How to get into a math/finance profession
March 15, 2011 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Help me crunch numbers for fun and profit (mostly profit). I need help deciding whether and how to get more education for a change of careers, and which direction to head. Big picture is that I’m an architect, considering retraining for a math and finances based job.

I’ve been practicing architecture (construction industry) for 13 years. I’m at the point of looking forward and realizing that even if I do very well, the profession likely won’t provide for the financial rewards and job security I’m looking for. I’ve had second thoughts about the profession before, but now I’m seriously considering getting additional education or credentials towards a new direction. I am very good at strategic planning and organization and I have a strength in mathematics and an interest in statistics, so I am thinking about possibilities including accounting, actuarial work or (currently seems less likely) an MBA.

I know this is changing from what many consider an interesting and dynamic career for a dull one. That is part of the idea. Supply and demand means that I'm currently in competition with a ton of really creative and intelligent people for a very small pie. I want to change that.
I’ve previously taken courses up through calculus 3 and 400/500 level probabilities, but 18 years have passed since. Rusty doesn’t begin to describe my higher math skills, but I know I enjoy it and can do it. Part of this is that I also have a CS minor, likewise very rusty.
I’ve always done exemplary at math, and on standardized tests, so I’m not too concerned about test taking aspects of any of these directions (GMAT, actuarial exams, etc.).
I'm a bit nervous that my B.Arch. GPA is 3.1. That was top 10% for the program and doesn't matter in the real world, but may it impact ability to get into a good program if I do decide to do a Masters for this?
My ideal path would be continuing to work and pursuing this through night or part time school. I have relatively few options here in Vermont, so it may mean online programs.

There are plenty of other elements, but I think those are the main ones. I’m really open to thoughts, comments, and suggestions here. I’m putting my toe in the water; help me figure out if it is hot or cold.
posted by meinvt to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Something to think about. Assume you go this route. You'll be a professional with 20+ years of experience. I assume you'll want to be paid appropriately. The 22 year old kid with a Math degree from State U will probably happily work for $40K a year.

Can you do that? Do you have kids who will be going to college soon? Can your retirement savings afford to take 5 years off while you start over? Can you accept that you may never get back to to your peak earnings? You are 40ish I assume. (As am I). It's peak earning years for us. That's a rough time to start over. I don't think you are going to see the financial rewards you seek by starting over. I think it might be financially disastrous for you.
posted by COD at 5:01 PM on March 15, 2011

Response by poster: I should clarify my goals. If I could find a position in just about any field for 45-50K a year with benefits, retirement, reasonable job security and a clear advancement path I'd take it today. I may be able to swing 40k, depending on expectations of future earnings, and cost for education. It wouldn't be much of a pay cut from where I'm at right now (essentially contract work, so healthcare is out of pocket and vacation is just time I'm not paid for). Granted that I've made more in the past, and the market is really bad right now, so I could eventually get to much more than that, I'd also always have to wonder what the next job was going to be. I'll turn 38 in a month, and I get what you are saying about peak earnings period.
posted by meinvt at 5:30 PM on March 15, 2011

I'm not sure COD understands what a soul sucking profession Architecture (construction industry) can be. I'll be watching this thread with interest. I've considered a 180 degree change too, but my current hope is a 45 degree career change will present itself someday- maybe when construction spending gets back to normal.

One idea for you based on what you mentioned as interests- does your firm use Deltek Vision? I could see a practiced architect doing well as an implementing consultant. I know next to nothing about ERP except that it is big business elsewhere and a lot of firms in AEC are slow to adopt. My current firm still uses Excel for most stuff.
posted by tfmm at 5:30 PM on March 15, 2011

Response by poster: I'm actually one of the lucky ones from a soul-sucking perspective. This is purely about the financial realities of the industry. If I could figure out an angle to get into strategic planning, development planning, or even something like ERP I'd definitely get into it. It seems that my missing piece is really the accounting/financial piece. I don't know how to promote myself for these sort positions without any sort of real finance/accounting background.
posted by meinvt at 5:36 PM on March 15, 2011

Best answer: You might be able to get away with just adding some accounting and finance courses (e.g. at a community college), instead of an entire Master's degree, especially if you focus on a career that's related to your current skills (development planning, construction accounting, etc.). You might be able to sell yourself as a domain expert who knows about accounting and finance, instead of an accountant/finance person directly.

If you took a couple of classes each in accounting/finance (financial accounting, managerial accounting, corporate finance, something on construction and project planning), that might be enough to segue into something new. If not, you could make sure that the classes transfer into a Masters in a related subject.

This might be a way to limit your investment of time and money in the career change.
posted by 3491again at 5:48 PM on March 15, 2011

To prove that you don't need a special degree to succeed, we use a building code consultant with no formal registration to speak of. Actually everybody in the State uses this building code consultant because he knows the rules and variance process like a MF. I think he has a 2 year associate degree, but he probably makes 5x what a Senior Project Manager, AIA, LEED-AP BD+C makes.
posted by tfmm at 6:03 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You don't need to return to school to be an actuary, you just have to pass several of the exams. Passing 2 or 3 of them should put you in a good position to get hired, but you will probably need to move.

There are condensed weekend programs aimed at learning what you need to know for this, should you wish to take a class. Generally they are aimed at people who have already done a fair bit of self study.

Advancement is via continuing to pass exams, and it is a very clear path. There are master's programs for actuarial science, but you will still need to pass exams to get hired. It's possible your future employer may send you to school on their dime if you wait.

You may eventually be in a position to use your architecture knowledge as an actuary as well, no idea if this would lead to higher pay though.
posted by yohko at 3:36 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about training to become a real estate appraisor? I would think that would be a good use of your architectural skills in a financial field.
posted by canoehead at 9:06 AM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: I've thought about the appraiser route a bit, and I think if I went that way I'd probably train in cost estimating. Based on answers so far, I'm looking at either taking some basic finance classes (looking at MAcc programs there are prerequisites I'd need to fill to start a program), or pursuing the actuarial path. With National Life located right here, there is some hope that if I did the latter I'd find a local opening (they just posted a listing for someone who has passed the level 2 exam), and it looks like exploring the option would be low in financial cost. Maybe I'll stick with my background and training, but getting back to some math roots has its appeal.
posted by meinvt at 12:36 PM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: Follow-up:

Well, I asked for using math to assess my career options, and the research finally led me to this resource. It would indicate that as an architects do have good earning potential, not quite like a doctor or lawyer, but comparable to several types of business/financial analyst, and perhaps better than accountants. My conclusion is that I may be hampering my potential within the field by geography and/or not owning and running my own business. I surely have a colored view as Vermont appears to have a demand for accountants and a surplus of architects - likely not an unrelated observation.

Of the options I've considered, it appears only actuary has a significantly higher set of income statistics. The BLS also says that over the next eight years Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs will be keen as the number of qualified candidates is expected to exceed the number of positions available. Sounds familiar.
posted by meinvt at 3:41 PM on March 16, 2011

Depending on your location, you may be able to get a job with just passing one actuarial exam. Also look into VEE requirements for actuary, one of which is corporate finance (if you still want to explore financial area as well). If you are good with numbers and detail-oriented, it's definitely a decent career. In the Bay Area at least, the benefits are pretty nice. The hours you work will depend on if you're working in-house or for a consulting firm, which it'll compensate you for overtime with bonuses.
posted by vocpanda at 4:05 PM on March 18, 2011

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