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From customer service to tech and beyond, this sector has much to offer

A career path in financial services doesn’t necessarily mean a stop in college. In fact, an array of jobs in this growing field awaits those with little or no post-high school education.

“There are jobs in financial services that do not require a degree,” says Don Mell, site leader at JPMorgan Chase in the Delaware market. 

JPMorgan Chase, in particular, has been a leader in promoting career training, as opposed to a four-year degree, as a viable path to well-paid jobs. For example, 77% of job openings the company posted in 2018 didn’t require a bachelor’s degree. The company is also in the second year of a five-year global initiative to meet the growing demand for skilled workers. 

“I think this whole notion [about the importance] of college has to be changed,” said Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in a 2019 interview with the Delaware Business Times. “The notion should be that in your life, you can graduate high school, get [certifications], go to community college, or colleges with a [career goal], and you can start that career and change course later on. These folks can have great careers at JPMorgan and never go to college; they can change their mind and go back to college. But the fact is, you want them to do what’s good for them.”

Here is a closer look at some of the options for those interested in finance, but not in a four-year degree.

Retail Banking

Retail banking refers to the division of a bank that runs individual customer relationships and oversees local branches, as opposed to dealing with corporate customers. Jobs in this field are “incredibly important and in high demand,” says Patrick Best, vice president, manager of talent acquisition, at WSFS, a financial services company headquartered in Wilmington and with more than 40 offices across the state. 

Among these retail positions are personal bankers, who work in branch offices, and contact center agents, who handle customers’ calls. These positions require a high school diploma and customer service experience. New employees receive technical training over the first four to six months on the job. Retail banking positions also include bank branch leaders, such as managers and assistant managers. 

“Retail banking provides a great progression path, with many personal bankers entering and successfully completing our internal leadership program before they move into branch management,” says Best. “Retail roles provide great organizational knowledge that, when combined with experience and education, can lead to opportunities in different areas of the bank.” 

A personal banker, working in a branch, provides general customer service, processing teller transactions, while opening and servicing bank accounts and handling customers’ concerns. Contact center agents do the same over the phone, answering general inquiries and servicing accounts. These positions pay at least $30,000 to $35,000 a year plus benefits, including tuition remission offered by some employers. 

Technology

This is the area of Delaware’s finance industry that offers perhaps the most, and best-paying, positions for the non-college bound.

“Technology in particular has removed that barrier [of a college degree],” says Mell.

There is a great need for software developers, but also technical support teams and a myriad of other positions. Some applicants are self-taught, others have online training or short coursework. “Coders are the most common, in-demand jobs,” Mell says. 

With an increase in online banking and the rise of the fintech industry in Delaware, the need for tech-savvy hires is unlikely to abate soon. That’s especially true because the process of transferring money involves many steps that require technical specialists, says John Collins, co-founder of First State Fintech Lab, a nonprofit committed to helping establish Delaware as a leader in financial technology. 

Salaries in financial technology are competitive, depending on the position and employer. Delaware Career Compass, a publication of the Delaware Department of Labor, lists computer support specialists — not in any specific industry — as earning an average salary of $59,000 with a high school diploma. Salaries for software developers and website developers average in the $70,000s.

Operations

Operations is a broad category of jobs and career paths, many open to those without a college degree. These areas include client services, risk and control, training, compliance, marketing and more.

When a financial services customer falls victim to fraud or theft, it is the risk and control department that investigates and resolves the issue. The algorithms developed in this department alert an institution to unusual activity on a credit card or bank account. The person a customer talks to on the phone to detail the loss and learn next steps likely works in risk and control. 

“There’s all kinds of pieces of financial services” that employ people without college degrees, says Collins. Examples include collateral managers, loan interviewers and credit checkers and authorizers. These positions usually start around $40,000.

In all areas of the financial services industry, in addition to knowledge and skills, employers look for applicants’ “soft skills,” such as the ability to communicate effectively, including being willing and able to listen, to build relationships, to lead, to be fair, to have empathy and to be able to solve problems.

Mythbusters: Financial Services

Addressing common misconceptions about careers in the sector

Some parents (and their children) might be tempted to dismiss a career in financial services, given the perceived complexity of working with numbers and the misconception that you can’t move up without a college degree.

But especially in Delaware, the financial field offers a vast array of opportunities, ranging from established banking institutions to innovative fintech startups.

“There are a lot of entrepreneurial firms here that really meet the needs of customers — whether that’s JPMorgan, which has thousands of technologists working for them, or College Ave and other startups,” says Kurt Foreman, president and CEO of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership. “Delaware is set up to have reduced barriers for someone who wants to try [working in this sector] because this bench strength of people exists, and there’s a lot of connectivity between people here.”

Before writing off financial services as a career prospect, take a look at these common misconceptions and the facts behind them. 

If you don’t have a college degree, there are no jobs for you.

The financial services industry offers many opportunities for those without college degrees, from the teller at your neighborhood bank to IT experts behind the scenes, who keep the computers running and develop the algorithms for all kinds of banking functions. For example, 77% of job openings posted by JPMorgan Chase in 2018 didn’t require a bachelor’s degree.

Many military veterans go to work in financial services, bringing with them not necessarily a degree, but valuable experience that translates well into many positions and career paths. Some jobs are available to those directly out of high school; others in technology could require a certification or course work.

Financial services work is dull and leaves no room for creativity. 

“There is a huge world of different opportunities” in the finance sector, says John Collins, co-founder of First State FinTech Lab. Financial services has many of the same kinds of jobs as other industries — customer service, human resources and training, compliance, marketing.

Financial services professionals see great opportunities in technology, which is becoming an ever-bigger part of the business. About one-third of JPMorgan Chase’s Delaware workforce, for one, works in technology-related positions. 

The wealth of financial services startups in the state is expanding those options. Even young, inexperienced employees can take on significant roles in these dynamic endeavors, Collins says. Big institutions would have more resources, but small fintech enterprises might provide more responsibilities to young employees, he adds, along with a “closer look at what’s going on.”

Working in financial services requires customer interactions.

Financial services firms, including banks, account for a lot more jobs than most people think, and they offer many positions that aren’t customer-facing, but rather help the bank’s internal operations run smoothly. 

“Understanding how a bank works helps you see the broader picture and how many jobs there are,” says Collins. This is where the behind-the-scenes jobs come in, particularly those in technology.

“IT has really transformed how people interact with that sector, and the services that the sector provides,” says Foreman. “In Delaware, we have a lot of cool, entrepreneurial financial services firms that are using [that transformation] to deliver innovative tools for banking.”

You need to be good at math.

“Math is good,” says Collins, but there are jobs in the financial sector where soft skills are paramount. Organization, communication and teamwork, he says, are “super, super valuable.” 

Financial services professionals stress especially the ability to listen and understand what others are saying or not saying. A call center representative may be asked to listen to a customer who needs someone on the phone to understand her banking dilemma and resolve it. A programmer may need to listen to other members of his or her team while trying to solve a glitch. Good listening skills are an asset.


By Mary Maushard

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