3 ways financial advisory consulting bests strategy consulting

In our last post, we discussed 5 major differences between 2 prominent types of consulting. From the variety of work and access to C-level executives to the wide array of exit opportunities, strategy operations consulting far surpassed financial advisory consulting as our recommended career to pursue.

Missed part one?  Find it here: 5 reasons to choose strategy operations over financial advisory consulting

However, some of you are still holding out with a twinkle of hope for us to give you the “OK” to apply within financial advisory consulting. You are drawn to it, you have a job in mind, the firm looks enticing – can’t it be okay to choose financial advisory consulting!? Well…sure. It actually might be the perfect choice!

Without going back on our clearly stated recommendation to pursue strategy operations consulting, here are 3 well-justified reasons for choosing financial advisory consulting.

1)  An honest assessment says that your qualifications are not up to par for strategy consulting.

Financial advisory consulting could be a great fit for you if you realistically are facing an incredible uphill battle into strategy consulting. Financial advisory firms still have a GPA cutoff, but some extend their arms to those with a 3.2 vs. 3.5 GPA, and others weigh just math (classes and testing) more heavily than the big picture.

Financial advisory firms recruit from a broader set of schools. Plus, financial advisory schools aren’t hyper-focused on recruiting the president of the class – they more realistically focus sales efforts on a fraternity vice president with a great volunteer record, a strong major, great quant scores and a really good GPA who is great with people.

The Big 4 really dominate the financial advisory consulting scene – PwC and Ernst & Young are arguably two of the strongest in the sector. They are masterful recruiters with big budgets to entertain prospects, so if you’re interested in the field, check them out – just go in with your eyes wide open.

Why do these firms care so much about quant and less about well-rounded creativity? You’ll be modeling like a pro in your first few years with them. In compliance work, or on finance-focused projects, the broad-sweeping projections of strategy consulting don’t cut it. You need quantitative street cred to drive actionable insights for clients.

In general, financial advisory consulting firms look for strong, well-rounded candidates with a demonstrated interest in business, train them, and treat them well throughout their career. As mentioned in our previous post, financial consulting is a much better choice than a narrowly-defined role in internal finance (especially at a no-name corporation).

2)  You want to start in financial advisory consulting, but plan to be strategic about project selection so you can transition to a firm like MBB later.

For those of you who aspire to MBB later in your career, we applaud you if you start your career in financial advisory consulting – provided you act strategically! We’re not saying that you shouldn’t join a financial advisory consulting firm – you should just angle for work on specific strategy-related projects.

Why? Not all financial advisory firms, or projects, are created equal.

What are some good options? For one, if you can choose, work on clients in a hot field (like oil & gas or healthcare). Your experience, while functionally more narrow than strategy consulting, will form an important subset of experience MBB firms consider relevant. Try to own a financial model, or lead a best practice research effort on a client that is shared (for example, McKinsey works for the CEO while you serve the CFO).

Additionally, if you have your choice of firms, pick a firm with a respected strategy practice (like IBM or Deloitte) over a firm with a lower-ranked practice (like E&Y).

Best of all, with this strategy you hedge your bets. If you utilize financial advisory consulting as a strategic stepping-stone to MBB, you’ll be well-positioned with strong exit opportunities even if you end up falling short of MBB in the end.

3)  Pursue financial advisory consulting if you are extremely passionate about becoming a CFO of a company at some point.

We understand; for some of you, you just love working in finance. If your goal is to rise to CFO in any company, financial advisory consulting is right up your alley, and we recommend it for you without hesitation!

Your exit opportunities will be directed at finance departments, and your career progression will be accelerated if you choose consulting first and transition into industry later.

Ultimately, you’ll get great experience, great training, and great exposure to many different projects.

Here are some final Q&As for those of you that only have MBB on the brain.

Q: If I have an opportunity to take a financial advisory consulting role at a brand name firm vs. a strategy operations consulting role in an unknown boutique, which job would position me best to break in to MBB?

