Finance and analytics professionals use data, powerful software, and other tools to help clients and businesses manage their money. Their insights allow individuals and organizations to make strategic business and investment decisions and optimize financial performance. As a result, many careers in these areas are in high demand. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of jobs for data scientists will grow by 36% in the next decade,1 while the demand for financial examiners will increase by 21%.2
If you’re interested in becoming a financial analyst, you can improve your job outlook by learning essential skills and technologies. This article reviews the must-have abilities and qualifications to help you prepare for success in the financial industry.
Core Financial Knowledge
Finance and analytics jobs require a thorough understanding of financial concepts and principles. You can build a solid foundation by studying:
- Financial statement preparation and analysis: Organize data into coherent reports, examine financial statements to gain insights into operations, and recommend future actions3
- Financial modeling: Use mathematics and software to explore different situations that may occur due to a company’s decisions, the market, and other factors4
- Forecasting: Predict a company’s future financial performance based on current and historical trends5
Data Analysis and Statistical Skills
The finance industry collects and generates vast amounts of data, such as customer account details, credit scores, and transaction records. Financial analysts use many skills and techniques to help business leaders interpret and gain insights from this information, including:
- Statistical analysis: Use mathematical techniques to summarize data, detect patterns and connections between data points, and make inferences6
- Data cleaning and manipulation: Remove abnormalities and errors from datasets and organize the information into a usable format7
- Data visualization: Translate complex datasets into simple or interactive graphics that non-experts can quickly understand8
Financial Software and Tools
Many employment opportunities in the finance industry require proficiency with common financial software and tools, such as:
- Microsoft Excel and statistical analysis systems (SAS): This statistical software lets you input, manage, and analyze data with formulas and other tools9
- Tableau and Power BI: These data visualization platforms enable you to represent data in graphic formats and analyze information more efficiently10
- MATLAB: Use this software to develop sophisticated financial models with curve fitting, calculus, and other mathematical approaches11
Quantitative and Analytical Thinking
Organizations often rely on finance and analytics professionals to solve complex issues, develop strategic plans, and mitigate risk. Many of these tasks involve advanced statistical analysis and data-driven decision-making, and require these proficiencies:12
- Attention to detail
- Strong analytical skills and problem-solving abilities
- The ability to apply quantitative methods to financial analysis
- Fluency in mathematical and statistical concepts
- The ability to spot patterns, trends, and anomalies in datasets
Risk Management and Compliance
Financial organizations face many threats that can damage their reputation and disrupt operations. For example, institutions may face legal sanctions if they don’t comply with federal regulations or lose customers if they experience a data breach.
To keep your company safe and help ensure that it follows all applicable laws, you'll need expertise in:13
- Risk management: Principles and frameworks used to identify, assess, and mitigate financial and security risks
- Regulatory compliance: Policies and procedures created to ensure that organizations adhere to all relevant laws, such as protecting consumer data and regularly reporting on financial activities
Presentation and Communication Skills
As a finance and analytics professional, you’ll work with peers from multiple departments and present complicated financial information to clients, fund managers, portfolio managers, and other stakeholders. Your audiences and colleagues may not be versed in business or finance, so you need top-level interpersonal skills as well as unfailing presentation and communication skills. It’s essential to convey your findings and recommendations in an accessible and engaging manner.
To communicate and collaborate effectively, make sure you're fully proficient at:14
- Writing concisely and persuasively
- Simplifying complex information for diverse audiences
- Listening actively
- Developing rapport with other people
- Designing compelling and visually appealing presentations
- Using storytelling techniques to explain data and findings
Business Acumen and Industry Knowledge
Successful leaders in the finance industry need strong business acumen: an ability to understand a broad range of business approaches, concepts, and practices. They also understand how factors such as the economy and industry trends affect their organizations’ performance. This industry knowledge helps them overcome challenges and make strategic decisions.15
To strengthen your industry knowledge:15
- Attend meetings and workshops hosted by professional organizations
- Learn the ins and outs of your company’s business operations
- Read books, blogs, and trade publications about business practices
- Research financial markets, including emerging markets, and investment strategies
- Create financial models to practice applying financial concepts to real-world scenarios
Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Abilities
Finance professionals often need to analyze complex situations and make decisions that don’t have clear outcomes. Developing these skills will enable you to make the best choices and innovate:16
- Collaboration skills to brainstorm solutions with colleagues
- The ability to make data-driven decisions
- Critical thinking skills to evaluate nuanced financial situations
Ethical and Professional Conduct
If you want to pursue a financial analyst position or another career in the finance industry, you’ll need to adhere to strict ethical and professional standards. For instance, the Association for Finance Professionals’ Code of Ethics requires members to:17
- Act in good faith
- Continually expand their financial knowledge
- Maintain data confidentiality and privacy
- Practice integrity when making decisions and carrying out professional responsibilities
Education and Continuous Learning
The finance industry evolves continually as new approaches, technologies, markets, investment opportunities, and regulations emerge. To succeed through ongoing change, you need the professional agility to adapt–and then to adapt again. A bachelor’s degree can help you get started as an entry-level financial analyst, and conferences and other professional development opportunities can keep you informed about industry trends.
The job market and your career potential will hold much more promise, however, once you’ve earned a master’s degree. This advanced credential from a respected university carries the weight of credibility, dedication, and prestige.
Consider who you'd want to hire into a leadership position requiring cutting-edge knowledge, seasoned insight and adaptability, and the utmost discretion. Instead of the applicant with just an undergraduate degree, even one in a finance-related major, the professional you're most likely to trust is the one who has committed extended time to gaining in-depth expertise.
Become the undeniable hiring choice.
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