An Online MBA program can help students switch careers in the financial sector, which is both prestigious and lucrative. “The initial skepticism regarding online education is a thing of the past, and most employers within the finance industry now care less about the format of the program,” says Wouter De Maeseneire, professor of corporate finance at Vlerick Business School in Belgium.
“What matters is the knowledge and skills obtained, and the reputation of the institution.” He adds the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to the change in how these programs are perceived.
The synergy of students applying classroom knowledge in their jobs in real time may also be attractive to finance employers. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the recruiting of Online MBA students by top companies over the last five years — a trend I expect will continue,” says Eric Johnson, executive director of graduate career services at Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
But those embarking on their studies this year face great uncertainty in the financial jobs market, hit hard by coronavirus. Yet there is a sense that the financial industry will hold up.
De Maeseneire says that in the short run there will be a focus on cost-cutting and possibly a slowdown or freeze of hiring in finance. But, given the size and diversity of the industry, there may be variations: while he expects banking employment to continue to decline given digitization, “other areas of finance will get back on their feet soon”.
For example, with economic welfare increasing, there will be a greater need for insurance services, for pension saving plans and asset management.
And there will always be a need for trained talent in the finance functions of corporations too. Sreeni Kamma, chairperson of finance graduate programs at Indiana, says that coping with a crisis requires an even greater amount of discipline and the stewardship of capital becomes a matter of survival.
“Companies need skills to help them marshal the financial resources, build robust balance sheets and preserve the critical elements of the business that will enable them to emerge from the crisis on a much sounder footing and positioned for success,” he says.
Innovative financing solutions are required, says Kamma. For example, the major airlines crafted very creative financing plans to monetize their frequent flyer programs during a liquidity crisis earlier this year.
But the economic crisis has not affected every industry the same way. For instance, some industries have thrived over the last six months including online retail, healthcare and consumer durables.
Johnson at Indiana points out that the financial industry is more resilient following the 2008 crisis. “The current crisis is not the result of poor underlying policies or lack of proper governance in the financial sector; it’s a public health crisis,” he says. “If anything, financial roles are more important in this time of resource reallocation and uncertain revenue.”
The US banking system is in good shape, agrees Don Shelly, professor of practice in finance at the Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University. “Higher capital ratios have made US and other developed market banks much more resilient to economic shocks,” he says.
What skills do you need to land a job in finance?
But given that Online MBA students are entering an uncertain jobs market, what skills do they need and how can they develop them while studying?
In addition to the core areas of asset valuation and building financial models, Shelly says students need to follow all aspects of the capital markets, from interest rates to asset prices to currency changes.
They must also hone their speaking, writing and researching skills. “Researching is underappreciated,” he says. “The Internet can provide a quick answer, but you need to go beyond the easy and obvious solutions.”
Those most successful students in finance possess both the ability to crunch the numbers and the ability to communicate the insight obtained, according to Jason Rife, executive director of the SMU Cox Career Management Center.
“Number-crunchers are not often hard to find, but the person who can analyze large volumes of data, discern patterns, formulate insights, distill all of that information into a succinct narrative, and then deliver it to audiences who may not have strong financial acumen, is rare,” he says.
Rife adds that an Online MBA can help students make career pivots to the finance sector. To do so, students should plan to work closely with their school’s career center. “A good career coach can help pivoting students craft their stories, highlighting how their work experience in tandem with their MBA coursework can enable them to be successful in a finance role,” he says.
Online students should also look for opportunities in their current role to take on more finance-related projects and expand their network. “Students will want to take these actions early so by the time they are nearing graduation and looking to make the move to a finance role, they have already laid the groundwork,” Rife says.
Back at Vlerick, De Maeseneire notes that finance is not a narrow domain but one that touches upon all aspects of management, so it is imperative that students develop a comprehensive picture of how a company operates.
He says: “While of course for some roles employers would prefer graduates from a Master in Finance, the key skills obtained via an MBA will open the door to a wide range of job opportunities.” These include core management and leadership skills, an ambitious mindset, and time and project management skills.
Looking ahead, with the convergence of technology and finance, the jobs that may be at risk in future are those where the error rate of artificial intelligence is low, such as in routine trading or basic financial planning, says Indiana’s Kamma.
But jobs where human intelligence is necessary are going to be crucial. “These jobs require a great deal of creativity — for example, in project finance and deal structuring — and an ability to use the knowledge of finance to confront complexity and uncertainty.”