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Financial Services: It's where all the money is

The diverse financial services industry offers a vast array of opportunities and benefits for graduates, despite some of the recent economic shifts.

While it may be helpful to have a business major, it's not a prerequisite to land a job in this industry. From bank teller to portfolio manager to accountant, money is the focus of every financial career. And--good news--as the economy begins to recover and expand, the job opportunities in the financial industry will increase as well.

Broadly speaking, in the financial services industry you have:

  • Commercial banks - dealing with transmission of money, loans, mortgages, pensions, insurance, foreign currency, trade finance, stocks and shares- and a wide range of other investment and lending services.
  • Supermarkets, airlines, large automobile companies etc. - retail financial products such as mortgages, pensions, tax efficient savings accounts, ordinary savings and current accounts.
  • Investment banks - dealing with corporate finance and engineering such as mergers, acquisitions and take-overs; capital market activity such as bonds and equities (shares); stock market analysis; fund and portfolio management, derivatives including foreign exchange hedging Insurance companies.
  • Insurance and re-insurance - providing financial protection against risk for the cost of a premium.
  • Independent financial advisers - helping people plan for their financial future.

Wall Street, the financial center of the world, conjures up visions of ticker tapes, glass skyscrapers, dark suits, and frantic movement. Some find it intriguing; others find it obnoxious. Fortunately for all, plenty of career opportunities exist on and off Wall Street for individuals with a yearning to become "money mavens."

The banking and finance sectors offer some great opportunities. However, this is also matched with historically long working hours and stressful working conditions. With a high vulnerability to market conditions it can make job security in this area low.

Commercial banking, i.e. retail banking, the second main sector in banking tends to offer a more secure route into finance. Although the rewards are not as high as investment banking, many firms in this area have established and respected training programs that lead to recognized industry qualifications and a structured career path where the financial rewards are good.

In preparation for a financial career, useful study options include: English language, mathematics, economics, statistics, business studies, accounting, management and communication. A second language is also useful.

Competition for jobs is fierce. Completion of an internship is also highly valued by employers. Although not necessarily a prerequisite, it would certainly be advantageous to have a mathematical based degree- accounting, economics, engineering etc. However this can depend on the area you wish to become involved in. For example, law degrees are useful if going into the field of compliance. The main thing though, is that you will need to be genuinely interested in the business and financial worlds.

There are, of course many non-academic factors which are equally important when applying for jobs and attending interviews. Recruiters will be looking for a very broad range of personal skills such as the following:

  • Good all-rounders

  • Specific industry sector knowledge

  • Leadership potential

  • Commitment to tasks

  • Trustworthy

  • High standards of personal presentation

  • Team player

Due to the variety of jobs available you will need to have a broad range and depth of skills to show employers. For example traders need self-belief and the ability to make instant decisions while research analysts need excellent analytical ability and should be able to think laterally. If you are working in Wall St then you will need to be outgoing, tough and resourceful, and not afraid to voice your convictions. There will also be plenty of situations which will involve socializing such as wining and dining clients and other corporate hospitality events.

Generally financial companies look for high motivation skills, excellent communication, presentation, judgment, negotiation and commercial skills from very self-confident and dedicated candidates. They will also assess your ability to process large amounts of financial data in a time critical environment. Commercial banks also look for commercial and customer facing skills from numerate candidates.

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