Take some time to think about what you think your options are in banking and finance. Do they all involve working in a bank? Do they all pay well? And, more importantly, where do you start to get to where you want to get to?
The first thing you must realise is that learning doesn’t stop the moment you graduate. University learning is merely the first step – your education, whether you’re a finance, or engineering or even mathematics graduate, is meant to give you the tools you need to do your work, but you will still need to learn how to do it, and to do it well.
The first few years of your career should be about picking up a broad base of skills, and learning about different industries and sectors. You are expected to pick up most of your technical skills at this point – the ability to read and critique financial statements, to understand the generic inner workings of a company’s finances, and also to start developing your interpersonal and communication skills.
There are, of course, different ways to acquire this knowledge. Joining an accelerated training programme with a bank is one. Spending time in an auditing role also has significant value; it is an arduous and thankless job but don’t underestimate its value in sharpening skills, teaching discipline and technical grounding.
It doesn’t hurt to pick up a professional qualification while you’re at it – depending on where your interests lie, you have options spanning various chartered and management accounting courses. These include the aggressive Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and also options like Islamic Finance Qualification (IFQ), Chartered Islamic Finance Professional (CIFP) and Certified Islamic Finance Executive (CIFE) which are scarce and in high demand.
The banking and finance sector itself is multifaceted – each sector has subsectors requiring specific skills and knowledge. The key in succeeding within this sector is specialisation, and ensuring you find a career path that has the greatest compatibility with your abilities and interests.
BFS Sectors At A Glance
- Dealing with cash management and internal financial issues.
- Requires basic financial analysis skills, interpersonal skills, and tax and legal knowledge.
- Important to know your company’s products, both in breadth and depth.
- Easy to become complacent in a routine, and effort must be made in order to shine.
- Similar to corporate finance in terms of roles, but with greater size, scope and pace.
- Career path is not for the faint-hearted, and much is expected of those that take it.
Islamic Finance and Banking
- Spans all areas of corporate finance, commercial banking and investment banking.
- Knowledge of Islamic aspects of banking crucial, but currently scarce in the market – leading to great opportunities for progression.
Corporate finance practitioners are interested in the management of funding, whether debt or equity. Positions exist on both the corporate side (big companies more so than small start-ups) and also on the financial advisory side, including Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) specialists.
Roles include financial analysts who look at the well-being of the company from a market perspective, and treasury functions that focus more on cash management and internal financial issues. M&A specialists, in particular, require broad skills encompassing financial analysis and strong interpersonal skills, as well as jurisdictional and regional tax and legal knowledge which may affect deal-making.
Commercial banking offers various opportunities, by virtue of the wide scope of its operations – from front-end client facing work, to credit management and operations. The key to succeeding in the commercial banking environment is to know your products – this is usually why commercial banks have very demanding management training programmes. The biggest challenge in commercial banking is to remain hungry for success – it is easy to just get comfortable and settle into a routine. To succeed, you need to outperform others to get noticed.
Investment banks (IBs) offer the most glamorous and lucrative career paths, but at a very high and intense price. IBs are concerned with large-scale transactions involving securities – buying, selling, or exchanging of large chunks of shares between two parties, be it in willing agreements or hostile takeovers. This career path is not for the faint-hearted – those intending to do well are expected to learn, adapt and work at a fast pace. Roles in this space include trading, client management, and other work similar to those required in corporate finance. In fact, some corporate finance practitioners see IB as the next step up in their career progression – doing what they’ve been doing at the company or mid-market level and extending the size, scope, and pace to the bigger market.
Islamic Finance and Banking
Islamic finance and banking spans the three previously discussed aspects of finance and banking – Islamic finance specialisations exist in corporate finance, commercial banking and investment banking. In essence, those practising Islamic finance and banking need all the skills of their conventional counterparts, as well as knowledge of the Islamic aspect of a transaction. This combination of skills is highly prized due to scarcity in the market, and bankers and financial practitioners who have this specialised knowledge are able to out-earn and overtake their peers very quickly.
Outside these four big sectors, various specialised opportunities exist with private equity and venture capital firms, as well as hedge funds, financial planning, insurance, and of course, the oft-downplayed public accounting sector. Take time to learn about these sectors, and match them up with yourself as a person. Above all, be passionate in what you do and always be hungry for more.
Remember, if you only do what is required in your job description, you will never outgrow your role enough to progress.