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My job explained: Financial product controller

Stephen is a product controller for an investment bank. Read on as he explains how a head for numbers and a brain for business can add up to a big money career.

Can you tell us a bit about your job?

I work in wealth management for an investment bank. Investment banks make money by selling financial products to other companies and traders. These products can be packages to trade on the stock exchange. For example, people might think that the FTSE 100 index is going to fall and they decide that they would make money if the FTSE is going to be lower in six months’ time. So they would pay us to assemble a package of investments for them and sell it to them and then – if they’re right – they make lots of money.

Why did you choose investment banking?

It’s one of the few places outside of academia where mathematicians can earn a lot of money, and it’s one of the few places in business where mathematicians can use their skills and abilities to the utmost. It’s an interesting route that never got explained to me – that if you’re interested in maths then there is a more exciting path beyond accounting or becoming an actuary.

What’s a typical day like?

My role isn’t selling directly to the clients, and I’m not shouting ‘buy!’ or ‘sell!’ on a trading floor. A typical day would involve managing a lot of databases and discussing with the traders about how they make their money – we need to verify that their rough guesses are correct and translate the money made in the real world into accounts. You have to look at the stock exchanges to make sure that the money they’ve made is valid and that it flows through to the bank correctly.

What qualifications and training do you have?

I have a BSc and an MSc in maths. I worked for an auditors’ for five years - which was a great grounding in business because you’re examining people’s accounts to verify whether they’re true and fair. That experience helped me to qualify as an accountant and gave me a real understanding of business and markets.

What other skills do you need?

Experience of public speaking is very useful because you’re often being called upon to provide training for management teams or to present reports to senior staff. It’s very important to have that confident delivery and be relaxed when you’re talking to people. You need to be interested in the news because real world politics and economics have an impact on what I do – which I find particularly interesting. The E. Coli outbreak had a massive effect on commodity prices, for example. At the auditors I would be going through receipts from a year ago, but working for a bank gives you that instant sense of being plugged into the real world.

What’s the best thing about your job?

There’s a constant learning curve because you’re constantly pushed to learn as much as you can. There’s no snobbery or old boys’ club – the best people get the furthest. Very posh people with a private education won’t get as far as someone who isn’t from the same background but is just really quick and really sharp.

What’s the most difficult thing about your job?

There are very long hours but you work hard and you earn a lot of money. You’re also working in a very large bank of 70,000 people – any of whom might want to speak to you. It’s very important to be able to manage all those relationships – it’s not a job for someone who wants to sit in a room and just deal with one thing at a time. You have to deal with a lot of different priorities so multi-tasking is very important

Was it hard to get your first job?

No – they love maths graduates! If you want to do this as a career any sort of maths background is great. Employers also love to see ambition, so to impress your interviewers you should prove that you really understand how the stock market works, that you have good maths abilities and that you’re confident, driven and smart.

Do you have any other advice for people who want to get into investment banking?

People have certain views of banks but you’re not held back by where you’re from or how you talk – you’re only held back by the limits of your own abilities. If you’ve got ability you will be pushed to prove how good you are – and you need to relish that challenge.

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