Home Online Business Blog The Value of Soft Skills in Finance

The Value of Soft Skills in Finance

03 Aug
Two women having a conversation seated at desk in workplace.

Soft skills, commonly referred to as people skills or interpersonal skills, are traditionally seen as relevant to industries like hospitality, education and social work. But that isn’t the case anymore. Today, a growing body of research suggests that soft skills are more valuable than ever in the labor market—and the finance industry is no exception.1

Skills like communication, leadership, cultural awareness and teamwork help to shape an efficient workplace. They also play a crucial role in building relationships with customers and stakeholders.

In this post, you’ll learn why employers in the finance industry are seeking applicants with fine-tuned soft skills and how an online Master’s in Finance can nurture your soft skills to help you get ahead.

Cognitive vs. Non-Cognitive Skills

Soft skills is an umbrella term used to describe any non-technical skills used in the workplace. These skills are often difficult to measure but nonetheless critical for a candidate’s long-term success.2 To better understand soft skills, it may help to break down the difference between cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

Both cognitive and non-cognitive skills are used in every industry, can be sharpened through education and experience and will help you get ahead in your workplace. However, non-cognitive skills are seen as "softer" (less technical and more difficult to measure) and affect how you relate to people.

Cognitive Skills: Memory, Logic and Reason

Cognitive skills are used to accomplish tasks. Some common examples that employers look for include reasoning, memory, multi-tasking, complex problem-solving and pattern recognition. An enhanced set of cognitive skills can help you meet deadlines, tackle long-term projects and develop your job-specific skills over time.

These skills are often thought of as related to your IQ and can be measured through standardized testing. While cognitive skills are important for any industry, high test scores don’t necessarily mean high employability—you also need non-cognitive skills to succeed.

Non-Cognitive Skills: Empathy, Passion and Adaptability

Non-cognitive skills are used to relate to others and think on your feet. Communication, for example, is a non-cognitive skill that affects how you relate to your coworkers and customers. While multi-tasking and time management skills will help you get a task done on time, great communication ensures that the finished project will meet the needs and desires of everyone involved.

Grit is another example of a non-cognitive quality that employers look for.3 People with this quality are passionate about their work and resilient in the face of challenges. When complications arise, grit can help you get creative and find a new solution.

People with strong non-cognitive skills often make good teammates and leaders. In a fast-paced work environment, skills like critical thinking and empathy can go a long way to ensure everyone works together smoothly.

The Growing Demand for Soft Skills in Finance

The financial sector, like most other industries, is facing changes in the digital age. In response to those changes, major financial companies are increasingly seeking job candidates with soft skills instead of just technical or cognitive skills.4

One driving factor behind the importance of soft skills in finance is an increasing demand for great customer service. Thanks to new technology and disruptive business models, customers’ expectations have changed—fast, responsive and personalized customer service is now the norm.5 Even if that service is automated, soft skills like emotional intelligence and cultural awareness are necessary to create programs that meet everyday customers’ needs.

Shifting demographics in the finance industry have also increased the demand for soft skills. Younger employees have different expectations for their learning and training experiences than their baby-boomer predecessors.

Some studies show that training models based on soft skills, instead of just technical training, help to improve employee performance and retention.6 In other words, investing in soft skills can help companies create more dynamic, successful workplaces.

Which Skills are in Demand?

A 2022 study compared the difference between the financial sector and other industries in terms of high-demand soft skills. The results showed that these skills most increase a candidate’s employability in the finance sector:7

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Coordinating with others
  • Creativity
  • Judgment and decision making

Of those skills, emotional intelligence is most lacking among candidates in the finance industry. Decision-making and critical thinking are also lacking (and therefore in high demand)—mainly due to a lack of soft skills training. That means a candidate can give themselves a competitive edge by showing a high level of emotional intelligence in their application, along with other critical soft skills.

Critical Thinking: An Essential Skill in Finance

Critical thinking is a crucial soft skill in the financial services industry, allowing professionals to objectively analyze and evaluate information to reach sound decisions.8 This skill is particularly vital for roles such as chief financial officers, who are often called upon to strategize and solve complex problems. A critical thinker objectively analyses data and patterns, enabling them to understand financial trends and forecasts more accurately.

