How To Forge A Career In Finance

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Perhaps you’re still young and you haven’t chosen a career yet. Or maybe you’re well established and considering a different career path. In either case, the world of finance may well interest you.

But what exactly does this entail? We have a look at your career options in this field, and we consider some advice to get you started.

How a modest start led to a career in finance

Kgodiso Mokonyane, head of strategy at Discovery Insure, says that she was the child of township entrepreneurs. She was raised around money as she worked in her mother’s business.

“I used this opportunity to practice my accounting homework and it was fun! I know how to manage a tight budget. I’m constantly reflecting on how to optimally maximise my excess income in a way that builds our economy, and this also helps to diversify my investment portfolio,” says Mokonyane.

She believes there is no one way of forging a career in finance, and she likes to look at it as using her strengths to do what she enjoys.

“I recently reflected on my career with my business coach and our CEO, and it became apparent that I have been approaching my career in an entrepreneurial way – something I had never thought about until then,” says Mokonyane.  

Your background can play a huge role in how you handle your career in finance. However, even skills that don’t directly relate to money can be applied to this career path. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t come from a finance-savvy background, and rather ask yourself how your own background will be of use. 

Difference between business and finance

According to Annelize van Rensburg, director of executive search at Signium Africa, it’s important to first distinguish between a career in finance, versus a career in business.

The former is more focussed on mathematics and financial analysis, such as accounting, while the latter has to do with managing a business, such as customer service.

“Finance is more narrowly defined and requires a certain level of skill and qualification,” says Van Rensburg. However, to be an entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily need a qualification.”

With this distinction in mind, Van Rensburg lists the top 10 careers in these fields. The last option relates to a career in business.

  • Financial Director or Manager
  • Actuary
  • Accountant or Auditor
  • Tax Consultant
  • Head of Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Investment Banker
  • Financial Analyst
  • Head of Risk
  • Asset Manager
  • Entrepreneur
Who should consider a career in this direction?

Van Rensburg says that most people can follow a career in business, but for finance, a strong foundation in mathematics and detail orientation are must-haves.

“Preparing for a career in finance requires you to possess a set of industry-related and interpersonal skills. By taking the time to review the basic skills that might be needed for a job in finance, you can provide yourself with the best opportunity for success,” says Van Rensburg.

She believes that education is necessary for both youths and career-changers in finance, and experience will be the gamechanger. Based on her knowledge, she outlines further competencies for both groups:

  • Youths: It helps to have good math scores in matric and to get a financial degree such as a Bachelor of Commerce. Competencies needed: detail orientation, tenacity, perseverance, analytical skills, and results orientation.
  • Career-changers: A financial degree or similar, such as BCompt, CPA, CFA, MBA in Finance. Competencies needed: incredible detail orientation, business acumen, technical skills, communication and interpersonal skills.

“These careers pay well in relation to other jobs, and there is always a demand for strong financial people. These careers are transferable around the world and across all industries, and are a solid stepping stone to general management roles,” says Van Rensburg.

She makes the following suggestions if this career path interests you:

1. Gain experience

Experience is vital in this field. You cannot expect to land a managerial job in finance straight out of college or university. You first need to gain enough relevant experience.

A good place to start would be an internship or junior position at a bank or accounting firm, or in the finance department of a large company. This type of experience will count in your favour when you want to advance your career in the field of financial management.

2. Prioritise

You need to be able to oversee numerous projects and activities at the same time. Time management and prioritisation skills are therefore essential. You can work on these skills in your current job, or even while you’re busy studying.

3. Get qualified

If you want to work in the finance world, you need to be suitably qualified. Even though some financial management jobs don’t require a degree, it’s still important to make sure that you’re in possession of a recognised qualification that’s relevant to the type of work you want to do.

4. Update your skills on a regular basis

Whether you choose to update your leadership skills, improve your financial expertise, or work on your time management, it’s essential that you make an effort to stand out from your competitors and to stay up to date with new developments in your industry.

“Finance is a competitive field, and if you want to be successful, you need to make sure you’re properly prepared for the challenges you’re likely to face,” says Van Rensburg.

“An academic background in finance can be applied to a broad range of careers in virtually every industry. Before arriving at a final career direction, consider your unique combination of skills, interests, values, and personality traits,” she adds.

From her own experience, Mokonyane says that where most people would change course when they hit a wall, she likes to create a new, alternative path.

“I believe that it’s important to find a company with a culture that allows you to work at your best. This includes being able to connect with people at different seniority levels in the business so that you can motivate and support each other to achieve your ultimate goals,” she advises.

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