With unemployment rates surging, many people are enrolling at business school to ride out the recession and upgrade their credentials to bolster their job prospects for the economic recovery from Covid-19.
An MSc in Finance is a haven in a downturn, but while the jobs market is more uncertain because of coronavirus, there are bright spots. Internships have largely been postponed rather than cancelled, and the finance sector, banks especially, are far more resilient now because of the 2008 financial crisis.
A finance masters degree is valuable in any economic climate, and here are just a few of the job opportunities that lead on from the rewarding qualification.
Most finance graduates go on to work for investment banks, where the money and prestige is. The job opportunities span M&A, underwriting, analyst roles, sales and trading, with graduates working at such banks as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citi and Credit Suisse.
The routes into top banks tend to be formal and rigid, with applicants working summer internships before being hired permanently. Most hires banks make come from these internship pools. Smaller boutiques also hire masters graduates.
Students tend to be attracted to the dynamic nature of the jobs, working on big-ticket deals with lots of risk and reward. In recent years concerns have been raised about the working culture of investment banks, but they have since introduced more policies to develop a better work/life balance.
They are super-selective, typically hiring only a fraction of those who apply. To stand apart from the pack, students need strong quantitative skills. In addition to this, candidates need to be resilient, to cope well under pressure and handle stressful scenarios well.
Another lucrative role for finance graduates is that of a portfolio manager, who oversees client investments with great power and responsibility. They tend to specialize in an asset class, such as equities or fixed income. Technology threatens the supremacy of the star stock picker, but there are a multitude of roles in asset management firms. They include sales and distribution roles, and relationship managers.
Meanwhile, as interest in responsible investing grows, a range of new roles have emerged for those with environmental, social and governance expertise. Such employees can be found overseeing discussions with board members on issues like executive pay, environmental disclosures and diversity strategies. Demand for these specialists has surged in recent years.
Another area of growth has been in research at fund managers. Driven by the regulatory reform Mifid II, buy-side companies are increasingly taking research in-house rather than buying it from banks, creating new opportunities for research analysts at firms such as BlackRock, which purchases stocks and bonds for investors.
A related area of growth is wealth management, especially in Asia where the growing economy, at least pre-pandemic, had created a large number of wealthy investors looking for advisers to help them allocate their funds more effectively. Relationship management and networking skills are paramount for such jobs.
Compliance / risk management
A tide of post financial-crisis regulation has created new demand for compliance expertise. These jobs exist in-house at asset managers and investment banks as well as at consultancies such as Bovill, at auditors, insurance companies and regulators.
Risk management roles have not always been the most glamorous, but the compliance function is growing in authority and prestige as finance firms seek to navigate the increasing tide of regulatory reform.
Graduates are required to help identify, prevent, communicate and quantify risks. They will need strong numeracy, analytical and strategy skills, as well as problem-solving, planning, research and organisational abilities. Coping well with pressure and communication skills are key too.
Technology / data science
Increasingly, those who can analyze vast data sets to devise an investment strategy are hot in demand. Quant hedge funds in particular are hiring aggressively, but finance graduates may be competing with pure mathematicians and scientists for jobs.
Assets in quants funds have grown rapidly in the past decade, and there’s been a resulting surge in demand for AI and programming skills to price assets and build algorithms that look for profitable patterns in financial markets.
Technology may be expected to displace some financial roles in the years ahead; equity trading has largely become automated, for example. But a whole host of sectors need tech skills, with tens of thousands of technology and data science roles expected to be created across financial markets in the coming decade.
Every facet of finance is using data, even traditional hedge funds which are mining new sources of information for an edge. Banks and insurance companies also want people who can analyze data and devise strategies to design new products and cross-sell services.
Another option for finance graduates is to join the finance department of a corporation in any industry. The job primarily involves maximizing shareholder value and you’ll be at the heart of business operations, helping a company finance its growth through the acquisition or disposal of business units.
The roles include capital raising through bank loans or a public listing, mergers, acquisitions and handling changes in ownership. As well as working in-house in corporations, you could work in corporate finance through an accountancy firm, investment bank, brokerage or advisory firm.
Corporate finance demands a degree of foresight, proactiveness, strategy and entrepreneurialism. That’s in addition to the core analytical and number-crunching skills, problem-solving, communication ability and attention to detail.