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These should be exciting times for finance graduates: tougher regulations and new reporting standards are being written to prevent another global financial crisis; the emergence of new fintech challengers is reshaping the sector as cutting-edge technology disrupts everything from trading floors to payment systems; and the recent WannaCry ransomware was a reminder that cyber security will remain a high priority.
Back-office roles in risk, compliance, technology and audit are growing again and employers are seeking graduates with commercial curiosity to match the intellectual capabilities needed to deliver and protect complex financial services.
Yet more than 90 per cent of financial services companies are finding it hard to recruit Generation Y — those born between 1977 and 1995 — according to a survey of chief financial and operating officers at financial services businesses in London, Hong Kong and Singapore by human resources consultancy Robert Half.
Respondents cited this skills shortage as their biggest current concern and said that Gen Y lacks the necessary experience, technical expertise, commercial acumen and ability to influence others.
“While it will always be important to have strong technical knowledge, having softer, more commercial skills is what will set one finance candidate apart from another,” says Greg Scileppi, president of international staffing operations at Robert Half.
In many cases, employers are hoping Gen Y “digital natives” can help them meet technology-led challenges. The Robert Half research found that the biggest priorities for financial firms are customer-focused analytics (56 per cent), digitisation of compliance (43 per cent), improving use of mobile technology (38 per cent), the digitisation of processes (38 per cent) and blockchain (32 per cent).
Another survey, the Hays Salary & Recruiting Trends Guide 2017, found that more than three-quarters of finance employers said they expect a shortage of suitable applicants this year.
Graduates with data science skills are in a position to fill acute skills gaps, says Chad Lawson, associate director at recruitment consultancy Robert Walters in London, who points to the growing number of job opportunities with fintech start-ups, which he expects will mushroom after Brexit.
“As Britain negotiates its exit from the EU, challenging traditional models of banking and financial services in London, fintech firms are in a strong position to attract top talent and capitalise on the abundance of highly skilled finance professionals in the city,” he says. He adds that the emergence of payment fintech companies will require more anti-financial crime analysts, given the risks associated with money transfer and regulatory scrutiny.
His colleague in Frankfurt, associate director Marco Hermle, adds that language skills will help graduates post-Brexit. “Bilingual professionals are consistently in high demand,” he says. “A good working knowledge of English and, say, German can help graduates.”
Despite the evolving nature of financial services careers, it is a good idea to start out with some career progression goals in mind.
Karen Young, director of Hays Senior Finance, advises graduates to establish a career plan before looking for a job. “Writing down your goals for three or even five years from now may seem far away. Once you know where you want to be, it’s much easier to figure out how to get there.”