15+ years of experience in business analysis across different industries and domain areas with a major focus on the finance domain; currently works for Luxoft (a DXC technology company) as a senior business analyst on a project for one of the largest financial organizations globally. https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmytrolenda/
I am thankful to Denis Gobov, CBAP, PMI-PBA, Ph.D., Head of BA at DataArt and trainer, who contributed to my development as a BA, and my DXC and EPAM colleagues, who taught me a lot. My English teacher Sean Meyer (available upon request), helped me with editing this document. My family supported me all the time while I was working on it.
Understanding the domain in which a business analyst works is clearly beneficial for every analyst, but it is especially important for sophisticated domains like finance and life science. The domain knowledge increases the value of an analyst for an employer or customer from the financial industry due to fostering better communications with business stakeholders, improving the BA autonomy, and making the analyst's work more efficient.
But why is business analysis in financial organizations important? Please read the article below to learn more:
I successfully worked in the finance domain for more than 15 years, so I am able to share my experience while making the journey towards mastery easier for any BA facing finance in their work. I have experience helping business analysts develop their finance expertise in both the short and long term. I have conducted dozens of technical interviews for BAs (from junior to lead level) and helped many applicants prepare for the next round of the interview process by rapidly structuring or expanding their financial knowledge within several days to several weeks. In addition to that, I contributed to the development of BA's financial expertise within the time frame of several months to several years in EPAM Systems by conducting presentations, consulting other BAs, and assessing them.
The most straightforward way to achieve business-level financial knowledge is to get a full-day MSc or an MBA in finance degree. But in my opinion, the benefits of these programs (and the same is even more true for bachelor and Ph.D. programs) will not cover the costs in the case of business analysts as financial knowledge is only one crucial skill among several others. First, you will lose at least about a year of your working time. Second, the cost of a reputable full-day program may be tens of thousands of US dollars per year, which is too high compared to the cost of a reputable financial certification. Keeping in mind that financial knowledge is in some way an auxiliary skill for business analysts, I think that BAs should clearly prefer certifications like CFA and FRM (that are recognized equivalents to an MSc degree in finance by many developed nations and may be studied in parallel to your work) or other ways of self-education to full-day university programs.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of this article, I will emphasize the reliable knowledge sources that you may use in a self-study mode. In addition, I will devote a particular chapter to the information for those who need to prepare for an interview with an assessment of finance knowledge and have a few days or weeks to improve their understanding of the domain quickly or at least demonstrate the intention to do so. I will also express my point of view on related skills such as data analysis and programming.
I recommend using reliable information sources in your studies, including textbooks for preparation for major industry certifications, reputable books, and top media. These resources helped thousands of professionals improve their knowledge, so they are highly likely to help you as well. But you should be ready to pay the price, regarding your time and money.
A fast knowledge boost for job interview preparation
One of the most common situations when you need to demonstrate some finance knowledge is when you see an attractive BA open position in any financial institution or an IT project with a customer from the financial industry. If you have no or limited previous experience with finance, this might be a challenge for you. If you don't have enough time to prepare for the technical interview, you should focus on the major tools first. You may then use the same books to deepen your understanding by further reading them thoroughly instead of just scanning them.
You may use the following (or similar) in your preparation:
The Bank Analyst's Handbook - https://www.amazon.com/Bank-Analysts-Handbook-Conjuring-Tricks/dp/0470091185/ - good intro to finance for an analyst professional from another industry
Kaplan Schweser Secret sauce for CFA exam level 1 (about 300 pages) - https://www.schweser.com/cfa/level-1/study-materials/secret-sauce - a brief curriculum review for basic CFA certification level
Kaplan Schweser CFA exam Quicksheets levels 1,2,3 (6 pages each; these are concise and dense CFA curriculum reviews; should be used for refreshing the knowledge and keeping the focus) –
As an addition, Kaplan Schweser FRM exam level 1 Secret Sauce & Quicksheet –
https://www.schweser.com/frm/part-1/study-materials/schweser-notes (Quicksheet as a bundle with Notes)
Wikipedia and Investopedia may substantially accelerate your studies, so I encourage you to use them to prepare for the interview. These resources are beneficial for fast short-term studies, i.e., when you have only several days to prepare. Potentially, AI tools like chatGPT may also be used for that purpose. I recommend using the two tools above in combination with cheat sheets (like Quicksheets or the following link, Finance (Quick Study Business): https://www.amazon.com/dp/1423233131)
I would also recommend grasping basic SQL skills if you have none. IT systems in financial entities often have databases, so you need basic skills to query them. Concentrate your efforts on SELECT operator, and it's WHERE, JOIN, GROUP BY, HAVING, and UNION instructions. You may use the following book & cheat sheet (or similar) for that task:
SQL for Dummies - https://www.amazon.com/All-One-Dummies-Computer-Tech/dp/1119569613/
SQL guide (4 pages) - https://www.amazon.com/Sql-Guide-Quick-Study-SQL/dp/1572229160/
As for me personally, while assessing the finance knowledge of applicants during their interviews, I ask them about the basic financial concepts (time value of money, basic financial instruments, valuation approaches) and more advanced financial concepts such as derivatives, financial risk management, quantitative finance basics, and accounting.
