Tom Stevenson has been writing about finance for over 20 years, and is currently the Investment Director for Fidelity Personal Investing. He sat down with us to discuss how this exciting industry is changing and what this means for those seeking to enter it.
How is the industry changing and how will this affect people entering the industry?
There are a lot of regulatory, political and social changes that are re-shaping the way in which people save for retirement and manage their finances. These changes allow people more freedom to manage their money, and as such people are becoming more actively engaged in how they do this. Our role as an industry is to provide partnership and guidance to people in a way that is different to before.
Previously, we provided a service, however this has now become an engaged partnership. The biggest change for the industry is the shift from final salary pensions to defined contribution pensions. We are having to go down an American model, with more engagement in personal finances throughout people’s lives.
In the past, individuals managed their finances through going to work and receiving a pension. As this has changed, the relationship between the Financial Services Industry and its customers has become much closer. This means that categorically, people involved in the business need to be completely customer focussed, thinking about the products we produce and the services we provide from the customer perspective at all times.
When entering the industry, one must remember that we are catering to all different types of customers at different stages in their lives.
You’ve written about how millennials expect different things from employers compared to Gen X/ baby boomers. What effect will this have on the industry?
Young people are now much more interested in doing something worthwhile – this is an important distinction between asset management and other areas of financial services. At the heart of what we do as an industry, our purpose is to provide solutions to improve people’s lives.
We are successful if we create better outcomes. Having this interest and values driven focus on your work can only have a positive impact on the industry. When I moved from journalism into financial services, it was absolutely crucial that I was going into an industry that I believed in.
In addition to this, millennials have a sense of developing themselves – training and learning are both really important. As an industry, if we are to hold on to and attract the best, then we must create an environment where people can develop themselves, and not just “do a job.”
One of the great things about the Fidelity graduate scheme is that it is a 2.5 year programme where different assignments are completed. This gives graduates a real feel of the breadth of what we do. We have such a diverse range of customers, meaning that as a business we offer variety: geographic, functional and customer.
Finally, as an industry we need to think about the fact that millennials have a different attitude to flexibility and work/life balance. We need to be flexible to this and embrace the changing trends.
What advice can you give to students approaching the industry from a non-financial/economics background? Do they need to catch up to the rest or should they embrace being different?
I have an English degree. Quite a lot of our Portfolio Managers have arts degrees. There is a level of knowledge which you need to get up to speed to. The skills which you learn as a Humanities or Arts graduate are completely transferable to Investment Management.
Investment Management is essentially about the world around us – understanding the world, making sense of the world around us and interpreting the world. These skills can be gleaned in many different ways across various disciplines. What will make you successful in our world, is being able to think creatively, laterally and in an unusual way.
What is the ideal candidate? How, if at all, has it changed over the last 15 years?
What has changed is the pace of the industry, and therefore the need to think creatively and to be adaptable to change. In the last few years, there has been enormous change sweeping through the industry. The expectations of our customers are changing very quickly. We need to respond creatively in a very competitive market place. The only way we can do that is to be very adaptable, to try new things, not to be afraid of failure.
The ideal candidate will be comfortable in an environment that exists as a network rather than a hierarchical environment. You must be able to demonstrate an ease with an unstructured, unpredictable environment. What we are looking for is someone with a creative, problem solving mind-set.
What is the best way to keep up with commercial developments in the field?
It is very important to read widely and be alert to change. Prior to the financial crisis, it was easy to ignore what was going on in our world. However, the financial services industry is now front and centre. Be aware of the news agenda and the headlines, and read widely around that.
Is the industry doing enough to encourage strong female candidates? Does it need to do more?
The numbers probably suggest that the industry is not doing as much as it could. As a business, we take it very seriously. Only last week I was at a meeting where one of our senior managers took away an action to follow this up and drive through opportunities for women.
We have a women’s network that promotes the careers of women within Fidelity. It is still a male dominated industry (figures would suggest), which is a shame as there is lots of evidence to suggest that a diverse management set is a more effective one, so I do think the industry has got some way to go.
How can students prepare themselves for the rigours of the industry? What skills are especially important?
Like any industry, be prepared to work hard, be flexible, be open minded, creative and adaptable – these things will set you in good stead.
I do think it is a great industry to work in – what we do is genuinely worthwhile, and it is unbelievably intellectually stimulating. If you’re interested in the world around you and the themes and trends that are driving the way that we live, then you are interested in investment. Ever changing, stimulating and worthwhile – it is a great industry to explore.