1504050518932 - Janine Starks: Students with big ambitions should consider finance

Janine Starks: Students with big ambitions should consider finance

OPINION: It’s only term three of the school year, but listen up. I want to get in early.

Exams have not yet been sat. Careers and university courses are still up in the air. Now is the time to pounce and this is a shameless plug for the wider financial industry.

There is only so long you can sit and read the latest salary articles in the newspapers, designed to tempt and titillate prospective students. This week alone I’ve read that doctors are pulling in the highest average salaries in New Zealand and the red carpet is being rolled out for accountants, as they are back in demand.

A GP in Wellington is reeling in $127,300 and in Canterbury the salary is higher at $142,000.

READ MORE: Demand for doctors sees their salaries rise

Get your knives out, because this next comment is bound to cause indignation and the melting of snowflake personalities: “Big whoop”.

Seriously, all those years at med school, huge debt and a requirement to be the academic cream of the country. All that, for under $150,000?

Sure, some people have a calling. And those who don’t become orthopedic surgeons and earn $600,000 a year.

So yes, the medical industry does have a few large salary earners, but it’s financially impaired compared to the money industry. It can’t be justified, it isn’t fair and I’m not here to tackle capitalism versus socialism. It is what it is. If you’ve got a bright teenager weighing up their options, you’d be wise to stick my industry in front of them as an option.

When you do, beware of the trap. There is more to a financial career than becoming an accountant or bank manager. Yawn. Now I’m offside with half of my own. Too bad, as to get the message across, I need to call it how it is.

Do not be fooled by surveys showing a personal banker earns $50,000, a bank manager $90,000 or a management accountant $120,000. That’s like focusing on the size of a Malteser chocolate and forgetting the Mars bond deal which netted hundreds of millions for Berkshire Hathaway and billions of dollars profit on their Wrigley chewing gum stake. Can you imagine the multiple of Malteser bonuses paid on that?

If you worry your small-town Kiwi teenager couldn’t possibly rise to the academic requirements of such international puffery, think again. With the brain of a surgeon they could end up a trader with an international career and a path to a $1 million in annual earnings. Many earn far more.

The empathy and intelligence of a GP could make them a partner in a financial advisory firm earning double or triple a medical salary. Half the ability of either and they will still fly.

In New Zealand, salaries of $200,000 are commonplace at the senior degree-educated end of the industry.

Thinking of a maths degree? Consider a double in finance. It’ll be a walk in the park and a direct route into investment banking. Hate to pop the bubble, but financial grads aren’t that strong at maths. We can farm out the modeling skill and analyse the results. In my day, lecturers used to openly call our course “cabbage maths” and look pained to be in our company.

I have an accounting degree and it bored me to tears. I couldn’t do a tax return or prepare my own company balance sheet to save my life. Nor do I need to. It’s a means to an end. The career itself is where the excitement starts.

Accountancy careers are more than debits and credits. They have tax arms, specialists in mergers and acquisitions, valuation teams and consultancy arms that restructure or liquidate businesses.

Banks don’t just sell mortgages, deposits and kiwisaver accounts. They trade foreign exchange, interest rates and commodities. They advise and protect the exposures of large companies. They train you and pay handsomely for the skills.

The insurance world is not just about brokers, but marketing, risk management and actuarial skills. Whiz kids sit behind the scenes. Then there’s the world of funds management; running a portfolio of shares and bonds and attracting billions of dollars of retirement savings.

A team of analysts look for opportunities, interview company management and pour over financials. Some become the next rock star fund manager. Packages include big bonus opportunities, employee share schemes, medical benefits and fully paid international transfers.

A financial career opens the door to run your own firm or be on the boards of others. Sure, we don’t save lives, but this is a future full of emotion, disaster management and life-changing prosperity for clients.

* Janine Starks is a financial commentator with expertise in banking, personal finance and funds management. Opinions in this column represent her personal views.  They are general in nature and are not a recommendation, opinion or guidance to any individuals in relation to acquiring or disposing of a financial product.  Readers should not rely on these opinions and should always seek specific independent financial advice appropriate to their own individual circumstances.