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Rows of people, in identical suits, scanning spreadsheets as numbers flick by on a screen.

It’s the scene you might play in your head if someone asked you what a job in finance was like - few opportunities for creativity (or any kind of original thinking, in fact). But just how true is that assumption?

"No one day is the same"

“One evening, a company approached my team to buy a huge FTSE 100 company - worth in the region of 2 to 3 billion pounds.”

Edward is a recent grad in the J.P. Morgan team that advises large UK & Ireland companies looking to merge with other companies.

“Both my seniors were on a 12-hour flight, so it was basically up to me, the junior, to come up with the first draft of the announcement.”

The real challenge for finance juniors might not be repetition as much as the constant variety of their roles that always has them on their toes.

Poppy helps to sell commodities - specifically metal and energy - to household names in the UK airline and car industries:

“It’s a fast-paced role, and no one day is the same. A client will come in with a request, and each time it’ll be slightly different, but you have to be quick to catch on and understand what’s happening.”

A setting for original thinking

At banks like J.P. Morgan, the deal teams are streamlined, so you only have one Analyst (the junior position), then an Associate, next up maybe a Vice President, and the Director at the top.

“What that means is you’re never stuck working directly with someone on your level, which gives you more space to express yourself as you come up with solutions, you don’t have to be ‘just one of the analysts’, you can perform at the level you want to.”

Edward often finds himself in situations where he’s working with a director and no one in between, “it allows you to think and behave like an associate or a VP, and that often in itself breeds creativity - because their role is about strategy and big-picture thinking.”

Angus plays a part in assessing the credit quality of European companies who are looking to raise debt to carry out their business:

“What surprised me about working here is that often you’ll come across a new transaction or a new structure that people haven’t seen before, and, as a junior, you’ve got as much right to come up with an opinion or try to find a solution as anyone else - everyone’s opinion is valued.”

Even once you’ve formed that opinion, the ability to persuade seniors and clients of the merit of your ideas is vital in finance.

The skill of language and persuasion

“Primarily, I’m a salesperson” Poppy explains, “so if I come into work and the prices of metal have all moved by 10%, clients want to know why that is, and where I think the price is going. I have to describe what’s happening in a way that keeps the client encouraged to trade with us - before I’ve had a coffee.

“And whatever my opinion may be, it has to be unique. No one wants to hear something that’s just been regurgitated from Bloomberg. Instead, you need to be able to digest what the top commentators are saying, and say what you think about it.”

Edward’s example of a run-of-the-mill situation in his role sounds similar:

“Say one Tuesday night, company A comes along wanting to buy company B, but B, your client, doesn’t want to sell, so you’ve got to forge an interesting argument as to why it’s a bad idea to put B on the market. It’s all about coming up with innovative arguments and bringing out ideas previously not thought about, to position the company in such a way that investors and shareholders understand why you’ve done what you’ve done.”

A home for the humanities skillset

If the skills on show here sound like they were born in the seminar of a humanities degree, that’s because they were: Edward, Poppy, and Angus studied History, Classics, and French & Russian, respectively.

The most stimulating thing about the job for Angus is “learning how to digest information quickly so you can form your own conclusions about how companies across a variety of different industries will grow and develop. That ability to digest complex ideas quickly is definitely something I took from my humanities degree.”

With History, Edward spent a lot of time “rationalising arguments”, which is “extremely useful in any context, especially in Banking, where you have to coherently present your idea to the market - whether that’s a valuation, a pitch, or a reason to accept or reject an offer.”

Poppy agrees. “You learn all the finance specifics as you go along, because you’re dealing with it every day. The thing that can’t be taught easily - and which is integral for a finance career - is a certain attitude to problem solving and innovation. These are things you pick up when you’re younger, at university, maybe even studying liberal arts as much as STEM – they're the tools of a thinking person.”

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