In finance, securities professionals are responsible for managing money, investments, and other financial instruments. But on the publishing side, there is a group of writers and reporters who are tasked with creating content that provides information about and analyzes financial markets, the economy, and all things money-related.
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 a Financial Writer Does
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 market commentary for digital and print publications. Commentary pieces, social media posts, and blog posts often allow the writer to provide their 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 learning guides, or textbooks that might become assigned reading for students in a college course.
A number of financial publishers might hire writers as employees who work on-site; however, in other cases, the writer will work in a freelance capacity and submit their work over the internet. Unlike some other jobs on Wall Street (and throughout corporate America), it is not necessarily a clock-punching "nine-to-five" position. It's not uncommon for writers to toil at their laptops until all hours of the night, or on weekends, as necessary.
Becoming a Financial Writer
So what does it take to become a financial writer? Let's take a look at some of the qualifications.
Education: Unlike most other careers in finance, there are no set rules regarding education. Publications tend to vary a bit in their preferences. However, it seems that most financial writers have earned a four-year college degree, and have either majored in a business-related discipline, journalism, or digital media. Many have also taken classes—whether through a traditional school or online training provider—or attended seminars/conferences to help them develop their writing skills further.
Are master's degrees necessary? In most cases, the answer is no. However, earning a master's degree in management, finance, economics, or journalism can help set an individual apart, allowing them to negotiate for higher pay at some of the more high-profile publications.
Experience: If you take a look at the various profiles of financial writers available online, you will notice that some financial writers have had prior experience in the securities industry. More specifically, they may have previously worked in some capacity as either a retail or institutional stockbroker, an analyst, or a portfolio manager. This may include experience on both the buy-side and the sell-side of investing. Others may have previously worked for well-known financial media companies in the past either as junior writers, editors, reporters or producers.
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 they 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 journalism can still become a financial writer. However, getting hired, producing content, and developing a loyal following 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 to produce a piece of the same quality.
What Skills Does a Financial Writer Need?
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 can 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 both appealing to the masses, and also built in a way that optimizes its findability in search and social channels.
Finally, the writer must be able to tailor their style so that it is consistent with the medium in which they operate. In other words, the writer must be able to adapt the style of writing toward web, social, or print as necessary. (Note that print publications typically demand content that contains extensive quotations from industry sources and can vary in length from 1,000 to several thousand words, while web content is generally in the range of 200 to 2,000 words and typically has a more conversational style. Social content can be even shorter, and may place a greater emphasis on the creation of accompanying visual media.)
Determining a Career Path
Ideally, the earlier you can make the decision to become a financial writer, the better. As mentioned above, it is wise to take courses or major in business or journalism during college. Also, 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 financial news or content publisher where their "beat" includes covering the equity markets or even cryptocurrency. This position would be valuable as it would help the individual perfect their 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).
The Bottom Line
Regardless of the initial job one chooses right out of school, it is necessary to gain experience writing market commentary or formal research reports before pursuing a career as a full-time financial writer. Finding a company that will help hone your writing skills and improve what you know about how capital markets work, is a good place to start.