A: Brand name always wins. If you’re taking a consulting position or internship to bulk up a resume as a stepping stone until you switch to a larger firm, the larger firm will want to see a brand name work experience (both your firm and the client firm) over your ability to serve a company that is 1/100th of their size.

While the skills in finance and strategy operations differ, the caliber of a Fortune 500 and start up boutique have an even larger development gap.

Good news, though – in an earlier post about Accenture, we talked a lot about personal branding – financial advisory consulting is not a deal-killer for MBB like Accenture often is.

Q:  What are my chances of leaving my financial advisory consultant role and breaking into a larger firm for strategy consulting?

A:  If you have been strategic (as we suggested above) about the projects you worked, have limited tenure (3 or fewer years), and have completed or are completing a Top 25 MBA, you’re in really good shape (provided you have an awesome resume and cover letter). Just a bit of networking will do you right!

If you don’t fall into one of those above categories, you have a LOT of work to do and may be facing an uphill battle or at the very least, a long road. Email us and we’ll candidly walk you through your options.

Q:  I don’t want to take a back up plan as a job, and my qualifications aren’t good enough for strategy operations consulting. How can I boost my resume to break into strategy consulting?

A:  Choices are hard. Our recommendation? Early in your career, go for the broadest solution with the best brand name you can find and stay there for at least 2 years. Aggressively pursue responsibility. Build a great network. Stay in the same field if you move jobs, but feel free to work for 2 different companies?

What you shouldn’t do? Bounce around to too many companies, stay too long with work that is too narrow, and hide in your cubicle. You’ll need a network later, so start building it now.

As always, we welcome your questions and feedback. Check out more of our related posts and let us know what influenced your choice for selecting either strategy operations consulting or financial advisory consulting.

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  • Mike

    Excellent article. You’ve saved me days of networking and research. Thanks for posting!

  • Guest Consultant

    It is unfair to act like every consulting firm that is not MBB does not play in the strategy space. I love this website, but I have really noticed a major slant towards MBB and its superiority in everything. I agree they are the three clear cut winners but there are another 10-15 solid options past them that can provide strategy exposure as well (Accenture, IBM, Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, EY, Oliver Wyman, ZS Associates, Point B, Booz, BAH, et al). The main difference is the opportunities for strategy work don’t grow on trees at most of those places and you really have to position yourself to get staffed on those engagements. Nonetheless, there are groups/projects at each of these firms where they compete against and beat MBB.

  • MC Team

    Excellent point. You are right on multiple accounts. Thanks for your feedback.

  • GhengisMartyKaan

    Look, we get it. MBB are the NY Yankees of management consulting. But you’re starting to sound like a kid who worked 2 years as an associate at McKinsey and drank the cool aid before “deciding to move on” (presumably to start this blog). I was a Big-4 advisory manager and I’ve worked with a ton of McKinsey ex-partners at a startup. And I’ve been a “strategy” team manager in a Fortune 500 company. “Strategy” is such a vague term as to be meaningless. Are you talking about marketing and branding? Streamlining procurement? Assisting with an M&A? Eventually, even at McKinsey, you need an area of expertise beyond “I’m just a really smart business guy”. The disadvantage of Advisory practices is that the Big-4 and Accentures tend to be skewed more towards accounting and IT consulting. Which again is fine, so long as you don’t hold the elitist attitude that any sort of work where you actually “do something” is beneath you.

  • GhengisMartyKaan

    Another thing. Saying that a career in McKinsey prepares you for a job as a CEO while a job at PwC provides you for a job as CFO is extremely naïve and simplistic. I’m not even sure if consulting is even the best path for a C-level job anyway. A hell of a lot of consultants pass through the top 50 firms and they all can’t be CEOs. Also, Advisory is more than just financial services consulting. At PwC it’s basically a catch-all for anything that’s not Audit or Tax. Operations, dispute & forensics, SOX, real estate, valuation, industry specific, pretty much anything you can think of.
    More realistically, every now and then a partner will split off from one of these firms and ether form his own “boutique” consulting firm or software startup and bring his crew with him or take a job as a senior executive in some other company full of former consultants and investment bankers.