Future finance professionals learned about what it takes to build a rewarding career in the finance industry from a panel of six alumni who shared career experiences and tips for success during the annual Finance Professionals Night networking event.
Jim Oster (’81 Accounting), KeyBank senior vice president and manager, international and foreign exchange- west, moderated the panel comprised of commercial and international bankers, investors, personal wealth managers, and private industry finance professionals.
Participants included Linda Elkin (’88 Business, ’92 MBA), U.S Bank regional president; Joey Nestegard (’95 Business Administration), Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories vice president of finance; Tom Nihoul (’69 Communications, Broadcasting), AGP private wealth advisor; Kelsey Schreck (’02 Finance), Silver Creek Capital Management director of investment research; and Mark Wuscher (’93 Finance, International Business), Bank of America treasury sales manager.
While the panelists held diverse occupations, common skills helped them succeed in the industry: the ability to develop personal relationships, international business experience, and networking.
“Technical skills are important, but don’t underestimate the importance of developing personal relationships, building loyalty, and serving others,” said Oster. “Banking is a relationship business.”
As a wealth advisor, Nihoul said he has the best job in the world: handling people’s emotions. He explained clients often make financial decisions based on feelings rather than strategy and that financial planners need to know how to build trust so clients will receive advice on taking risks to achieve gains in the stock market. He also pointed out the importance of knowing how to best serve retirees who are living longer and being knowledgeable about education funding, investment and tax planning, estate funding and other topics.
“Consider how you will achieve clients’ goals in their timeframe,” he said. “Healthcare is a huge issue for retirees; you need to direct their investments in equities and bonds, not cash. A diversified portfolio is a must.”
Elkin said giving clients an exceptional experience is a key objective for U.S. Bank, a deliverable that meshes with her personal values. Though she holds a leadership position today, she said she got into banking by accident after being recruited by an alumnus, a banker, who coserved with her on an MBA review committee while she was a student. The alumnus liked her thoughts on the skills students should have to get hired: the ability to think critically, synthesize information, and work hard and ethically.
Schreck also tied her career savvy to her student experiences. As an undergraduate, she used professors’ connections with finance industry professionals to start developing her own network and was one of the first to participate in the Cougar Investment Fund, a program that allows students to make recommendations to the University’s senior investment manager—the goal being to outperform S&P 500 while maintaining comparable risk. She encouraged students to tap parents, teachers, and advisors to build a cache of professional contacts.
Wuscher said he mailed hundreds of application letters followed by calls, practiced mock interviews and attended networking events. He also heavily emphasized the importance of international business experience. He studied abroad and spent two years in the Peace Corps before relocating to New York after being recruited by Citigroup for his international business skills. He said as a junior banker, being a team player required many long hours, willingness, and an ability to adjust. He volunteered for extra assignments and was often on planes to Mexico, Hong Kong, Malaysia and several other exotic destinations that required global expertise.
“To advance quickly in international banking, go overseas,” he told students. “The opportunities you would have in other countries would take 10 to 15 years to get in the United States.”
He advised the study of other languages such as Chinese and Spanish, noting that China will be the world’s largest economy in less than 10 years. He also recommend reading “The Rise and Fall of Capitalism” by Y.S. Brenner. The book offers a wide-ranging historical and cultural study of Euro-American capitalism.
Nestegard reinforced the importance of global awareness by urging students to pay attention to politics and take an international assignment during their careers. He also emphasized the reality of the corporate environment.
“You won’t be a manager at first, so be a team player,” he said. “Try new things and work hard.”
Finance Professionals Night is hosted annually by the Carson College of Business’s Department of Finance and Management Science. For more information, contact Dr. Gene Lai, chair and Safeco Distinguished Professor of Insurance at 509-335-8727 or firstname.lastname@example.org.