For many experienced finance professionals, the prospect of quitting the corporate hustle and bustle to work in a portfolio role seems to have much to recommend it.
Flexibility of work hours and environments, a better work-life balance, the ability to choose interesting clients to work with, yet the potential to earn both quickly and well – it has it all.
There are also, of course, some challenges along the way – so we spoke with some of our own experienced portfolio finance professionals within the EFM Associate network to get some insight into what those planning to start a portfolio career can expect, and where the triumphs and occasional tribulations can lie.
Transferable skills, broad opportunities
One of the most striking aspects of a portfolio finance professional’s day-to-day working life is the sheer transferability of their skills, and the opportunities this opens up across many different sizes and sectors of business.
Often, new portfolio professionals worry about working in unfamiliar sectors, but the reality is that they don’t realise how much knowledge and skill they have acquired in their earlier careers, and the extent to which the same principles are essentially similar no matter what the company’s size or sector.
As an example, the portfolio FDs and FCs we spoke with have worked with clients from biotech start-ups to sports coaching companies, not-for-profit organisations to jewellery manufacturers, fashion designers to cosmetics producers – yet were previously in corporate roles in construction, commercial real estate, and retail.
As one portfolio FD who has been working with diverse clients for more than six years put it, “Sales is price multiplied by quantity, whatever the sector.”
Freedom and flexibility
After the pressure of a corporate workstyle, freedom and flexibility are two words that come up frequently in finance professionals’ description of the benefits of a portfolio career. As one portfolio FD observed, “I chose portfolio because there is more freedom as to the clients you work with, and around how, when and where you work, which makes for a better work-life balance.”
As an example, a microbusiness may need only an hour or month from a portfolio FD or FC, a small business two or three days a month, a larger business four days a month or more.
Likewise, the number of clients a portfolio finance specialist can take on is highly flexible, depending on the mix of size and maturity of clients’ businesses; for some, in our experience, it’s 2 – 4 retained clients, for others it could be 10 or more.
Project work, of course, is more time-critical, and tends to be more intensive, so during these periods there may be significantly less flexibility in working hours.
But even so, the general consensus amongst portfolio finance professionals is that the work benefits overall from a natural “ebb and flow” that gives you space to take time out – whether you use that to attend to your family life, improve your golf swing, or, indeed, go networking.
The joy of smaller businesses
Whilst portfolio finance professionals are often surprised at the breadth and cross-sector applicability of their knowledge and skills, working with smaller businesses can be a very different “vibe” to working with larger organisations.
Often, there are limited finance systems and processes in place, so it becomes your responsibility to specify and deploy them, and to make a positive impact on the business’s finance transparency as quickly as possible.
Equally often, there is a small finance team and the senior business figures may themselves have no specialist understanding of finance, so it becomes your job to train them (although you can upsell this as a value-add, as many Portfolio practitioners have).
If that sounds like hard work, consider what else portfolio professionals say about working with smaller businesses: that they are totally appreciative of everything you do for them. With nobody else to answer their questions, they regard you as a prized source of both finance and wider business insight, and your views are listened to. This builds considerable trust.
Equally, it’s important to remember just how transformative services like portfolio finance are to a small business from a cost point of view. It can cost relatively little for an hour of qualified expertise that can take the business further, faster, and at less risk.
It makes a portfolio finance professional a very marketable prospect indeed to smaller businesses.