Examining the Finance Skills You Need to Succeed in the Field
By Anjali Stenquist on 06/08/2020
As you’ve considered your career options, you can’t help but be drawn to the field of finance. You’ve always had an analytical mind and enjoy managing your own finances—but that can’t be all you’ll need to successfully launch a career in finance, right?
While you might have a few assumptions about what skills typically lend themselves well to this field, it never hurts to get a clearer picture of the potential road ahead. We spoke with experienced finance professionals and paired their insights with job posting analysis data to help provide you with a better understanding of both the technical and the “soft” or transferable skills used on a regular basis.
Ready to learn more? Let’s dive right into it.
The technical skills you need for a career in finance
Success in finance requires a complex understanding of many technical areas. We analyzed over 500,000 job postings from the past years to identify the most common technical skills employers are seeking from financial professionals:1
- Financial analysis
- Financial reporting
- Financial statements
- Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)
- Customer service
- Account reconciliation
- General ledger
As you might expect, many of these skills are tied to accounting, financial planning and evaluating the overall health of a business. While these skills might seem like a lot to master, a Bachelor’s degree program in Accounting or Finance will help equip you with the technical know-how you’ll need.
The soft skills you’ll need for a finance career
There’s more to this field than just the technical skills you’ll develop in a degree program. There are several important non-technical skills needed for a career in finance that should not be overlooked. We asked finance professionals to identify five key non-technical skills that are equally important to master.
The ability to communicate well is an important skill for wide variety of careers—and finance roles are no exception. Finance professionals work with coworkers, clients, and managers who may not always have the same technical knowledge. In order to do their jobs well, professionals in finance need to be able to communicate complex, technical information in an accessible way.
“You need to be able to communicate with clients professionally and effectively in order to excel,” says Jacob Dayan, CEO and co-founder of Community Tax. “Having the ability to communicate financial lingo in everyday terms will make the difference in a client wanting to continue business with you or deciding to look elsewhere. While it is still important to portray to a client your financial intelligence, if you cannot explain it to them where their money is going and how it will benefit them in a way that they understand, then you are doing both them and yourself a disservice.”
Beyond simply translating financial data into digestible terms, the process of communicating with clients can be understood as a kind of storytelling.
“There are a lot of fantastic analysts out there that struggle to advance their careers because they can't convey the story that they found within their analysis,” says Adam Sanders, founder of Successful Release. “Storytelling is the ability to efficiently communicate not just what you found but what that means to the audience and why they should care about it. Struggling analysts just do a data dump or send a spreadsheet; rockstars are able to package their analysis as a story that's easy to remember, easy to digest, and doesn't require the audience to do their own analysis.”
Succeeding in finance doesn’t just require an understanding of numbers and data, it requires an understanding of people: their motivations, anxieties and aspirations.
“Aside from understanding finances, you must understand people,” says Jared Weitz, founder of United Capital Source Inc. “When you can understand the perspective of your clients, the personality traits that drive their financial decisions and how they cope with risk, you will be able to better support them and build a long-term relationship.”
Weitz says clients are often looking for someone who can understand their needs and help them make the right decisions.
“When you are in the constant mindset of seeking to understand others, you will be able to cope with clients when they are stressed or concerned and connect when they are excited.”
You may find yourself working with clients in many different financial positions with different levels of financial literacy. The ability to understand and empathize with your clients will allow you to more effectively serve their needs.
“Learn to have empathy,” says Parker Geiger, CEO of CHUVA Beyond. “For example, if you are working with someone who filed bankruptcy, do not judge your customers or others. Instead, ask yourself, what happened to bring this to this position. Listen, understand. Fix the immediate need for bankruptcy but offer them advice on how to better manage their finance and offer solutions.”
Leadership skills can make the difference between a fulfilling career with growth, and remaining stagnant in an undesirable position. If you want a successful career in finance, it is a good idea to find ways to learn about management.
“Many management skills, especially those across different teams, can only be developed through practice,” says Sanders. “Start volunteering for projects that work across teams and work your way into leadership roles as quickly as you can. It's much better to go through your growing pains on smaller projects like this than to wait until you get promoted and have to learn these skills when a lot more is on the line.”
Working in finance means you may be managing other peoples’ livelihoods—and that can lead to some strong feelings. In those situations, being able to keep your composure is a valuable skill.
“You will need to be unflappable,” says Morgan Taylor, CMO for LetMeBank. “If you panic easily, and react out of panic, then it isn’t for you. The news will always show some reason to panic. You need the ability to look at things analytically and gauge the impacts without bias.”
“Once you are aware of your emotions, then you need to learn how to manage them,” Geiger says. “For example, if you tend to be very reactive and have a short fuse, and think small talk is a waste of time, then it’s time to modify. Consider asking a question as opposed to telling someone something. Think responsive, not reactive.”
5. Big picture thinking
Given the large amounts of data you manage in the world of finance, the ability to think about the big picture is a valuable skill. Matthew Ross, co-founder and CFO of The Slumber Yard, says it’s often easy for individuals in finance careers to get caught up in small details that ultimately prove inconsequential.
“Successful finance professionals need to be able to see the forest for the trees,” says Ross. “They can't get caught up and waste resources over inconsequential details, numbers and analyses that really don't affect the growth of the company. They need to be able to stay focused on the main drivers of the business and prioritize what's important and what's not.”
Interested in a career in finance?
Now that you know more about the finance skills you’ll need for this field, do you think you’d be a good fit for a finance role? Learn more about your potential options with our article, “Jobs You Can Get with a Finance Degree: 4 Elite Opportunities.”
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 504,512 finance job postings, April 1, 2019 – March 30, 2020)