Additionally, critical thinking enhances the ability of modern finance professionals to offer valuable financial advice. This capability is not just beneficial for their current or past colleagues, but for anyone who might seek financial advice. Such professionals are in high demand in the financial services sector, especially among finance sector employers who value the skill of critical analysis that drives informed, strategic decision-making.

Communication Skills: Bridging Gaps in the Financial Sector

Effective communication skills have become an integral part of the finance professionals' skill set in financial services firms. According to an Indeed article,“ as businesses become increasingly global, the need for professionals who can successfully communicate across diverse cultures and languages becomes more pressing.”9

Communication skills are not merely about conveying ideas but understanding the nuances of human emotion, cultural subtleties and the ability to empathize with others. The growth of technology has also given rise to the need for professionals who can explain complex financial concepts in layman's terms. In the financial services industry, this is particularly crucial when dealing with clients who may not have an in-depth understanding of finance.

Moreover, great communication skills enhance cooperation among team members, improving efficiency and productivity. Modern workplace learning methods are incorporating these skills into their curriculums, recognizing their importance in the finance sector.

Modern Workplace Learning Methods: Nurturing a Flexible Finance Professional

The changing nature of work and the advancement of technology have resulted in the evolution of modern workplace learning methods.10 These methods have a profound impact on finance professionals and how they continue to develop their soft skills. Many financial services firms now invest in leadership development programs, prioritizing the cultivation of soft skills to breed a more adaptive and flexible finance professional.

New-age learning methods include blended learning, e-learning and experiential learning, among others. These techniques are instrumental in teaching finance professionals how to adapt to fast-paced work environments, collaborate with diverse teams and think critically to solve complex problems.

In conclusion, the financial services industry is changing rapidly. To keep pace, finance professionals must embrace the value of soft skills. These skills not only make them more employable but also equip them with the tools they need to navigate the dynamic world of finance successfully.

The Balance of Hard Skills and Soft Skills in Finance Jobs

While soft skills are crucial, hard skills remain vital for finance jobs. Hard skills encompass specialist knowledge like financial modeling and economics, traditionally the focus of finance training. Today's financial institutions, however, demand more than a list of hard skills. They seek professionals like investment bankers who can unite hard and soft skills, such as problem-solving, communication and creative thinking, to navigate the finance world's complexities.11

Embracing Digital Transformation in Finance

Digital transformation is revolutionizing the finance industry.10 Finance professionals must keep pace, adopting new technologies and cultivating a flexible mindset. This adaptability isn't limited to proficiency in the latest finance software but extends to adjusting to new business methods, evolving regulations and fast-paced business environments. Flexible employees excel at managing expectations and handling uncertainties, making them a treasure in finance.

Creative Thinking and Relationship Development

Creative thinking is a valued soft skill in finance, entailing innovative problem-solving, unique investment strategies and unconventional approaches to group working scenarios.12

Similarly, relationship development is key in finance jobs and often overlooked. It involves more than networking; it's about building and nurturing meaningful relationships with clients, peers and competitors, drawing on experiences from previous job roles.

This balance of skills distinguishes professionals who excel in the rapidly evolving finance industry.

Sharpen Your Soft Skills With a Master’s in Finance

So, how can you acquire these in-demand skills at the start of your career? An online Master’s in Finance will help you get ahead.

A specialized finance degree teaches more than just technical skills. It offers insights into the expertise of leaders in the finance industry. That includes current industry changes, challenges and demands of modern customers—all of which can help increase your emotional intelligence, cultural awareness and other soft skills.

An online education can also help to improve soft skills like adaptability. Pursuing an online degree shows grit—applicants who have completed an MS program have faced challenges like balancing their schedule, remote networking and juggling multiple tasks at once.

Help Secure Your Future in Finance with a William & Mary Master’s

In the William & Mary Online MS in Finance program, you’ll have the chance to gain specialized knowledge and stand out in the job market

Whether you’re interested in becoming a wealth manager or investment banking analyst or rising to the top of a major financial company, our unique credential program can get you on the right path. The program takes as little as 15 months and offers hands-on learning opportunities.

Contact an admissions outreach advisor today to learn more about the Online MS in Finance and how it can help you craft valuable soft skills.