The UK’s financial services sector is huge and includes some of the biggest names in world finance. How does your Military background help towards making you a money man (or woman)?
Firstly, finance is competitive but there are good reasons for this. Graduates that get into banking are amongst the highest paid, with the sector offering handsome packages to those they consider to have the correct background, skills and qualifications. Furthermore because there are plenty of financial firms to choose from, the last thing any of them wants to do is put candidates through training only to see them accept another job offer with a competitor after they’ve invested in them.
Having said that, financial firms rarely shy away from encouraging the competitive spirit amongst workers. Employees in the sector are somewhat famed for their competitive streak and are usually looking for the next step on the career ladder. Anyone looking to be a success in the financial sector needs to be ambitious and should be able to put together a plan or strategy to enable them to move onwards and upwards. In the financial sector, figures are the guiding force behind all decisions. Making money is what it all boils down to.
Whilst this might seem to describe a very harsh environment, it’s also a very fair environment. It’s a sheer meritocracy where your ability to make good decisions that turn into successful financial outcomes will always earn plaudits. It also indicates the position of the financial sector at the heart of the economy. All commercial organisations and businesses have finance at their core and decisions made regarding investment and cash-flow can be extremely important. A head for figures is handy but a head for working under pressure is crucial. The other thing to keep in mind is that the nature of the financial sector is so broad that you could find yourself working on the accounts of a small business or being responsible for the balance sheet of a multi-national with all but the same skills, depending on the career decisions you make.
The financial sector covers such a wide variety of roles that are available all over the country and not just, as you might have assumed, in the heartland of London’s ‘Square Mile’.
A bank cashier or teller processes payments and issues currency either face-to-face with customers in-branch or via a call centre. In either case, they need to have an understanding of banking processes as well as a feel for customer service. It may only be a drop in the financial ocean, but the sum in question might represent one person’s life savings or that week’s payroll for 20 people. Moving up to bank manager will mean retaining some of those tasks and retaining experiences by which decisions are made that might affect people or a business’s borrowing conditions. An eye for detail and a professional manner are the ideal starting point.
Just as in combat, (financial) burdens and liabilities require skill, strategy and an element of risk to help control and manage them. (This is especially the case in volatile times.) It’s also the case when you’re dealing with accounts worth millions or billions of pounds where a percentage fluctuation can wipe out extraordinary amounts of money – although this is slightly disrespectful given that bankers must also show sensitivity to smaller account holders as well. Risk managers use complex modelling systems to determine risks to their client’s assets and trading positions. Such models attempt to resolve all of the likely (and less than likely) variables. When it comes down to it this is a role about timing, judgement and knowledge of how the markets perform under certain circumstances.
Of course, much of the financial sector is heavily regulated to make sure that it is aligned with the law. For many individuals and small businesses in particular, tax and related matters can be a real headache. More specifically, mistakes during the assessment process can look a lot like tax evasion (illegal) rather than tax avoidance (legal) and depending on the opinion of the HM Customs and Revenues office can result in heavy fines or even imprisonment. Little wonder then that businesses tend to hand responsibility to experts who they expect to keep them on the straight and narrow by preparing their accounts and performing tax audits. Having said that, tax avoidance – or the legal method of paying less tax is an art form that they will expect their technician to be well versed in.
A management accountant doesn’t just count the beans. In fact they have a much more hands-on role within a business than simply ascertaining profit and loss in different departments. The term includes the word ‘management’ to suggest that there is an element of strategic thinking involved in the role and that it isn’t just about retrospective resolution of cash-flow issues and the like. Specifically, the management side of it will be focused on where areas of the business could be made either more efficient or less wasteful – both to advance the notion of ‘saved money, is money gained’. The role then is about assessing and understanding the potential financial future of the business and helping fellow managers to make timely and appropriate business decisions based on the strengths and weaknesses as have been identified. The role therefore, also incorporates elements of risk management and contributing to frameworks and practices for identifying, measuring, managing and reporting risks in line with the management’s collective vision of what they want their organisation to achieve.
One of the reasons why roles like financial advisor exist is that finance is such a vast landscape – and for that, you need a guide. Financial advisors need to be something of an all-rounder and have at least some knowledge on most facets. When faced with questions that they can’t answer they need the basics to be able to go away and find the best solutions for their client – and that can often require an ability to understand the language of finance as used in a variety of sources.
Financial advisors provide strategic financial advice to individual or corporate clients about anything from tax to investments. They are a financial ‘jack of all trades’ but very useful to have at your elbow to ascertain a rule or a fact that could mean the difference between making and losing money on any given project.
The financial sector may not be an obvious place to look for your next career move but there are a number of reasons why Service-leavers should give it some serious thought.
Despite its reliance on modern technology, finance remains a very traditional and professional sector and this provides an immediate parallel with the Armed Forces. Your ability to follow instructions whilst making quick decisions based on initiative could give you a real edge in what can be a very fast paced and pressurised industry.
It’s true that the hours are sometimes long, so employers are impressed by Service-leavers that bring with them the reputation of diligence and quality; both hugely important aspects in finance. An eye for detail and strategy will also go a long way as will any experience you have in motivating and managing teams.