ultimately, everything in finance can be distilled down to cashflows. Understand cashflows and the way in which they are generated and managed and you will be well-equipped for most situations. At the same time, don’t make the mistake of applying logic to all situations: as previously stated, this is a people business and ultimately, the logical outcome doesn’t always prevail – emotions, politics and egos can (and do) drive outcomes in very different ways. Be aware of this in order to influence these ‘softer’ considerations where possible.

  1. Understand both the macro and micro drivers impacting the sector.

The finance industry is undergoing significant transformation, being driven in large part by technology (FinTechs, the Internet of Things, Distributed Ledger Technology, Machine-Learning and Robotics, for example); demand from customers, and continued regulatory scrutiny. The industry continues to grapple with the fallout from the Financial Crisis of 2008, whereby RoE remains either single digit (when talking about European banks), or low teens (when talking about those in the US). Of course, we also have Brexit and the European banking landscape to contend with. Stay relevant and up to date on how these dynamics inform and impact the industry.

  1. Manage your time effectively and robustly

…and don’t lose sight of what’s important to you. Make time for friends and family, but also carve out time to step back, think and reassess. As part of this introspection, prioritise and maintain a focus on outcomes rather than activities – never be a busy fool.

  1. Apply a customer-centric lens.

The finance industry has finally recognised the need to place the customer at the heart of its thinking: delivering better customer experience is key to retaining and attracting customers. Siloed, vertical, functional models have in large part been replaced by horizontal, cross-functional models that best serve the end-to-end customer journey. Understand this holistic approach, and how the digital ecosystem has a significant and growing part to play in how financial services are designed, distributed and consumed, and you won’t go far wrong.

  1. Encourage a collegiate, inclusive way of working.

A further manifestation of this holistic, end-to-end thinking is the changing dynamic between the front and back office. Previously, the front office was viewed as the profit centre and the back office as a cost centre. There’s now a recognition that profit made in the front office can very quickly be lost in the back office unless transaction flows are effectively managed front-to-back. This not only requires investment in systems, governance and controls but also requires a cultural shift whereby people work in a more collaborative, co-operative way and incentives are designed to embed the right behaviours. This way of working is a top agenda item across all sectors of the finance Industry.

In summary, the finance Industry remains a rapidly-changing and evolving sector with multiple, inter-woven dynamics, which present opportunities, threats, risks and dependencies in equal measure. There are numerous multi-faceted and nuanced influences that are now shaping the future; disintermediation, digitalisation, commoditisation, customer centricity, culture and ways of working. Being able to quickly assimilate, navigate and interpret them will be key to ensuring you remain relevant and progressive in this industry. Volatility is, after all, the industry’s mainstay. This all results in the finance industry being a sector that continues to grab your interest, provide rewarding work (not just financial) and deliver some fun along the way…arguably the three main components needed to be successful in any sector, finance or otherwise.

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