When most people think about jobs on Wall Street, they picture stock traders screaming in the trading pits, portfolio managers staring at Bloomberg screens or CEOs working on "the next big deal." While it's true that those jobs capture a lot of attention and make up the stereotypical images of Wall Street, the financial services industry also has a thriving support system of communications professionals dedicated to teaching the world about the products and services their firms provide.
Wire houses, banks, brokerage firms, mutual fund providers, money managers, credit card issuing institutions, and just about every mid-sized or larger firm in the business has a need for content creation and client education. The infrastructure required to create marketing materials, client enrollment kits for 401(k) plans, regulatory mailings, client communications and website content involves a number of professionals who specialize in writing, editing and corporate communications.
What Do Communications Professionals Do?
Quantitative analysts create investment products but it is communications professionals who inform the public of their benefits. Communications professionals are responsible for managing, designing, writing, editing and delivering content to internal and external audiences. This may involve everything from the execution of a complete communications vision, to editing or producing content in collaboration with subject matter experts (analysts, portfolio managers and senior executives, among others). Communications professionals might also be involved in managing freelance professionals or overseeing relationships with advertising and public relations firms.
So what does it take to become a communications professional in the financial services business? The minimum educational requirement for a position in this area is a bachelor's degree in any of a wide variety of disciplines. English, communication and writing-related degrees can help you get your first big break, while history, religion, business and any other degree that involves a significant amount of writing can do the trick too. Because these positions are business related, a minimum amount of industry knowledge, either through education or a professional role, is also beneficial.
For more advanced positions, a master's degree in a communication-related discipline or an MBA are handy to have in your toolbox. Likewise, a Chartered Financial Analyst, Certified Financial Planner or similar professional designation can help you become familiar with the stock market, the bond market, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, real estate investment trusts, separate accounts, hedge funds, insurance products, mortgage-backed securities and other investment products that you may be called upon to explain, defend or promote.
There's no substitute for experience. The more time you dedicate to your profession, the more likely you are to develop the broad product knowledge, well-honed editorial skills, creativity, project management skills, eye for design and confidence that you will need to advance your career. Should you decide to move from being an individual contributor to managing a team, you will need to master the leadership skills and political acumen that will keep your team moving in the right direction.
Some other skills that communications professionals must have include the ability to think and work quickly under tight deadlines and extreme pressure. In the real-time world of hungry competitors, complaint-filled blogs and demanding clients, there is no place for procrastination. You need to be self-motivated, able to accept criticism, able to multi-task, and able to deliver high-quality work on or before your deadlines with little to no supervision. You must also keep up to date with new developments in your industry and with your competitors. Being a voracious reader and a fast learner will both serve you well.
The Benefits of Being in the Business
The financial services business is dynamic and fascinating. Financial markets make headline news every night of the week and many publications are entirely devoted to covering Wall Street's ups and downs. As such, the variety of projects is immense, and new media and new products continue to create demand for content. It doesn't hurt that the financial services business is one of the better-paying areas in which a communications professional can build a career. This is because while many forms of printed media are struggling to survive and keep employees, financial firms often have very deep pockets.
Make no mistake about it. Working in the financial services business is not an easy path to success. You will be surrounded by highly-educated, well-paid, ego-fueled coworkers who do not necessarily understand or value your contribution to the firm's success. You'll have to learn not to it take personally - it's the nature of the business. Hard-driven, opinionated people tend to be drawn to the financial services business, and they often make it to the top by focusing more attention on making a profit than on their people skills. Your job is help them sell. In the financial services business, rainmakers are king - everyone else plays a supporting role.
The Bottom Line
Communications is a necessary role. Regulators, sales people and clients all look to communications professionals to help them navigate the markets. Those who do their jobs well, enjoy their work and work their way up the ladder can pave the way to success in a communications career.