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From science to the City: Why financial services consulting could be right for STEM graduates

The consulting industry is turning the heads of growing numbers of science and tech graduates, at the expense of more traditional banking roles

I’m all too familiar with the pains of studying a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) degree. Familiar with the struggle that goes with pages of math texts containing more numbers than letters, hundreds of lines of code ruined by the omission of a semicolon, and days on end spent in the laboratory trying to obtain reasonable scientific results by any (and sometimes questionable) means necessary.

Fear not! There is no need to dismiss the comprehensive suffering that accompanies STEM subjects as the result of a misguided choice of degree. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that the migraine-inducing anguish of a STEM degree actually contributes towards skills perfectly suited to a career in financial consulting.

It is well known that the financial services industry claims the careers of thousands of STEM graduates each year. The biggest players in finance have made no secret of their pursuit of the best and brightest that STEM subjects have to offer. A report from the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) states that a third of mathematics graduates and 17% of physics graduates entered employment in the financial services industry pre-2008.

Today, as the world’s biggest banks sail in increasingly troubled waters, the remarkable expansion of the consulting industry seems to be turning the heads of growing numbers of STEM graduates, at the expense of more traditional banking destinations.

The attraction for consultancies is understandable. STEM grads offer numerical skills, a valuable appreciation of the bigger picture, and a propensity for attention to detail.

However, the pertinent question for the near 100,000 students who graduate with STEM degrees in the UK each year is not whether they are a good fit for consulting firms. It’s whether financial consulting is a good fit for them.

Speaking from personal experience, there is often a sense of guilt when moving from science to the City, as if somehow you are ‘betraying’ your degree by going into finance. This feeling is not without substance. The shortage of engineering and technology skills in the UK is well-documented. However, a fundamental mistake made by proponents of this idea is to ignore the critical influence that the financial services sector has on economies worldwide.

In 2013, Financial Services was one of the few sectors operating a trade surplus in the UK (+£38.3 billion for financial activities). In 2014 the sector contributed £126.9 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy, 8% of the total GVA. This was the fourth highest proportional contribution of financial services to a country’s economy in the developed world, and is certainly not a trend confined to the UK alone. Economies such as the US (7% of total GVA), Germany (4.8% of total GVA) and Japan (5% of total GVA) also exhibit notably high reliance on the financial services sector.

In an age where CIOs of financial institutions command unprecedented and ever-growing influence, consultancies are responding through concerted efforts to increase the scope and quality of their technology and digital services. Demand for IT and computing graduates in consulting is increasing in response to banks’ growing appetite for IT transformation and strategy projects which attract tens of millions of banks’ spend. Demand for science and maths graduates in consulting is increasing to help the world’s biggest banks make logical sense of thousands of pages of ever-changing and ever-growing regulation. The opportunities available in financial services are as diverse and interesting as the STEM subjects to which graduates have devoted years of their lives.

I have sat through many hours of lectures, exploring every crevice in the mountainous climb of a physics degree. Yet, in terms of interest, this is dwarfed by the spectrum of experiences offered by financial services consulting. In its simplest form, consulting offers STEM graduates the chance to enter the world of work in finance without being forced to commit to employment in any one particular area. The benefits of being able to take on a wide range of work without being confined to specific roles for too long cannot be overstated.

In short, there is no reason to feel guilty or fearful when entering financial services. Such is the abundance, diversity and scope of opportunities and challenges in this space, you probably won’t have the time. It’s a career that’s intellectually rewarding and exciting – sometimes unpredictable, but never dull. If you’ve got any questions about a career in financial consulting, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments below.

 

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About the Author

thomas krol

Thomas Krol is an Associate Consultant at Capco. Since joining Capco’s Associate Talent Programme, he has been involved in a large-scale architecture re-engineering programme at a global investment bank. He holds a first class Master’s degree in Physics from Imperial College London.

 
 
 

The content and opinions posted on this blog and any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not those of Capco.