2020: The Inflection Point for Remote Work?
As economies reel from the COVID-19 pandemic, job cuts inevitably arrive and many career crossroads are traversed. The situation may force some to make the jump and set off on their own as remote consultants. Whether done out of necessity, or as a pique of curiosity, it’s uncharted territory for those who have never before worked remotely.
Since 2016, I have been working as a freelance finance consultant. The intervening years have been a proving ground, offering invaluable lessons that I would like to share with others considering the same path. The finance remote work community is incredibly nascent and, at times, misunderstood. But, as a macro trend, it is a sector that has all the ingredients to rise to prominence in the coming years.
Can You “Do Finance” Remotely?
Removed from the confines of a company – with its well-entrenched workflows – it can be difficult for finance professionals to define succinctly what exactly they do. You may start digging ambiguous holes saying that you “do finance” as if it’s an all-encompassing verb. Or that, after saying you work for an investment bank, you are assumed to be the reincarnation of Gordon Gekko, when in actual fact you make risk simulations for marine finance transactions.
I believe this is because financial workflows fit into large “supply chains.” These are incumbent on other people and other activities, hence why jobs are well-entrenched into office environments. There are also other factors at play, such as:
- Fixed assets. Many areas of finance are not entirely in the cloud-based territory that other industries have switched to. There is tangible and intangible “machinery” in terms of systems (e.g., squawk boxes and Bloomberg terminals) and checks and balances (e.g., compliance sign-offs), which are all hard to “use” at home.
- Networking. It is cliched, but many financial deals from headhunter referrals up to company transactions are done based on the age-old graft of in-person networking. London’s Square Mile financial district hosts 500,000 employees—the proximity and serendipity factors of this are ingrained in its culture.
- Psychology. Money, along with health and family, are areas that we are loathed to cut corners on. Building up the trust to hand over intimate financial budgets and expense records in a remote context takes time to initially establish.
Getting out of the supply chain mentality is the first step to take when becoming a finance consultant. Being a cog in an unflexible machine that is contingent on others is an unnecessary risk; instead, strip everything down and look at the raw skills you deploy.
Finding a Niche as a Freelance Financial Consultant
In terms of defining what you can do as a finance consultant, you must think about how you can return value to clients that is three times more than your cost (you are the CAC). At the top of the pyramid, you will brand yourself as a “dealmaker,” “modeler,” “trader,” “actuary,” etc., but dig deeper and focus on the activities that drove value in your previous roles.
For example, if you are a trader by profession, it may be very difficult to find a remote job that provides such fiduciary duties. Yet, if you can articulate clearly that you are an expert at parsing large amounts of data very quickly to discover anomalies, then you will have uses in security analysis and other areas with heavy datasets. All of a sudden, you are employable across a horizontal range of industries and contemplating a “big data guru” personal rebrand.
Also, consider your long-term career goals. You can then mesh your work as a remote consultant into initiatives to enhance these long-term prospects. These three options are broadly where you will stand:
- Stopgap before resuming a desk-based career
- Opportunistic side hustle
- Building your own entrepreneurial venture
As such, if you are option 1, your goal would be portfolio building, showcasing your talent to large companies, and building up a network. While with option 3, you might be looking at more moonshot projects that would not necessarily have the same name prestige as option 1, yet could, in the long run, result in exceptional outcomes.
Some other factors to consider:
- If you have been working for financial institutions and envisage working more in the corporate environment, write down a list of finance-related tasks that you do and how they would translate into a non-financial business.
- Package your wares into a service that ends with something tangible or complete. For example:
a) Instead of saying you are a financial modeler who will deliver a 20-megabyte file into your client’s inbox, demonstrate that your analysis presents an actionable decision-making intel.
b) Construct case studies showing how your interventions helped wider projects succeed.
- Lean back on your core education or base vocation. Look at the bios of bluechip CEOs and you will see that many will have studied accountancy, or law, at college. Core vocations are useful to recall even if they are no longer a part of your day-to-day work.
- Practice your tagline or elevator pitch on friends who are not in the finance profession. I found out that many of my friends thought I was a financial advisor (as in giving personal financial advice) because I was saying that I was a financial consultant, which was not specific enough.
- If you are going down the generalist route, be prepared for more ambiguous work projects but package your malleability and creativity as a benefit of your skillset. This may ultimately make you more amiable for startups, where “Jack of all trades” positions are coveted at the very early stage.
In future articles, I will explore the practicalities of working as a remote finance consultant and how to build a client base. If there are any specific areas that you would like explored, please feel free to leave a comment.
Understanding the basics
When businesses need assistance with strategic decision-making aided by financial analysis, they will call in a finance consultant. Work comprises financial modeling, creating marketing collateral, and quantitative research.