Pursuing a career in a highly competitive field like finance requires both excelling in academics and pursing the best opportunities available, especially prestigious internships. Internships are a key indicator of career readiness and are perhaps even more important for long-term success in this industry than others.
One of the phenomena of the financial world is how alike all candidates for jobs tend to look: a BA or MBA with a focus on finance or accounting and internships at the same top banks in the same top cities. Doing something slightly different and more adventurous (yet relevant to the field) can make your CV stand out and land you more interviews after graduation.
Not to mention that taking your finance internship abroad not only teaches you about the field itself, but also equips you with the global perspective needed to truly succeed in today's deeply interdependent financial world.
As with any internship, you have the opportunity to either apply to a formal internship program or design your internship on an independent basis. The choice, one could argue, depends on your experience level.
If you haven't yet completed an internship or don't yet have the experience exercising your skills in a real-world environment, then using a formal channel or even paying for a pre-designed internship program is probably your best bet. Finance internships are highly competitive at home, so opportunities abroad are going to be even more limited due the strong local candidates vying for a few positions at the top institutions. A program with many years of successfully placing candidates could be the way to get your foot in the door abroad.
However, if you've already completed an internship program in your home country and have real-world finance skills you feel confident using immediately, then independently organizing an internship can be possible by utilizing your university and personal network contacts to find programs to apply for overseas or by simply offering concrete skills to organizations you'd like to work for that perhaps don't even have a formalized internship opportunity.
A wide variety of placements are available, so don't limit your search to banks. While major investment banks tend to be the first place more internship seekers look, there are also the financial departments of companies themselves. Performing finance-related tasks in a non-profit organization or start-up company are other ways to cast a wider application net.
The type of activities finance interns can expect to participate in include: financial auditing, accounts payable, researching and producing reports, budgeting and financial planning, attending meetings, reviewing financial policies and procedures, preparing some financial analysis, working on system improvements, and providing general administrative support. In smaller companies, start-ups, or non-profits, interns may have the opportunity to work across multiple departments and learn about the many faces of the business finance touches.
Where to Go
Again, financial internships can be completed anywhere in the world in any organization because money touches everything, everywhere. There are, however, a few global financial centers where opportunities may be more plentiful and the country or city itself may be more useful for growing your network in this industry.
For many professionals, New York is not the financial capital of the world -- London is. Nearly every international bank or brokerage firm has a significant presence in London, which is particularly well known for its currency trading. It's also considered the start-up center of Europe, so if you have interests outside of finance, London is rich with opportunities in all domains.
Headquarters of Deutsche Bank and other large German and European companies, Frankfurt is often looked at as the financial capital of continental Europe. After the Brexit vote, Frankfurt may draw even more banks and financial institutions away from London.
Other compelling continental Europe destinations include Luxemburg, Paris, and Zurich (HQ for UBS and Credit Suisse), but successful candidates will probably have some German and French language skills.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and rapidly positioning itself as the financial capital of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Banks and financial institutions of all kinds are expanding their regional operations here and hiring just as fast. As the most cosmopolitan city in the Middle East, international applicants can also gain exposure to Islamic culture without needing to speak Arabic.
Abu Dhabi and Doha are also interesting choices in the region.
Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong has long been the financial capital of Asia and an important gateway to China, with well-developed opportunities in banking, wealth management, and trading. Knowledge of Chinese is useful, but not required, and many financial services expats function entirely in English.
In Asia, Kuala Lumpur is also a booming financial center that may be less competitive for international applicants, in addition to more traditional locales like Singapore, Bangkok, and Shanghai.
Planning Your Trip
Housing will depend on whether you independently organize an internship or go through a reputable organization. While it may be tempting to live in the trendiest part of the city, it's highly advisable to live close to your office since finance interns -- and finance professionals in general -- work very long hours. You don't want to be commuting for an hour after a 12-hour work day!
In finance, like other disciplines, your ability to practice certain things is dependent on your compliance with US and global qualifications and certifications. Be aware that these vary depending on the country and are interesting to pay attention to while you're abroad: what will you need to get to do the work you really want to be doing long term in the place you really want to be doing it? Investments and M&A work is especially notorious for requirements.
Being a successful intern
Be prepared to work in a fast-paced, demanding work environment with probably a lot of teamwork. Research skills will help you quickly master unfamiliar concepts, and a strong attention to detail will allow your superiors to trust your deliverables.
Lining up a job
Very often full-time jobs are on the line for finance interns. Find out at the onset if this is the case and how many job opportunities will be available. If you like the company and the country, this is the best bet for landing a real job abroad after graduation.