9 Signs You Have What It Takes to Major in Finance
You feel like a cog in the wheel at your current job, and you’re getting tired of going nowhere. You know you have the natural talents to go places, but you’re just not sure which places will suit you best. One thing is for sure: You need to escape your slow-moving job and find a career where your abilities can shine.
Not all careers are right for someone with your ambitions and perpetual drive. The world of finance is one field that will take your natural abilities and reward you with an exciting and financially satisfying career. But not everyone can hack it in this field.
So how do you know if you have what it takes to major in Finance? We spoke with finance experts about which skills you need to get ahead in this competitive industry. If these characteristics sound familiar, you might be a natural winner in the world of finance.
You should consider a career in finance if …
Finance majors need a specific skill set if they want to achieve success in this dynamic industry. Take a look at this list to see if you have what it takes!
1. You have stellar communication skills
Financial discussions can get complicated. Whether you’re explaining to a client exactly what’s happening with their money or you’re brokering a complex financial deal, you need to have solid communication skills to keep the process moving smoothly.
“As a finance professional, you won’t always be communicating with other finance people that know all the jargon and complex terms,” says Edgar Collado, CFO at Tobias Financial Advisors. Strong communicators know how to adjust their language to get their points across as concisely as possible. “Most of the time you will be talking to colleagues in other areas and departments,” Collado says. “People will seek you out if you make things easy to understand, rather than trying to impress them with your financial acumen.”
2. You take initiative
You don’t need directives to make yourself useful. Whether you are at work or engaging in a project for fun, you like to look at goals and start working on a way to make those goals happen. Even if you aren’t sure how to do something, you know that getting started is usually more effective than kicking around doing nothing.
“I get really bothered when someone says they’re bored and have nothing to do,” Collado says. “It’s about independence. If you are bored, go out and find something awesome to work on without someone having to tell you what to do.” Collado says good employers value initiative and look for employees who think for themselves and take ownership of their work.
“I have always wanted to take ownership of my work, to show my bosses that I can be independent and operate with little supervision,” Collado says. “This has led to many opportunities to lead projects or teams.”
3. You’re inquisitive
You aren’t just curious about finance. You’re curious about lots of things. Some people walk through their day with their head down, just trying to do their part and go home. But that’s not you—you want to see what’s going on. That is a highly valued trait in the finance industry.
“Inquisitive people tend to do well in finance,” says Stephen Hart, CEO of Cardswitcher. “Instead of accepting everything as rote, I advise you to question everything. Why are things done this way? Could I improve this process? Why does this group of people get a bad deal, and this other group get a good deal?” Hart says this mindset led him to ask the most important question of his life, eventually leading to the foundation of his company to fit the need he saw in merchant services.
“I have no doubt that there are thousands of other questions to be answered out there for budding financial entrepreneurs to answer.” Hart says challenger banks once asked why banks generally have such poor digital systems. “And just like that, you’ve got Monzo, Atom, Revolut and so on.”
4. You work hard
When you have your eyes on a goal, you’re willing to work for it. If that means going the extra mile or thinking outside the box, then you’ll do it. You are tenacious when it comes to completing your mission. That trait is pretty valuable in any industry, but in finance, it’s a must.
“The one personality trait that has helped me the most is my great work ethic,” says JC Matthews, co-founder of Simply Insurance. “In the finance industry, smarts will only get you halfway; you also need to be a hard worker.” Matthews did not feel like a strong sales person and wasn’t gifted in small talk. “But I always worked the longest hours, and I would consistently outperform the best sales person on our team.
5. You have high emotional intelligence (EQ)
You don’t have a hard time relating to people. Whether it’s your best friend or someone you’ve never met before, you like to understand where people are coming from, and you are pretty good at reading between the lines of what someone is saying.
“A skill that is rare, but very useful in finance, is high emotional intelligence,” says Jacob Dayan, CEO of Community Tax. “Most of us finance people are analytical thinkers, and sometimes we aren't the best people to talk with when it comes to something as personal as finances.” Dayan says the finance professionals who have high EQ make clients feel that they care.
“Those people tend to do great,” Dayan says. “You can learn a lot from being able to comprehend why someone has the opinion they do instead of just assuming.”
