How To Boost Your Career In Finance

Finance is a diverse and dynamic field, but more importantly, it is a vital component of Sri Lanka’s economy, extending endless possibilities for growth and opening up the world to those who want to explore beyond their current boundaries. A lot of individuals covet a distinguished career in finance, but many are not aware of exactly how they can achieve that goal.

We spoke to two leaders in finance to learn about how one could boost their career in the industry: high-net-worth individual and Almas Organisation and Carlines Holdings CEO Imtiaz Buhardeen; and National Savings Bank Director and CIMA Council Member Manohari Abeyesekera.

So, here are a few tips for growing your finance career. 

A lot of individuals covet a distinguished career in finance

Allocate time for knowledge

In order to grow your career, you need to grow your knowledge base. Learning about the career path you are most passionate about, reading up on related materials, and watching or listening to industry leaders speak is a great way to do this.

Speaking on how he became passionate about what he does, Imtiaz said: “The idea for investing in the share market came to me during my school days. I used to have a good friend whose father was a big investor in the stock market. So, we were inspired by him, and we used to talk about it.”

Further, he explained the importance of learning about what you are passionate about: “I do quite a lot of reading. Anything on economics or on company investments, I follow very closely. I always go through the CSE website to look out for announcements, go through annual reports, read all the Chairmen’s or CEOs’ reports, analyse their accounts, and then read all the newspapers.”

While this might seem like a lot of work, the benefits you reap are invaluable.

High-net-worth individual and Almas Organisation and Carlines Holdings CEO Imtiaz Buhardeen

Get The Right Qualifications

While reading and learning for yourself helps you become more confident in your own knowledge and abilities, qualifications show your knowledge and skills in a specialist subject to those in the industry, or potential employers. A qualification is concrete proof of what you are capable of and the knowledge you hold. 

Take for example Manohari, who was already a part-qualified Chartered Accountant by the time she entered university. She had to change her path from bio-science to accountancy due to the JVP insurgency in the country, which led to the closure of the university for two years.  Upon completing both her university degree and her CIMA course, she has since grown as a corporate personality with two decades of post-qualifying experience.

Speaking of her recent accomplishments and the flexibility she can afford herself at this point in her career, she said: “I was elected as a CIMA UK Council Member in June 2021 for a three-year term. Previously, I had also served as the Chairperson of the CIMA Sri Lanka Network in 2019, which was the centenary year of CIMA. Additionally, I serve as a Council Member of the Sri Lanka Institute of Directors and I am a Founder/Member of the Women Corporate Directors – Sri Lanka Chapter. In the past, I had an 18-year career at Hayley’s, during which I completed over US $ 200 million in acquisitions. Today, I’ve chosen to work as an Independent Director for corporations, sharing my knowledge as a female independent director and bringing a different dimension and empathy to the boardroom. Currently, I am a Non-Executive Independent Director/Chairperson – Audit Committee at NSB and its subsidiary, NSB Fund Management. I was also invited to join the Kapruka board with its successful listing in the Colombo Stock Exchange.”

NSB Director and CIMA Council Member Manohari Abeyesekera

Don’t Hesitate To Take A Risk

Another vital step towards strengthening your career is to grab opportunities that come your way. The risk factor is persistent, but keeping things dynamic could dramatically improve your chances for success. 

In fact, a KPMG study highlighted the long-term benefits of taking risks, especially for women. It was stated that “women looking to move into leadership positions in today’s business world may benefit by taking more risks over the course of their careers. Fewer than 43% of those surveyed were willing to take big risks such as moving locations for a new job, switching careers, going for a high-profile project, volunteering to do a big presentation or asking for a pay rise”. The study states that being unwilling to take such risks could stifle one’s career growth.

Additionally, mapping out a rough trajectory for your chosen career path could help you pinpoint which opportunities and/or risks to take when the time comes. 

Networking Is An Asset

In finance, networking is a crucial tool. Rome was not built in a day, but it was also not built alone. In order to achieve professional success, working on creating strong networks is a must.

“Networking is definitely important. If you keep talking to people and try to learn, they will share their knowledge. So, that’s very important. There are lots of WhatsApp groups and social media [Twitter accounts] out there that you can [join or follow]. You don’t have to believe everything, but at least you will have some information. You can digest that and take the best out of that. Within the stockbroker or investor community, it’s definitely helpful, because each one can share the experiences and knowledge that they have gained,” stated Imtiaz.

Speaking on why it is important to go beyond your immediate scope of work and engage in networking, Manohari said: “Passing exams is merely the foundation of your career.  Cultivate good values without compromising on your integrity. You have to do something extra to stand out from the crowd. You have to volunteer, grab opportunities and network. Spend some time outside your office to create a brand for yourself, which is independent of the company you serve.” 

In finance, networking is a crucial tool

Don’t Let The Obstacles Stop You

Obstacles can and do appear all the time, regardless of your career choice. The most important rule to overcoming any obstacle is persistence. It is easy to feel crestfallen when an unexpected obstacle crops up, but with persistence, you can overcome pretty much anything.

For example, if you feel like you have approached a roadblock, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Try to understand how you got there and learn from the mistakes, if any, that were made. Undo what you can, and strategise around what you cannot. 

Speaking from experience, Imtiaz said: “During the initial stages, although the markets were up, I’d say it was like ‘one step forward, two steps back’ most of the time. My idea was to keep building a portfolio. Until then, I was not truly trading, just buying, buying and more buying when I had enough money to invest in the market. I didn’t see it as an obstacle. I had faith. After doing my due diligence, I just kept buying because I believed in the companies that I invested in.”

He highlighted how things became precarious after the emergence of COVID, and that 2020 was again a turbulent year, but he persisted, adding that during the lockdowns, a lot of awareness was raised about investing in the stock market. This drew in quite a number of fresh faces, and today,  it is livelier and more diverse than before.

“You can have qualifications, but you must also have other [external] knowledge and the guts. You can have all the knowledge, but if you don’t put it into practice, it’s no use. People have to take that risk, come to the market and start investing,” he said.

What a career in finance gives you is a gateway. What you do once you step through it is entirely in your hands. Studying, prepping and training for it is very important but it is also vital to cultivate a mindset that enjoys challenges and dynamism in order to bring out the passion for growth needed to make it to the top.

Successfully completing a globally recognised professional accounting qualification like CIMA could be the first step you can take towards building a strong career in finance, which would open up a range of diverse career opportunities not just in Sri Lanka but across the world, where companies are looking at employing financial experts who can work across different business verticals and help businesses drive forward.

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