Is a career change into finance realistic for me?
February 3, 2013 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Over the last year or so, my interest in Finance has been building steadily, to the point where I’m considering the possibility of a career change.

My goals are modest. I understand that investment banking and chartered accountancy are unrealistic targets. But I'm really interested in ideas for positions that would be accessible to me within, say, a couple of years of study and/or hard graft.

I am 33. Studied Economics at A Level, but otherwise no finance background. 2 undergraduate degrees, in Engineering & Literature. For the last five years I’ve been running a small company with a turnover of 280k. I’m very much an all rounder. No particular strengths. Strong excel. Some basic coding and database skills, but nothing specialised. Marketing is probably my strongest skill, though I've little wish to build on that.

My interest in Finance is quite broad. On one level I really enjoy the basics of bookkeeping, tax, payroll, accounting that I mostly do myself for my business. Taxation in general I find interesting - politically, economically, philosophically, historically, it seems a very crucial topic to me.

I'm also interested to the wider picture. A year ago I started investing in the stock market, initially begrudgingly, but now I’m hooked. I read company accounts for fun. I am a value investor. I dabble in growth, speculative, trading also, and I’ve been pretty lucky at it, but I think speculating is not where my interest is really coming from. Though I think I have a knack for it, and the right kind of head.

I have easily digested the finance text books I’ve encountered so far. I have a comfortable and natural understanding of the time value of money. Maybe I'm an above average driver too, but complex financial ideas do seem to make some kind instinctual sense to me when I first encounter them. But I've never competed in the sector, I might be basement bin for all i know. But this seems less relevant as I am not competitive, I just really enjoy the subject so suspect I would be happy on any rung.

So I’m wondering about my next step. I don’t really know anything about the industry. Never had a proper job in anything remotely close to the sector. I’m presuming internships are not possible for someone my age? I’m wondering what would be a productive first step.
posted by molloy to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A top-tier MBA in the US or EU will provide access to a career in finance. There are many more fish in the sea than bulge bracket investment banking and strategic consulting associate programs (for which you are probably too old), and they are easier to catch if you aren't pursuing the Goldman / McKinsey path as will be most of your classmates in their mid and late 20s.

The beauty of the MBA application process is that it will solve your status and suitability questions for you. The top programs overarching metric for admission is "is this person going to be able to get a good job and build a strong career." If all the schools reject you, that's a pretty clear indication that between academic folio, CV, and interviews that you may not have the stuff. If one or more top school admits, then yes, you do.

After you are admitted, you have to reckon upon the income loss and tuition incurred as to whether such a move is worthwhile.
posted by MattD at 8:01 AM on February 3, 2013

Something to reflect on : Do you want to work in an industry where you're already considered too old, even though you're still quite young? Also, they're not called "company accounts". They're unqualified audits
posted by Yowser at 8:08 AM on February 3, 2013

I was considering career changing to accounting, but a friend who worked at KPMG said they liked to hire kids fresh out of school. She said she got hired after doing a master's in professional accounting program and felt they hired her because she looks young for her age. She put a big emphasis on it, which I thought was strange but it's important enough to mention.
posted by discopolo at 8:14 AM on February 3, 2013

Response by poster: I'm aware most banking / accounting positions strongly favour fresh grads, which is why I'm hoping for ideas about specific positions or roles that might be accessible to an older person. Book keeper is one. Maybe there are other less obvious jobs?
posted by molloy at 8:16 AM on February 3, 2013

You refer to taking A-Levels, so I take it you're in the UK.

You say that chartered accountancy is an unrealistic goal for you, and it possiby is, but only because most CAs in the UK train in accountancy practices and the typical CA gets their qualification while working in a training contract, often as their first job after graduating university. The whole structure of training to be a CA in the UK is geared towards taking in graduates and paying them pittance while they work towards qualifying while putting in long hours at the coal-face of company audit.

However, chartered accountancy isn't the only accountancy qualification which is available. There are other accountancy qualifications which are just as widely recognised and often more relevant if you're a bit more mature and have good experience working in business. You could consider a CIMA (management accounting) qualification -- CIMA is very geared towards people in exactly your position, who want to do an accountancy qualification while working in a company. CIMA is modular and quite flexible about allowing you to take the exams on a timescale that suits you. There's also certified accountancy -- the professional body is the ACCA, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

Your experience of running a small business for a number of years will give you a huge boost -- it's very possible for CAs to train in accountancy practice and emerge without an understanding of how a 'real' business actually works day to day, because they've only ever had to deal with the final product of the end of year accounts. If you've been having no trouble with concepts like the time value of money, you'll have absolutely no trouble gaining a CIMA or ACCA qualification.

(Full disclosure: I'm a CA who trained in accountancy practice with one of the 'Big Four', and after working in audit for about 5 years, moved into a job in industry and haven't looked back in the ten years since. There's a bit of snobbery around the chartered accountancy qualification. The various CA institutes like to brand themselves as the premium accountancy marque, so to speak, but it's really only one option out of several. Almost all jobs requiring an accountancy qualification will accept CA, ACCA and CIMA as equivalent.)
posted by meronym at 8:17 AM on February 3, 2013

One other thought: you might also think about looking into qualifying as an independent financial adviser. I don't know anything about the specifics of that, but you say you're interested in investing and following the performance of companies, and it strikes me that's the kind of mindset would be very well suited to working as an IFA.
posted by meronym at 8:20 AM on February 3, 2013

Also, they're not called "company accounts". They're unqualified audits

It is perfectly reasonable to call them company accounts.

Business School is most certainly your best option to get into "finance", and European Business Schools skew older than US business school.

If you have an interest in value investing you should pursue that, though be aware that there are very limited opportunities in that world in the UK. This is what I do, feel free to mefi mail me if you have specific questions. If you really want to do that probably your best option is Columbia in NYC. You certainly don't need to be an accountant to gain entree into that world.
posted by JPD at 11:02 AM on February 3, 2013

Tax, accounting and corporate finance are pretty separate areas. From what you say, you might want to look into the CFA qualification. It's an independent certification that qualifies you to work in investment advising, funds management and some areas of corporate finance. It's difficult but very highly regarded and people pursue it at all ages.

And yeah - "unqualified audits"? I don't think so. Company accounts is exactly the right term for what you are referring to.
posted by yogalemon at 1:13 PM on February 3, 2013

can't actually get your CFA charter tho until you have 3 years of work experience in finance.
posted by JPD at 1:38 PM on February 3, 2013

Seconding looking at an IFA firm, there are a ton of them around. Your broad interest in tax and investing would probably come in handy and once you get in you can take any additional exams you might need.
posted by young sister beacon at 6:41 PM on February 4, 2013

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