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Want To Be Competitive In Financial Services? Get A STEM Degree

Today’s financial services industry would certainly be unrecognizable to financial services professionals 15 or 20 years ago.  As technology enters every facet of our lives, it has entered the stock market as well.  “The innovation and precision that has come about on Wall Street has truly changed the game,” says Mitchell Peskin, Partner, Executive Vice President within The Execu|Search Group’s Financial Services division.  “And with it, the makeup of the work force in the industry has changed as well.”

With the rise of quantitative trading, the financial services industry has turned to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) professionals to continue innovating in the field.  These professionals have one goal: develop algorithms that maximize the return for the client.  These new strategies have manipulated data in order to predict trends in the stock market more accurately.  As a result, the guesswork and the emotion have been taken out of the equation when making trading decisions.  “Because we can be armed with these data sets, we can constantly find new and better ways to trade,” says Mitchell.

When thinking about how technology professionals have shifted the field of financial services, it’s important to consider how this has affected the talent pool in the industry.  “Finance professionals aren’t necessarily competing with each other for a front office role anymore,” says Mitchell.  “They’re now competing with top talent at Google or Facebook—that’s the kind of experience employers are looking for now.”

Because trading is shifting further toward data and algorithms, the makeup of front office roles have changed significantly. “These days, firms want someone who understands these complicated algorithms sitting at the trading desk,” says Mitchell.  “While many professionals wanting to enter these front office roles would opt for a degree in Finance, this no longer provides the skill set that employers are looking for.”

For years, the typical path for a financial services professional has been completing a Finance degree, but Mitchell recommends opting for a STEM program if you want to stay competitive in the changing market.  “A Finance degree is still acceptable for operations roles, but even a Master’s in Finance may not help you move into a mid-office or front office position,” he says.  Employers are now hiring Quantitative Analysts, Data Scientists, and Machine Learning Scientists who understand the algorithms at play on the trading floor.  “That kind of systems understanding and experience is crucial to the front office,” says Mitchell.

For finance professionals without a STEM background, Mitchell recommends looking into Master’s programs in this realm, if that’s a possibility for you.  “An engineering major is dealing with that combination of high level mathematics and programming languages that are now at play on the trading floor,” says Mitchell.  “Choosing a STEM path like this over a Finance degree can change your career entirely.”  

However, it may not be in everyone’s reach to complete a difficult Master’s program.  If you are looking to gain in-demand skills without such a commitment, learning the most common system skills used in trading is still incredibly valuable.  “Taking courses to learn MATLAB, R, or Python can still open several doors for you, and you’ll gain a significant edge up on your competition,” recommends Mitchell.  

Additionally, STEM professionals who are looking for a lucrative career change may find what they’re looking for in financial services, and these firms are hungry for talent in this field.  “If you have the STEM background and are tired of Silicon Valley, a hedge fund or financial services firm could be a valuable career move,” Mitchell says.  “Additionally, women in the STEM field are in high demand as these organizations look to correct a gender imbalance, and women who are looking for their next career opportunity in technology may find several doors open to them on Wall Street.”