If you’re interested in pursuing a career in banking, then there are a very certain and unique set of qualities and skills that you’ll need in order to be successful. Corporate and investment banking, in particular, are notoriously competitive sectors, and only the very best and brightest tend to make the cut.
So, if you’re ready to make some serious money at one of the top banks in the world, these are the qualities you’ll need to possess!
1. Analytical skills
Regardless of which sector you are working in and the nature of your role, it’s a simple truth that you won’t advance very far in banking and finance unless you possess the analytical skills necessary to identify trends, patterns and definitive conclusions from the reams of data you’ll have exposure to.
This doesn’t just mean being savvy with Excel software or proficient in Python, either – although these are technical skills that will definitely come in handy. You need to know what exactly you are looking for in the data, as well as how it can be used to gain a competitive edge.
2. Commercial awareness
The ability to anticipate financial trends and future business developments across the globe is often what separates a successful banker from a failed one. After all, identifying where market changes are going to occur could be vital for either expanding or protecting a particular area of your bank’s portfolio.
In the corporate world, it’s also necessary to understand how businesses operate and what drives them, particularly if you are working directly with them. If you are working with a client in a particular industry, for instance, then you need to know everything about the climate, risks and potential change factors of that industry.
3. Attention to detail
A keen eye for detail is another requisite for banking, whether it’s noticing particular trends or activities that nobody else has or you are producing complex financial reports for senior management.
Indeed, many finance positions involve the ability to spot anomalies or, perhaps more importantly, simple mistakes. Not noticing an extra zero or two is easily done, after all, but it’s unlikely that your bosses will be too pleased if it results in an unintended $35 billion transaction.
As previously mentioned, corporate banking is an extremely ruthless and competitive environment, where you’ll have to overcome any number of obstacles on your journey from wide-eyed intern to seasoned account manager.
As a result, you’ll need to be fiercely determined to succeed, even if it means working inscrutable hours and making sacrifices in your personal life. Of course, for those who make it, the financial rewards are almost unimaginable, but it won’t be an easy ride to get there.
5. Work ethic
In a similar vein, investment banking is not for the lazy or the unmotivated. The hours will be long and punishing and, despite concerns over the lack of work-life balance in the industry (including brutal 100+ hour work weeks), there seems to be little desire from within the banks themselves to eradicate this extreme culture.
Therefore, especially in the first five years, you should be prepared to push yourself to your limits in order to survive. If you don’t possess a relentless work ethic as a basic minimum, then you should probably consider another career.
The general perception of bankers isn’t a positive one, punctuated as it is by the image of brash, loud-mouthed and arrogant young males driven only by greed and excess. And while this isn’t necessarily a fair reflection of the full reality, it’s undeniable that to stay above water in such an environment, you need to be confident.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to play the stereotype, but – in such a cut-throat environment – it does mean that you should have an unwavering self-confidence in your own ability.
7. Technical skills
As with most industries in the digital age, the large majority of the decisions you make will be based on data analysis. Therefore, in order to access and process that data, to communicate with other stakeholders, to find information and to perform pretty much every other task that will be required of you in a normal working day, you’ll need to be tech-savvy.
Bankers work with a lot of specialised software, so take every opportunity you can during internships or placements to get to grips with as much of it as you can. In your spare time, learn everything you possibly can about Excel, too – particularly model building.
8. Stress management
Given the long working hours, extremely high-pressure environment and the huge weight of expectation on you to perform, it’s little surprise that banking is considered a highly stressful role. In order to be successful in it, you need to have a high tolerance for stress and be able to manage yourself accordingly.
This isn’t optional, either. Many bankers suffer from stress-related health problems and burnout and, in the most extreme cases, turn to suicide. If you’re easily troubled by trivial matters, then banking likely isn’t for you.
9. Communication skills
As with any job, communication is a key skill in the workplace, and banking is no different. Whether it’s explaining complex financial concepts or procedures to non-financial clients, writing and compiling in-depth reports or learning to communicate in a professional manner at management level, how you interact with others will have a big bearing on the success of your career.
Before you get into banking, you should ensure that your communication skills are up to scratch and that you can convey – and take on board – instructions clearly and confidently.
It’s a common mantra in corporate banking and finance that the first five years are the worst, but that once you’ve proved yourself, you can begin to reap the riches and rewards. Therefore, given all the negative factors previously discussed – the hours, the expectations, the competitiveness (and, oh, did we mention the hours?) – you’re going to need to be resilient to reach that point.
Staying the course and reacting positively to everything thrown at you is a sure-fire sign that you have what it takes to reach the top, so grit your teeth, dig in and be prepared to show everybody that you’re strong enough to thrive.
As you can see, life as an investment banker isn’t for everybody. Sure, the financial rewards are a pretty enticing carrot, but bankers have to sacrifice and give a lot in return.
If you feel as though you possess these skills, though, and you have an academic inclination for mathematics, business or economics, then you should definitely consider a career in this lucrative and controversial but undoubtedly fascinating industry.
What other skills do you think a banker needs? Let us know in the comments section below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 2 January 2015.