Investment careers – what skills are needed?

If you think you’ve got what it takes for a career in investment, you’re coming in at an exciting time. However, don’t be under any illusions: today’s investment world is exhilarating and challenging, but it’s also immensely complex and highly specialised. It’s not an easy sector to master.

Twenty years ago, most employers in the investment world weren’t interested in vocational qualifications. Today, that’s all changed: younger people entering these careers need a combination of the right personal aptitudes and a demonstrably firm grasp of the knowledge required, as exemplified in degrees and even master’s degrees in financial economics or investment management.

Investment careers

Let’s walk through some of the key personal aptitudes and knowledge-based skills you’ll need to stand out from the crowd (this particular career market, don’t forget, is highly competitive).

Former investment manager Jason Voss suggests there’s an important distinction between the skills sets needed by financial research analysts and investment management specialists. The research analyst will need a love for (and a vast knowledge of) business, economics and finance, coupled with persistence, confidence and a strong drive.

The investment manager, however, needs that passion for knowledge coupled with bold decisiveness. The analyst might supply a plethora of data when asked whether a potential investment is worth making at the current price, but the investment manager must distil what it’s possible to see in this mountain of data rapidly and make a decision. That decision involves appreciating that certainties are never available – unlike facts, which have already happened, investment outcomes occur in the future. Facts can’t make the decision; an informed and bold investment manager has to do this.

ICAP and Morgan Stanley highlight innovation – the ability to spot areas for development and to think creatively about how to develop them, as well as a capacity to generate new ideas, insights and approaches. Meanwhile, Barclays Capital and M&G Investment both emphasise the importance of resilience under intense pressure: they want candidates who can work with changing deadlines, especially in respect of prominent clients, and deal smoothly with new information whenever it comes to light.

Qualifications really matter. Many up-and-coming fund managers are today expected to enter for CFA exams almost immediately upon starting work in order to qualify as a Chartered Financial Analyst, a training that will consume no less than 300 hours in the course of three years. Meanwhile, many of the most successful growth-driven investment businesses seek candidates with MBAs and financial degrees.

It was a combination of personal aptitudes and deep knowledge of this kind that helped Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, son of Azmi Mikati, to become a superlatively successful investor. Having built a hugely successful telecoms company with his brother and business partner Taha, Najib Mikati owns international investment holding company M1 Group, the French fashion line Façonnable, and major real estate investments, as well as being a major shareholder with South Africa’s giant telecoms group MTN.

In summary, the investment world today is mind-bogglingly complex, highly challenging and difficult to master, but it offers glittering careers for those who have the right mix of personal aptitude, ambition and knowledge. Is that you?