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Can I Convert to a Finance Career?

The idea of changing careers is nothing new these days. It’s a brave thing to do, particularly if you’ve been in the same career for quite a long time, and it can be very rewarding. New challenges keep our brains keen and perky!  Is a finance career an option if you want to convert?

There is no real ‘conversion course’ that creates a structured, accredited way to transfer into the finance industry such as what you’ll find in industries like the legal sector with the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). This doesn’t mean that it’s completely impossible and out of reach. There are actually a number of things you could do.

Transferable skills for a finance career…

With no conversion course or fast-track route available for career converters, you’re going to have to think hard about the transferable skills you’ve gained so far, whatever your career experience may be, and how they could be utilised in a finance context.

Some areas do require very specific and high level knowledge in order to get started. If you’re thinking of converting to something like financial analysis and becoming a quantitative analyst (a ‘quant’) for instance, or an actuary, you may find it very difficult to convert to this kind of finance career if you don’t have a qualification and/or relevant experience in financial mathematics and quantitative work. Many of the people who become quants have at least a Master’s or even a PhD in a subject like financial mathematics or physics – something with a lot of quantitative focus.

If your background is in IT, you could potentially shift sectors to technology in banking, which is highly specialised and much faster paced that some other sectors with IT roles. If you’re top of you game in your current role, you could work in an area like infrastructure in investment banking or digital forensics – cyber security. Cyber security takes exceptional candidates from a whole manner of different backgrounds, so if you consider yourself to be part of the IT elite, then this is worth a look.

Something for everyone…

But don’t be disheartened if you don’t have the specialist knowledge and skills necessary for some business areas. You do have options!

Professional services firms are often looking for people with a broad range of experiences – not just something related to the industry – and a sharp ability to problem-solve, so you will by no means be discriminated from the recruitment process just because you’ve never worked in finance before, or if you don’t have a finance related degree. What’s important is that you have aptitude for maths and English (a minimum of grade C or B in GCSE maths and English language, or the equivalent, is necessary, and you’ll have to complete numerical and verbal reasoning tests), and you can prove your understanding of and interest in business. So if you’ve got an interest in accounting, tax or consulting then professional services could be the way forward.

If you’ve worked with languages, then that’s certainly ticking a box for big finance firms as well; the globalised nature of business today means that language speakers are essential!  There could be options within sales or account management.

School teachers of various subjects are known to go into areas like HR in finance. They can be great in talent management roles and in school leaver and graduate recruitment because they have an in-depth understanding and experience of working directly with the target candidates for their talent pool. Various other backgrounds like administration and legal experience could lead into HR in a finance organisation too.

Ever thought of retail banking? It also offers options for people from various different backgrounds. Working in a branch, for example, there’s a lot of interaction with the general public, so if you’re interested in a mixture of sales and customer services then this could be a great career changer option. A strong ability to communicate well and build rapport with customers is highly valued, and any management experience you’ve had could set you up for branch manager positions. There’s also the opportunity to train up as a financial adviser.

What’s more, it’s quite common for people to be able to cross over into private banking once they’ve built up some credentials working in retail banking. So there’s plenty of scope for career progression and variety longer term if you convert into a retail banking role.

Professional qualifications…

What about the qualifications? It’s true that it can be difficult to convert into a more senior role in finance right away if you’ve had very little experience of the field and you don’t have the required industry knowledge.

If you’re certain about the finance career you want to move into, then there are likely to be a number of foundations courses and professional qualifications you can begin to study for to boost your knowledge and start to develop essential skills for the field.

Take a look at the qualifications employers in your prospective new industry look out for in job candidates, and the kinds of professional courses they offer their new intake (for example as part of their graduate or school leaver intake). You may not be able to start all of these courses right away, as some require on-the-job experience to run alongside study.

There are a few business schools, such as BPP, which run evening and weekend classes to support students through these qualifications. Bear in mind however that if you choose to begin one of these courses independently (without an employer to sponsor you), you will have to fund it yourself, and they can get quite expensive. Do plenty of research on your course options first to make sure it’s feasible.  

By Jos Weale, Editor, AllAboutFinanceCareers.com

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