Careers in finance can be extremely rewarding, exciting, and lucrative, but also high pressured, demanding and nerve-wracking. Because of the confluence of emotional and mental aspects required for these careers, investment firms often look for specific skills and characteristics in potential employees. There are various roles in investment firms, but one of the highest profile and most sought after is investment banking. Investment bankers facilitate transactions between two firms (like mergers or acquisitions) or between the firm and the market (think IPOs), or within a firm (helping to establish business plans). These varied roles influence the types of skills investment bankers need to possess – many of which are tangible and measurable but some of which are intangible.
Top Five Skills
Many characteristics that firms look for in potential employees are obvious but others are surprising; within each, there are nuances that are difficult to quantify that may make one person more geared toward an investment banking career than someone with a similar skill set. We’ve put together a list of the top five skills that an investment banker needs to characterize and areas of study that may aid in the acquisition of the skills. (For related reading, see The Evolution Of Banking.)
- Intellect: This is perhaps the most obvious characteristic. A strong intellect with particular emphasis on analytics, mathematics, finances and economics goes a long way toward performing many of the job requirements. But it goes beyond these basic core competencies. Investment banking also requires an intellectual curiosity such that you not only perform and understanding your silo of work, but you branch out to understand how a colleague’s work or other factors fit into the overall puzzle. Investment bankers possess a desire to solve complex problems and to create new and innovative solutions. Areas of study that often drive the intellectual skills and propel this type of problem solving and curiosity tend to focus on mathematics, science, such as physics, economics, engineering and finance/accounting, as well as post graduate certificate programs like the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).
- Discipline: News outlets often report on the high salaries of investment bankers but little is told about the long hours, hard-work, diligence and self-discipline that goes into those high rewards. Investment bankers, from the entry level analyst to the top level managing director, work in a pressure cooker environment and because of that, need to be able to perform under intense scrutiny and demands. These traits are often innate, but can also be learned throughout life in numerous ways, such as by subscribing to and accomplishing a demanding task, like graduating law or medical school, or through athletic accomplishments like performing on a collegiate sports team. (For more on the life of an investment banker, read Is Investment Banking For You?)
- Entrepreneurial: Interestingly, with all the rigor and structure in investment banking, the ability to be creative and innovation is an extremely highly regarded skill. The top performing bankers are able to approach a task or provide a solution in a way that may be new, pioneering an avenue for products and services. There is an intangible characteristic that compels individuals to approach a situation from a different angle, and while this may be reinforced by academics, it is often instinctive. University classes, such as entrepreneurial business classes, as well as some science and social science classes, can provide a foundation for more innovative thinking.
- Global: We know the world is more globally connected and business is no different. Broad-mindedness, which opens the door to a deeper understanding of culture and societies, expands the ability to work with and for international businesses. Combining that knowledge and understanding with an ability to communicate in more than one language is an added and sought after skill in investment banking. Academics concentrating on sociology, anthropology, and complimented by advanced linguistic skills (i.e. becoming fluent in a second language like German or Mandarin) are desired skills. A good example is participating in study abroad programs, which promotes these types of skills.
- Relationship Building: This final skill is perhaps the most intangible but considered to be one of utmost importance, particularly as investment bankers climb the career ladder. Social and relationship building skills, such as being able to deal with difficult people in extreme situations, having a high energy and positive attitude that exudes power but also an “I understand your needs” attitude and developing and maintaining client relationships are characteristics that bankers must possess in order to be successful. At the end of the day, investment banks make money based on the amount of fees they get paid by clients. So a strong set of interpersonal skills goes a long way in acquiring and keeping clients.
The Top 5 Skills an Investment Banker Needs
The Bottom Line
Investment banking takes a certain personality and a specific skill set – much of which can be taught and learned in universities, but some of which is intangible and/or inherent. In addition to these learned and natural skills, investment banking takes someone who strives for, commits to and hungers to learn and perform at the top echelon in a challenging environment.