The three principles below should be applied to your interview preparation:
Investigation – clearly define which subarea of finance is needed in the position of interest. Finance is a broad area, so you should define the scope of what you will be asked in the interview as narrowly as possible.
Concentration – focus your preparation on the subarea related to your position to maximize your studies' effectiveness within your limitations.
Preparation – devote enough time and other resources for your studies. Even though finance skills are somewhat auxiliary for BAs, you should be thorough in your efforts in order to succeed. I faced several cases when people with a finance background considered for a position of a senior BA on a finance project failed the financial section of the interview due to poor preparation (apparently, they relied upon their old knowledge and decided not to spend enough time on preparation).
Systematic mastering of the finance domain
Use reliable sources for your studies and devote enough resources to that. Finance is a mature industry, so it would be wise to find tools proven by time and recommended by reputable experts.
Develop your number crunching and data analysis skills (in Excel, Google sheets, and similar tools). Modern finance is all about numbers and data, so it is advantageous to be familiar with data analysis basics. The below data analysis certification from IIBA may help you with that: https://www.iiba.org/business-analysis-certifications/business-data-analytics-certification/
Absorb basic programming skills with SQL being the top priority with Python as the next priority. Nowadays, basic programming skills are a must within the domain.
Combine your study tools and seek advice from mature professionals with financial skills. No single tool or expert is perfect enough for such a sophisticated domain as finance, so use several of them to look at the areas of interest from different points of view.
Expand your financial vocabulary. This is one of the keys to successful communications with finance domain stakeholders. You may use cheat sheets among other tools for that.
Sometimes, Wikipedia and Investopedia may accelerate your learning, although other sources should complement you.
Continue learning. The finance industry evolves with modern trends like AI, crypto assets, and globalization. You should do the same in order to stay up to date.
After you have achieved the basic level of understanding of finance, you may decide to deepen your knowledge. The first tool I would recommend for that is certifications. You may either get a certificate or just use the certification preparation tools without taking the exams.
Among the most reputable certifications in the world of finance are CFA (focus on investments), FRM (focus on risk management), ACCA (focus on accounting), as well as many others. Usually, the certifications may help you achieve up to a medium level of understanding of the domain. The most popular certifications have preparation materials from experienced study providers that may be used for learning the domain. The textbooks are perfectly tailored for self-studies.
The certifications' curriculums are being developed by the best experts in the financial industry and are the accumulated results of decades of their work. As a result, the tools are clearly worth having a look at.
You should consider the proper subdomain, though, in selecting the proper certification, i.e., CFA will be better for the investment banking project, while ACCA or CPA on the project in the area of accounting.
You may read more about various finance certifications using the below link from Investopedia:
For CFA and FRM certifications, one of the best study providers (I used them in my own preparation) is Kaplan Schweser (Kaplan for ACCA):
To master the skills, I would recommend starting with SQL and Excel macros writing (you should be able to use conditions and cycles). This is a "must have" on many financial IT projects. Concentrate on SELECT, UPDATE, INSERT, and DELETE operators in SQL. The recommended book (the same as for the interview preparation):
SQL for Dummies - https://www.amazon.com/All-One-Dummies-Computer-Tech/dp/1119569613/
Then, master Python (at the basic level) as the most convenient and most popular general-purpose language with libraries for data analysis and machine learning. This must include basic knowledge of data structures and algorithms as well as major libraries like NumPy, Pandas, and Matplotlib.
If you need to write high-performance code – you should use C/C++ for that, but I personally faced these languages only on one project. These two languages are not of high priority.