6. You love to learn
You get bored with repetitive tasks that stay the same, week after week. The best jobs you’ve had were marked by their interesting developments, new things to learn and new people to meet. You’re just plain energized when you learn something new, and you’re pretty good at catching on fast. That’s a critical finance trait.
“Finance is a fast-paced field with a steep learning curve,” says Alexander Lowry, executive director of the financial analysis program at Gordon College. “Finance jobs are not stagnant, and the rate of change seems to be accelerating rapidly. You have to put in the effort to learn and to keep up with the quickly moving environment.”
“You can’t just reach a point, plateau and then expect to continue doing well,” Hart says. “The finance world moves so quickly—especially with the digital revolution over the past decade.”
Lowry says new innovations and technological developments like AI, blockchain and “fintech” (financial technology) are altering the whole finance landscape. “They are forcing every role in finance to rethink how the role should be performed.” No matter how long you work in the industry, changes like these will come along and necessitate a mindset of continued learning.
7. You persist
No one likes setbacks, but instead of getting disheartened, you rise to the challenge. You are willing to work at something for a long time if that’s what success takes. And when it comes to finance, time is often a huge factor in success.
Perseverance is a very important trait in the industry according to Anna Knezevic, managing director of M&A Solutions. “Finance as a field can, and does, get boring and challenging at the same time,” Knezevic says. “Being able to adapt and persist can be a success in itself, as it will give you experience that you will be able to use when the environment changes.”
Knezevic explains that lots of people view finance as a way to get rich quickly, but smart financial practices take time. While other people abandon their plans in finance, the professionals who are happy persisting in their work for the long term will see the most return on their work.
Lowry sees a genuine enjoyment for the work at the heart of the issue. “Yes, finance can be financially rewarding. But if your heart isn’t in it, then no paycheck is worth it. Finance is a fantastic career for the right person. Just give it serious thought to ensure it’s right for you.”
8. You’re a natural problem solver
Finance professionals deal with problem solving on a daily basis, from negotiating a deal to determining the best solution for a client. You’ll stand out above the crowd if you can show your employer you have the critical-thinking skills to handle tricky situations.
“I feel that my problem-solving skills have been hugely beneficial in my career,” Dayan says. “In finance specifically, you're going to be faced with new challenges on a daily basis.” Dayan says the vital steps of good problem solving are to assess the situation, weigh different options and quickly make a decision on how to move forward. “Practicing and perfecting these skills is extremely beneficial.”
9. You have the heart of a teacher
You love to share what you know. Whether it’s training someone in on a job, teaching a nephew to ride his bike or showing your grandma how to use her smartphone—you know how to walk someone through a process. In finance, teaching can be a huge part of the job.
“Discussing the topic of money with people requires optimism, an extroverted personality and the ability to translate financial concepts into plain English. You definitely cannot be afraid of the telephone,” says John Bodnar, CEO of Bodnar Financial Advisors Inc.
“Explaining behavioral finance is the most difficult part of my job. Some people walk into my office thinking there’s a magic wand that will fix their financial woes overnight.” Bodnar says, in reality, financial planning is more like losing weight. “It takes a lifestyle change, not a fad diet.”
When clients come in expecting miracles, your ability to teach them how finance works can make all the difference between changing someone’s financial future and a client who walks out.
“The ability to listen and understand the concerns of your clients keeps you focused on the bigger picture,” Bodnar says. “These aren’t just numbers and formulas—these are individuals and families with real hopes and fears. They are taking time out of their busy lives to do an incredibly vulnerable thing—opening their books to a complete stranger.”
Are you naturally inclined to major in finance?
It’s clear by the descriptions above that not everyone is meant to major in Finance. It takes a unique variety of skills and characteristics to excel in this career.
Many people don’t realize how many different roles and job opportunities exist within the finance sector. “Finance is extremely broad and there are many options,” Collado says. “I know professionals in finance that spend 100% of their day buried in spreadsheets running models, and they love it. I also know professionals in finance communication and media that spend most of their day writing stories and taking interviews, and they love it.”
There are so many more finance career options than meet the eye. Now that you can see some of your natural traits working in finance, check out our article, “Jobs You Can Get with a Finance Degree: 4 Elite Opportunities.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in February 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2018.