Despite industry volatility, demand for further education has not been dampened and a career in finance remains a strong allure for much of the brightest talent. The recession has witnessed rising interest again in postgraduate programmes of study, but now with greater expectations (supported by demonstrated efforts) of instilling responsible leadership and ethical standards. These trends are being reinforced in the less developed areas of eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, for example, where students are increasingly keen to realize their potential. Recruiters are also interested in building up their Eastern European operations, reflecting this geographical shift.
These movements are all taking place within the wider context of Europe’s Bologna Accord, first adopted 10 years ago. The objective of the agreement (between 40 countries) was to drive the harmonisation of graduate and undergraduate education, including finance, and it is contributing meaningfully to mobility of students, quality of education and recognition of achievement. The success of this initiative is shown by growing numbers of non-European (including North American) students drawn to finance programmes of Europe’s leading education providers.
In spite of the global recession, companies are also committed to building and retaining talent, and investors, perhaps more wary under current market conditions, have become more active in sourcing the best people in the investment industry. By earning further qualifications, practitioners demonstrate to employers, colleagues, and clients that they have attained a high level of proficiency in investment knowledge.
If you are considering entering the world of finance, research the major sectors (banking and financial services, insurance, actuarial work, accountancy) carefully as the various divisions and options can be daunting! For example, private banking is more focused on customer relationships whereas investment specialists and analysts tend to be more institutional, with less client contact. If you want to secure a job in a financial institution, you will probably have a preference for front office operations (revenue creation such as trading, sales, lending) or back office functions (account administration, settlement, regulatory compliance). All these positions, however, have to be based on trust and competence.
So what helps the brightest get ahead in the investment profession? Many students who wish to pursue a career in banking and finance strive to boost their professional credentials, and further study is, of course, one way of doing this. In today’s tough job market, any positive differentiating factor is an advantage. A Masters in Finance or a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is certainly helpful but may not be sufficient in itself. A bridge between academic theory and practice often remains, and many such programmes miss some fundamental elements such as teaching the importance of ethics. Alternative and complementary routes exist such as the CFA Program, a self-study graduate level investment credential that has become globally recognised across the industry.
To be an exceptional investment professional, it is important to stay abreast of current topics, understand what is going on in the marketplace and to apply theoretical and technical knowledge in a practical way. One way of doing this is to take advantage of executive education programmes offered by many educational institutions. Most, but not all, finance programmes help to ensure that graduates complete their studies with a thorough grounding not only in the fundamentals, but also in ethics and professional conduct, so it is important to be selective.