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.
Therefore, we’ve compiled a list of the top skills you’ll need as a banker, from the hard skills you’ll be required to gain in school to the soft skills that will look great on your résumé and help you stand out as a candidate for a banking job.
So, if you’re ready to make some serious money working 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.
Having background knowledge of different industries and keeping up with the newest trends, developments and changes in the banking world and beyond will be integral to your success. Your commercial awareness could be the determining factor in bagging a big client or landing a promotion
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 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. Consequently, having sharp attention to detail could prevent errors and mistakes from happening, which, in turn, will help you demonstrate that you are a trustworthy employee and an asset to the company.
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. After all, the competition is fierce, and the road to success can be narrow when it comes to banking careers.
5. Work ethic
In a similar vein, investment banking is not for the lazy or the unmotivated. It is no secret than bankers work long hours. Indeed, junior bankers at Goldman Sachs reported that they were expected to work 100-hour workweeks, leading to extreme burnout and high stress levels. While this extreme work culture and lack of work-life balance should not be normalized, bankers, especially at the early stages of their career, are expected to have an immaculate work ethic.
Therefore, as an entry-level professional, you will need to be ready to dedicate the time necessary to establish yourself within your role. 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 unwavering self-confidence in your own ability.
As banking has traditionally always been a male-dominated industry, confidence is even more important for a woman trying to take her first steps in this sector. While it might seem daunting at first, confidence is integral in order to break the much-dreaded glass ceiling.
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, 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 specialized 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. To be successful in it, you need to have a high tolerance for stress and good coping mechanisms.
This isn’t optional, either. Many bankers suffer from stress-related health problems, burnout and other mental health issues. If you are a stress-prone person who does not work well under pressure, then this might not be the most fitting career choice 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.
In corporate banking and finance, it is often said 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. That said, you must also know your own limits and recognize when a company’s culture is toxic and harmful. While this industry is not for the faint-hearted, you should also recognize when the environment is no longer allowing you 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 undoubtedly fascinating industry.
What other skills do you think a banker needs? Let us know in the comments section below!
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 19 June 2019 and contains contributions by staff writer Melina Theodorou.