The skills you need in the fast-moving investment industry

These are the most important skills for developing a career in the finance industry

As firms struggle to retain new hires and diversify the skills within their teams, the global association of investment professionals, CFA Institute, has published The Future of Work in Investment Management: The Future of Skills and Learning. This fourth report identifies how the finance industry can attract young graduates to the field by considering their innate skills and interests.

Firstly, it is important to remind businesses that they need to recruit people from diverse backgrounds to create a stronger and more inclusive workforce. Broadening the pool of candidates beyond purely financial backgrounds allows them to build effective teams of specialists and generalists with diverse skills. 

Technical skills

Many changes related to technological advances and the evolution of hybrid work continue to alter the shape of careers in finance. In response, employers are now looking for a combination of skills, motivation and experience. In terms of the skills developed throughout a career, the report reveals that technical skills are most important at the start of a career, along with soft skills and leadership skills.  

Regarding soft skills, the most important category is influencing, persuading and negotiating. Time management, direct communication and resourcefulness are other skills that have gained importance in the new workplace. Executives and managers must adapt their skills to succeed in a more flexible and dispersed work environment.

T-shaped skills

For more experienced profiles, T-shaped skills become more important over time (49%). Companies need talent that has expertise in one area, broader knowledge in other disciplines, and the ability to link them together. 

These skills are essential in the investment sector, where traditional careers are less common. Career paths in finance are becoming more varied, with more career breaks and greater flexibility. The report found that investment managers and those in fintech, IT, trading, sales and accounting roles are most likely to expect significant changes. 

To help firms understand these transformations, the report also identified the skills and learning equation for developing talent and careers in the changing investment industry. 

AI and machine learning

The skills most in demand by investment professionals include a fundamental understanding of AI and machine learning, as well as knowledge of sustainability issues. New sources of data will impact the skills needed to make investment decisions. 

However, the report highlights the current gaps between the supply and demand for skills. Investment professionals are interested in new skills but are limited by time. Of the 16 most sought-after skill areas, notable differences between ‘saying and doing’ is evident. In the case of AI, for every person who acquires this skill, three more intend to do so.  

Currently, some 20% of respondents say they are still learning about AI and machine learning, which shows the extent to which respondents believe AI will change the investment landscape. Sustainability and data visualisation saw the biggest overall increase in interest levels compared to the previous two-year period.

Companies also need to be more proactive, as less than half of respondents have support from their employer to develop the new skills they need.

Rebecca Fender, CFA, Head of Strategy and Governance for Research, Advocacy and Standards, CFA Institute, said: “We talk to those in the sector about what they are looking for when hiring, and we also seek to give advice to those entering the sector or at the start of their career on what will help them succeed.

“The workplace has changed dramatically, and as the investment industry competes for top talent, there is an opportunity for investment organisations to reset and refocus their attention on talent development programmes that match the pace of change. It is not just new markets, new asset classes, new data sources and new investment techniques that require a new approach to skills and learning. For many, hybrid working has opened up a new way of looking at the employer-employee relationship.”

She continued: “Some of the hardest skills to find are creativity, empathy, humility and the ability to make connections between disciplines. But if we look at these different skills, they have different importance in a person’s career.

“In the beginning, it’s actually the technical skills that are most important. So it is necessary to build a solid foundation here. Then you’ll see that as people progress in their careers, the importance of soft skills, leadership skills and technical skills increases to be successful in the sector.

“T-shaped may be a new term for you, but it is a combination of skills. These skills are highly valued, and recruiters expect them to be increasingly important in the future. So the types of T-shaped include things like understanding the whole system you are working in in the wider organisational context, adaptability and situational fluency. It is also about having a valuable network of contacts, understanding and drawing on diverse perspectives. These are the people who can ask very useful questions at the right time to move a team forward.” 

Rhodri Preece, CFA, Senior Head, Research for CFA Institute, added: “What we’re describing in this study is the mix of skills that you’ll need to get as you progress in your career and become more experienced. And how that mix of different types of skills evolves, depending on your level of experience in the sector; and I think that’s a good forward-looking indicator for professionals to think about what skills should be additive at what stage of their career as they progress up the career lattice.” 

Peter Watkins – Director of University Relations, CFA Institute, explained: “Universities have to catch up a bit with the new requirements. And I think the disruption is an opportunity for young people to enter the workforce. We know that current professionals don’t have the skills; they don’t have ESG or sustainability skills; in particular, some develop them quickly, but others don’t. 

“Part of the message we’re trying to get across to students is to learn where the gaps are and develop skills in those areas. ESG is a great example of this: most young people are very interested in some of the topics related to sustainability and ESG. It’s a very Gen Z topic, and the industry needs those skills. So we’re encouraging some young people to think about that gap and that they could accelerate their careers by looking at these topics.” 

In this article, you learned that:

  • T-shaped skills become more important over time (49%)
  • The skills most in demand by investment professionals include a fundamental understanding of AI and machine learning

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