It’s possible to break into one of the large ratings agencies or data providers later on in your career. If you’ve honed your analytical skills working in risk management at a bank, for example, there will be jobs for you at the likes of Moody’s and Bloomberg.
But if you want to enter the sector straight out of university, you should apply for a graduate traineeship, having ideally also done an internship at the same firm or at another financial institution. Ratings agencies typically prefer degrees in subjects such as finance, economics, accounting, engineering, mathematics, statistics or related business and quantitative disciplines.
Fitch Ratings, for example, has an ‘associate analyst’ programme which lasts up to 12 months and offers training designed to give you a broad analytical base to build a career in credit ratings. You’ll also get assigned to a specific product group and your responsibilities will encompass the entirety of the credit rating process.
Over at Standard & Poor’s (S&P), there’s a three-year analyst training programme which starts with a four-week crash course in New York focused on accounting, ratings methodology, risk and compliance, and capital markets. You’ll then be rotated around the firm’s main ratings teams: corporates, financial services, public finance and structured finance.
While your traineeship at a ratings agency will include some classroom-based teaching, most of the time you’ll be learning on the job and doing real work for clients. You’ll help to conduct credit and recovery analysis for corporate, institutional or governmental clients, for example. And you’ll learn how to assess credit worthiness for both traditional credit-based products (i.e. vanilla bonds) and more complicated structured transactions.
Many finance graduates opt for credit-analysis jobs within ratings agencies in order to work at the heart of the business and so they can apply and expand their financial skills. But the big three agencies – Moody’s, S&P and Fitch – also offer a variety of other roles such as data managers, research writers, product specialists and relationship managers.
The jobs you can do at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters, the world’s two largest providers of financial data, are similarly wide ranging and include data analysis, sales, finance, IT, editorial, product development, and business development. But you’ll need to complete a traineeship before you can specialise. Reuters’ ‘business graduate’ programme, for example, lasts for 18 months and rotates trainees across departments. To secure a place it’s essential to have a Bachelor’s degree in a business-related subject as well as strong analytical and communication skills.
In Bloomberg’s analytics department you’ll start your career with about nine weeks of formal training covering all financial asset classes. You'll also be shown how to use a Bloomberg terminal. After that comes two weeks of intensive training focused on one of the following markets: fixed income, equities, foreign exchange or commodities.
You’ll then be thrown into the deep-end and have to do a stint on the Bloomberg helpdesk, responding to a high volume of client inquiries. The aim isn’t just to test how well you work under pressure, your time on the desk will exposure you to a variety of clients, from hedge funds to institutional banks to corporations, and help you build relationships with them. And by providing solutions to their many questions, you’ll be building up the product knowledge needed to advance your career.