Over the years, many readers have posed the simple question: "how does one become a financial writer?" Read on to learn more about this exciting and rewarding field.
What does a Financial Writer do?
Before we delve into the necessary educational qualifications and skill set, it is important to define exactly what a financial writer does. As the name entails, a financial writer creates educational content and/or market commentary for either print and/or web publications. Commentary pieces allow the writer to provide his or her personal opinion on recent business news or corporate governance issues, such as earnings releases or trends in executive compensation. Educational content can range from articles on various financial topics to comprehensive textbooks that might be assigned reading for students in a university course.
Some larger publishers might hire financial writers as employees who work onsite; however, in most cases the writer will freelance and submit work electronically. Unlike some other jobs on Wall Street (and throughout corporate America), it is not usually a clock punching "nine-to-five" position. In fact, it's not uncommon for writers to toil at their computers until all hours of the night or on weekends, as necessary. (For more on how to get a finance job, read Business Grads, Land Your Dream Job.)
So what does it take to become a financial writer? Let's take a look at the qualifications.
Unlike most other careers in finance, there are no set rules regarding education. In fact, every publication tends to vary a bit in its preferences. However, it seems that most financial writers have earned a four-year college degree and have either majored in finance/economics, or in journalism. Many have also taken classes and/or attended seminars to help them to hone their writing skills.
Are master's degrees necessary? In most cases, the answer is no. However, earning a master's degree in management, finance, economics and/or journalism can help set an individual apart, allowing him or her to negotiate for higher pay at some of the more high profile publications.
If you take a look at the various profiles of financial writers available online, you will notice that the majority of financial writers have had prior experience in the securities industry. More specifically, they have most likely worked in some capacity as either a retail or institutional stock broker, an analyst or a portfolio manager. Many have also had experience on both the buy and the sell side of investing. Finally, many have also previously worked for well-known web and/or print publications in the past either as junior financial writers, or as reporters. (For related reading, see Finding Your Place In The Financial Industry.)
Why is this type of background so common? It's simple. Individuals with this type of experience are more likely to have contacts and sources within the securities industry (which helps them to come up with article ideas), and because these individuals are better able to interpret financial news than those without a background in finance.
To be clear, an individual who does not have experience in the securities industry or in journalism can still become a financial writer. However, getting hired, producing content and developing a readership base is generally much harder for those without this experience. Overall, financial writers can produce pieces faster (and more effectively) when they can draw from personal experience and education. A financial writer without these qualifications will have to perform extensive research and, in some cases, interviews with individuals in the industry, in order to produce a piece of the same quality.
A financial writer must be able to generate clear, coherent copy and ask probing questions much like an investigative journalist. The position also demands a person who is able to make intricate financial transactions and terminology easy to understand for the layperson.
There are other characteristics that every successful financial writer must have as well. For example, writers must be able to dissect recent news stories for inspiration for an article topic, or have the ability to produce a timely commentary piece within a matter of hours (or even minutes) from a news release. It also requires a person with creativity, as the individual must be able to develop content that is appealing to the masses.
Finally, the writer must be able to tailor his or her style so that it is consistent with the medium in which he or she operates. In other words the writer must be able to adapt the style of writing toward print and/or web publications as necessary. (Note that print publications typically demand content that contains extensive quotations from industry sources and can vary in length from 1,500 to several thousand words, while web content is generally in the range of 400 to 2,000 words and typically has a more conversational style.)
Ideally, the earlier you can make the decision to become a financial writer, the better. As mentioned above, it is wise to take courses and/or major in business or journalism during college. In addition, an individual coming out of college should be able to work in some capacity within the securities industry. This hands-on experience will help prospective financial writers understand and interpret financial news later in their careers.
Alternatively, a college graduate could work to secure a position at a major newspaper or magazine where their "beat" includes covering the equity markets. This position would be valuable as it would help the individual perfect his or her writing skills as well as improve knowledge of the securities industry and the financial markets.
Finally, some financial writers can succeed within this career, well after college, with only industry experience, especially in cases where their financial career involved extensive research and written reports on various companies, or face-to-face interaction with clients when advising on their investment portfolios (which often involves breaking a process into laymen's terms). (For more info on landing a job in finance, read Top Job-Search Mistakes For Finance Grads.)
Regardless of the initial job one chooses right out of school, it is necessary to gain experience writing market commentary or formal research reports prior to pursuing a career as a full-time financial writer. Finding a company that will help hone writing skills and improve your knowledge of the capital markets is a good place to start.