As a finance professional, the ability to evolve with your industry’s changing priorities can make the difference between building a good career and a truly great one.

The rapid change that has characterised the finance sector over the past 10 years shows little sign of slowing. FinTech firms are leveraging big data from e-commerce and other internet-based services to personalise the customer experience. Established financial services players are responding with their own digital transformations, launching e-commerce platforms and new online wealth management tools. At the same time, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence are poised to further disrupt the marketplace and reshape traditional approaches to financial services.

5 Ways to Advance Your Career in the Finance Sector
5 Ways to Advance Your Career in the Finance Sector

As a result, banks are having to shift their business models to succeed in a more fragmented and highly competitive landscape, and that’s having an impact on hiring needs. Sound finance qualifications, technical skills and experience are still critical to success in the finance sector. But in the digital age, institutions are increasingly looking to acquire senior talent with skills and capabilities that go beyond finance – those that can help them cultivate a challenger mindset and deliver speed-to-value and innovation.

So, what does this mean in practice? Here are 5 things finance professionals can do to upskill and ensure they stay best in class.

1. Develop a strategic perspective

Strategic thinking involves the ability to analyse the impact of changes taking place across the finance sector and identify effective ways to create and capture value in response. It’s a critical skill in today’s competitive environment, where financial services providers are under more pressure than ever to achieve strong, profitable growth.

“Say you’re seeking to build a career as an investment manager. To succeed in such a role today, you’ll need to constantly seek out and identify opportunities to elaborate your organisation’s strategy,” says Kynan Lee, Assistant Director, Financial Services, Career Development Centre, INSEAD. “That means you’ll need to be up-to-date on market forces and conditions, and investor queries and confidence. You’ll also need to be astute and well-connected enough to source for private deals, or spot something that others don’t as you look for ways to identify and convert investment opportunities.”

2. Be an outstanding communicator

Finance professionals are increasingly expected to act as business partners and trusted advisors to functions within their organisation, adding value by supplying insights to key decision-makers. This could mean collaborating with the sales team to evaluate the financial impact of pricing or promotions, reviewing business processes with the operations team to monitor costs, or evaluating acquisitions and investments.

As this “business advisor” role becomes more critical, finance professionals must be capable of interacting with a range of stakeholders and communicating effectively with all of them.

“Good communication skills will be tested in job interviews,” says Ayyaz Ahmad, Asia Pacific Managing Director, Funds Partnership Asia. “For example, candidates who are applying for a role in a private equity firm might be asked to describe a deal they’ve worked on. The expectation would be that they are able to give a highly articulate answer that follows the form of a typical ‘investment memo’. In other words, they’d need to explain three or four reasons why they went into the deal, why it was challenging and how those challenges were overcome.”

3. Build networks

In any organisation, the ability to forge new partnerships and sign new deals that can help a product or service gain a foothold in the marketplace is central to business success. Investing time in professional relationship building – otherwise known as networking – can make all the difference when it comes to unearthing more opportunities.

“In Asia more so than in Europe, deep relationships are still the key to doing business, with networking proving time and again to be one of the most effective ways of initiating this. And that’s not only from a direct introductory basis, but also from referrals,” says Robert Hayward, Principal Consultant, Funds Partnership Asia. “I would recommend anyone who is serious about their finance sector career to network as much as possible with like-minded professionals, both through local events and conferences or by seeking out peer-learning and mentoring programmes.”

4. Cultivate “learning agility”

Financial services organisations need people with “learning agility” if they are to build a workforce that is smart, agile and ready for the future. That means professionals need to open up to new opportunities to learn, by volunteering for on-the-job stretch assignments, for example, or aiming for a rotational role within the firm to get a better breadth of experience.

Demonstrating such an ability is especially valuable if you’re after a senior role in the more competitive areas like investment banking, private banking and private equity. Candidates in these areas must show how they can deliver value if they are to stand out from the crowd.

“Private equity companies, especially, expect a good deal more versatility and flexibility from candidates these days,” says Nicholas Ford, Head of Principal Investment — Asia, Cobalt Consulting. “People need to be able to demonstrate they can think out of the box, even if they don’t have direct experience within a particular sector. We’re also seeing people with backgrounds in more logic-driven fields like engineering do well if they make the switch to banking because they have been trained to be able to justify their thought processes to show rational thinking. That kind of agility is valued.”

5. Seek formal training opportunities

Finance professionals should work proactively to adapt and develop new skills and knowledge in line with business needs and evolving processes. That may include external training or higher education, where they can gain a formal qualification as well as broader project and people management skills all in one package.

Upgrading and upskilling is a never-ending process as the competition intensifies daily,” says Daryl Ong, Consultant – Funds, Corporate & Trust Services, Funds Partnership Asia. “It is always worth it to continuously invest time and effort to learn and develop your skills by doing a master programme, completing the Chartered Financial Analyst® qualification, or taking online courses. These will help you keep abreast and adapt to market changes and also stand out from other candidates.”

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