Books & Articles
I recommend you start with these two books:
https://www.amazon.com/Bank-Analysts-Handbook-Conjuring-Tricks/dp/0470091185/ (The Bank Analyst's Handbook)
https://www.amazon.com/Options-Futures-Other-Derivatives-Global/dp/1292410655/ (Options, Futures, and Other Derivatives; read this book if you expect your role will need knowledge about derivatives)
The first is an introductory to the banking subdomain, while the second is more advanced, focused on the quantitative side of finance, and requires some math knowledge to start with. John Hull, the author of the second book, has another book claimed to be simpler (uses less advanced mathematics) – "Fundamentals of Futures and Options Markets", but I did not read it, so I cannot offer an opinion on it (and it is more expensive on Amazon than the first derivative book).
I would also advise you to focus on books preselected by the CFA institute staff. They are high quality proven resources: https://blogs.cfainstitute.org/investor/category/book-reviews/
I have also found that the book below may be helpful. It is not expensive and looks at the BA role in the banking subdomain from a practical point of view:
https://www.amazon.com/Banking-Domain-Knowledge-Business-Analysts-ebook/dp/B079CKQ97M (Banking Domain Knowledge For Business Analysts)
I prefer using books to online courses, but it is a matter of preference. There are a lot of useful courses for those who prefer this study format. There is more information on the available courses following the links below from Investopedia:
Highly reputable CFA certification preparation courses from Schweser are also worth your attention:
Also, offerings from the leader of online learning market Coursera:
https://www.coursera.org/specializations/foundational-finance (kindly advised by Denis Gobov)
I recommend listening to Bloomberg radio. First, you will be on the same wavelength as millions of finance professionals worldwide. Second, you will easily grasp the financial slang and vocabulary. Third, you will improve your understanding of hot financial topics. Finally, it is free! The radio is also available in the form of podcasts. I have listened to the radio for many years when walking home from my office ever since mobile internet became available in my location.
As an alternative, you may use Schweser audios for CFA exam preparation:
If you prefer videos to reading, I recommend you watch CFA exam preparation videos from Schweser as a high-quality study tool:
I also recommend you watch fiction movies with a focus on finance. It is studying with fun. The links below are recommended by CFA institute authors or by a site for CFA candidates:
Bloomberg TV is also useful for the same reasons as Bloomberg radio:
Newspapers, magazines & information agencies
Reading the financial press and following the news may help you sharpen your understanding of the industry, improve your financial vocabulary, and let you learn many hot topics. From time to time, I read them. The most reputable financial media on a global scale are:
https://www.ft.com/ Financial Times; tilt to Eurasia
https://www.wsj.com/ Wall Street Journal; tilt to Americas
https://www.bloomberg.com/ - Bloomberg; one of the two leading global IAs
https://www.reuters.com/ - Thomson Reuters; one of the two leading global IAs
https://www.forbes.com/ -Forbes; great tool to get a general finance acumen
https://fortune.com/ - Fortune; great tool to get a general finance acumen
https://www.economist.com/ - The Economist; focus on longer-term trends in finance and economy
The links below may also be helpful for mastering the finance domain. Sometimes, you can find something interesting there:
https://www.investopedia.com – Investopedia; excellent source of finance information for learners
https://www.cfainstitute.org/ - CFA institute; global organization of investment professionals
https://www.garp.org/ - GARP; global organization of finance risk professionals
https://www.accaglobal.com/gb/en.html - ACCA global; global organization of accounting professionals
https://www.cboe.com/optionsinstitute/ - options studies from Chicago Board Options Exchange
https://www.efinancialcareers.com/ - job search site for finance professionals globally, including BAs in finance
https://www.alphagamma.eu/finance/best-finance-websites/ - useful list of finance links
https://www.iiba.org/business-analysis-certifications/business-data-analytics-certification/essential-reading-resources/ - helpful readings on business data analysis
The above tips may help you master the finance domain from the business analyst perspective up to a medium level. To get an advanced understanding of the domain, you would need at least 3-5 years of working experience related to the industry, coupled with continuous self-education and the use of substantially more tools than I listed above. At the same time, I am sure that my recommendations will give you more than enough information to start working with the domain and simplify your first steps while remaining cost-effective in your efforts. I believe that improving your understanding of the finance domain will benefit not only you as a BA but also the whole business analysis profession and the financial industry. Good luck to you on your way! Cover Image source