For all of its occasionally opaque terminology and complex strategies, investment management is ultimately a pretty simple business – and its strengths lie in its people. Their skills, experience and decision-making are the biggest asset that any investment management firm can offer.
But as we all know, the best talent – the genuine A-players who make the biggest impact on your business – are in short supply. And to make matters worse, the UK financial services talent pool is narrowing.
How serious is this talent and skills shortage? Well, 65% of the UK population say they wouldn’t consider a role in financial services. This is largely down to the industry’s negative reputation among “outsiders”, coupled with a general lack of social mobility that means a staggering 41% of people who work in finance today had parents who also worked in the sector. The national average across all industries is just 12%.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled this guide to help investment management firms identify exceptional talent. We’ll discuss:
- Hard skills that candidates need to possess;
- Soft skills that separate strong candidates from the real A-players;
- Questions to help you find the best people.
1.Defining what makes an “A-player”
Before embarking on your talent search, it’s vital that you first understand exactly what you want in a new hire, from their skills and traits to their personality and behaviours. This gives you the necessary precision and direction to drive your recruitment strategy.
Naturally, the specifics will vary from business to business. But as an absolute minimum, you should be looking for people who:
- Align with your values;
- Are passionate in their work;
- Are committed to CPD.
2.Top hard skills to look for in investment management talent
Investment management encompasses a wide range of roles, from the Marketing & Distribution teams responsible for bringing in new business, to the Operations & Infrastructure professionals who keep everything running. Clearly, each role necessitates a different skill set. But in this section, we’ve detailed the key hard skills that we search for most frequently:
In today’s increasingly data-driven world, we’re seeing ever-more demand for asset managers with a solid understanding of financial modelling – the ability to build mathematical models to represent the performance of a financial asset or portfolio.
Reporting & forecasting
Asset managers are trusted to make big decisions to earn their investors the desired return. But they must also be able to justify those decisions, along with their future plans for individual assets and wider portfolios.
Gut feeling will only get asset managers so far. Predicting how a stock will behave also requires effective analysis of qualitative and quantitative data, and the ability to translate that data into action. As well as merely looking at sales figures and other numbers to judge future performance, they must analyse the impact of factors that are less easy to measure, like the appointment of a new CEO or the performance of a planned advertising campaign.
Native language skills
Obvious as it sounds, it’s vital that investment management firms have client relations teams staffed by people with the necessary native language skills, regardless of where their clients are based.
A proven track record
Arguably above all else, investment management A-players are able to demonstrate that they can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Equity research professionals need an exceptional track record of picking stocks that perform well; marketing professionals must possess substantial investment knowledge and expertise.
3.Top soft skills to look for in investment management talent
If hard skills are the minimum requirements that a strong candidate simply must possess, soft skills are the characteristics and abilities that allow exceptional talent to stand out.
Some soft skills – such as strong communication abilities for client relations professionals – are fundamental and widely possessed. Others are a little more abstract and a lot less common. In our experience, candidates who possess (some or all of) this latter group of skills typically represent the true A-players. We’ll focus on that group here:
Ability to create context
Every investment management firm has access to vast swathes of data, and any analyst worth their salt will be able to exploit it and form conclusions to influence investment decisions.
Typically, they’ll look for the same types of data – such as net income per barrel in the oil industry, or revenue per square foot in retail – to predict future outcomes. However, the best analysts will go way beyond these tried-and-tested approaches to create new “contexts” for understanding how an asset will perform going forward.
Context is important because it brings meaning to data, such as a company’s financial performance. A conventional approach could be to consider how Company X’s Q3 revenue changed quarter-on-quarter or year-on-year.
But what about asking: “What makes you feel confident that shareholders felt positive about Company X’s Q3 revenue?”
It’s a different question that produces different answers, and could prompt different decisions. Understanding the right questions to ask – in other words, understanding the most valuable context on which to base future investment decisions – is a trait possessed by the strongest, smartest analysts.
With so much data floating around, it’s all too easy to suffer from so-called “analysis paralysis”.
But this isn’t something that affects investment management A-players. Instead, they’re able to cut through the noise and make the big calls. They understand that data is vastly helpful, but can only get us so far – it’s based on things that happened in the past, whereas the decisions we make are about things that will happen in the future.
This isn’t about taking a gung-ho approach to decision-making. Instead, it’s about being prepared to take well-informed leaps of faith based on the evidence at your disposal, rather than allowing it to confuse and derail your plans.
Some decisions seem counter intuitive. They fly in the face of conventional wisdom – and yet they turn out to be the wisest, best course of action.
Take Uber as an example. CEO Travis Kalanick believed strongly in the concept of surge pricing – in other words, inflating fares during busy periods, or at times when driving is more difficult. At the time, this model proved controversial in the US, which has a tradition of fixed transportation pricing, regardless of demand. But Kalanick stuck to his guns, and today it’s an accepted feature replicated by the majority of Uber’s rivals.
How did Kalanick know he was right? He probably didn’t know for certain. But he was able to use his intuition – free of prejudices and emotional constraints – to make the smartest call.
Investment management might not be a “creative” industry in the traditional understanding of the word. But in reality, creativity is such a wide-ranging skill that it has countless applications, many of which are extremely valuable within our industry.
Arguably the clearest benefit is in the ability to seek out new investment opportunities. It stands to reason that if you’re going to outperform the competition, you need to do something that they aren’t. Creativity is the skill that helps you track down that opportunity in the first place.
What separate the very best analysts or investment managers from the rest? Well, a lot of things. But one of the key differentiators is their desire to keep learning.
The investment management professional who has the most information about a given asset, or portfolio, or industry, is best-placed to make the smartest decisions. By striving to always understand the most information, they’re more likely to make the right calls regardless of the specifics of the opportunity.
Curiosity is the trait that drives them to keep acquiring new knowledge, experiences and perspectives, even if they aren’t immediately useful.
4.Interview questions to help you identify A-players
Unfortunately, establishing whether or not an individual possesses the most desirable skills is a bit more complicated than asking: “Are you curious?” Or: “Are you decisive?” So we’ve put together a list of questions that can help you really dig into a candidate’s expertise and characteristics:
- What’s the last thing you taught yourself how to do?
- What’s a mistake you’ve made professionally?
- What have you created from scratch?
- What do you stand for?
- What would you change about your company?
- Give me an example of how you influence others
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake. What did you learn from it?
- Describe your personal values
- Tell me about a time you have dealt with difficult characters
At Berkeley Croft, we drive investment management firms to thrive and succeed by unearthing the high-calibre candidates that will transform your organisation.
Find out how we can help you access the talent you need to deliver on your business strategy