Did you know that having top-notch mathematical skills and financial knowledge is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to excelling as a financial professional?
Mitch Pisik, who has held numerous senior management positions, including being CEO of Breckwell Products, and has more than 20 years of experience in business development, operations, and finance, advises that "the accounting/financial aspect of the job is the floor—not the ceiling."
In other words, if you can't perform the other basic functions of your job, you won't make it. To stick around and get ahead in finance, you need to master these essential non-financial skills.
1. Communication Skills
Financial professionals can't just be good at crunching numbers – they must be able to communicate their knowledge with strong speaking, writing and presentation skills.
Beverly D. Flaxington, the author of 7 Steps to Effective Business Building for Financial Advisors, says that when you are presenting to a board, an investor or a prospect, you need to know how to convey complex information in a way people can easily understand.
2. Relationship-Management Skills
The people skills you need in order to succeed as a financial professional include understanding different personality types, listening, asking the right questions, resolving conflicts, educating others and counseling clients. Ontario-based financial planner Judith Cane says that success in finance is "15% technical knowledge and 85% psychology. When people come to see me it's because they have issues with money. They spend too much, they don't save anything or they save everything." What clients often need, therefore, is an unbiased advisor who can understand their needs and help them make financial decisions.
Managing relationships is an important life skill, whether you're dealing with subordinates, co-workers, bosses or people outside your company. When people trust you, like you and feel that you respect them, they will want to help you succeed, whether it's by speaking highly of you, promoting you or signing up to be your client.
3. Marketing and Sales Skills
Robert L. Riedl, director of wealth management for Endowment Wealth Management in Appleton, Wisconsin, says financial professionals need to be able to market their professional skills and knowledge to prospects in their niche markets. To do so, it's imperative to have a complete understanding of both your personal strengths and your firm's professional strengths.
He further advises that in marketing yourself to clients, you shouldn't just communicate how much you know, but also how much you care, because "the client's most valuable assets and their biggest daily concern is not their monetary wealth, but rather their family."
Clients want to know that you can help them manage their money to best provide for their family's long-term needs.
4. Project Management Ability
Any task that takes more than a few minutes is essentially a project – one that you'll need to manage effectively in order to be profitable. You'll need to efficiently and effectively schedule your time, manage budgets, meet deadlines and get what you need from other people in time to complete your project successfully.
Both during and after any project, staying organized and paying attention to detail are also key.
Corporate finance professional Myles Wolfe says, "For any analytical project, someone will usually have questions about the inputs and assumptions. If you can't deliver timely backup information, even if it is 100% accurate, people will question the accuracy of the final output."
He says that it's critical to have both your electronic files and hard copies organized to access information quickly. You might be asked a question months after your initial analysis by a CFO who needs the information in 30 minutes for a conference call. "Especially in the financial world, sloppiness is intolerable," he says.
5. Problem-Solving Skills
You will always encounter problems in any job, and being able to solve them rather than cracking under pressure is essential.
To get ahead, it can also be helpful to look beyond your own personal responsibilities. Pisik advises that by helping your coworkers solve their problems rather than simply reporting them to upper management, you'll be viewed as a team player.
"People will gravitate toward you and your career will flourish," he says.
6. Technology Proficiency
No matter where you work, you will need to be proficient with computer hardware and software and able to pick up new programs related to your job quickly. The more shortcuts, keys, programs and functions you know in Excel, the better off you will be in finance. You should also get familiar with marketing and communication software tools.
7. Tenacity and Ethics
A competitive personality, passion for your work and the stamina to work long hours and go above and beyond what's expected of you and what your co-workers and competitors are doing are all crucial to success in finance. At the same time, you can't be so competitive that you make poor choices, or your career and reputation will suffer.
Kevin R. Keller, CAE, CEO of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, says that adhering to a set of ethical standards such as those required of certified financial planners™ (CFPs) is crucial to rebuilding the trust that has been broken by financial scandals.
The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards' Standards of Professional Conduct requires CFPs to provide professional services with integrity, objectivity, competence, fairness, confidentiality, professionalism and diligence—people who work in finance would be wise to adhere to these principles.
Looking ahead to what bosses or clients will need from you in the immediate or even distant future will help you rise to the top. It's not enough to just solve the day-to-day challenges of your job; you must be able to think long term. Consider the following:
- What skills can you develop and what accomplishments can you put under your belt that will land you a promotion at your current company, get your foot in the door at another company or get you rehired if you are laid off or?
- How can you make your boss's life easier by anticipating what he or she will need from you tomorrow, next week or next month, and taking care of it ahead of time?
- How can you develop relationships with your clients by paying close attention to their situations? For example, if you notice that the woman who has come to you for help managing an inheritance is pregnant, realizing that she could need help saving and investing for her child's college education, updating her will and possibly creating a trust can help you create a long-term business relationship with that client.
Wisdom and Interpretation
Los Angeles-based writing consultant Elizabeth B. Danziger, founder of Worktalk Communications Consulting and author of "Get to the Point!," says, "Clients of financial-service professionals are looking for more than knowledge and numbers: they're looking for wisdom and interpretation."
The Bottom Line
By combining your ability to analyze numbers with skills such as communication, project management, and relationship development, you'll emerge as a leader and position yourself to rise to the top of your field.