Reaching for the economic chiefdom

COMPANY chief economist jobs are pretty cool. Not only do you get the academic kudos of being an “expert” you often get to appear on the news to prove it. But how does one get to work on the sexy side of the dismal science? There are hardly entry-level job adverts or graduate schemes that offer a route all the way to the top.

Clearly those in the analyst trade are already one step ahead. But it turns out that it’s not too late if you come to the idea a bit late. IG Index’s chief market strategist David Jones started working life in the financial software industry before moving to analysis. “I fancied a career change and we had currency analysts as clients,” Jones explains. After a few years, he switched industries again, becoming a financial journalist, before taking the exams offered by the Society of Technical Analysts and moving into spread betting. “It doesn’t do any harm to know people in the sector you want to move into. If you’re passionate and hard working enough, once you’re in the right sector, there are always opportunities to move up or sideways.”

But Colin Ellis, the British Venture Capital Association’s (BVCA) chief economist, says he thinks the traditional routes are the best: “I maintain that the Bank of England’s programme is the best place to train. There’s a lot of debate about who counts as a proper economist and I suppose I class myself as a nerd who does proper economics.”

Being an economics “nerd”, however, does not mean you have to be an academic to be successful. Ellis warns that getting a PhD is not necessarily the wisest career choice: “While some PhD grads are exceptional, often the intensity of their study in one area means that they lose the ability to think in broad macro terms.”

Trends in the industry, however, seem to be moving in that direction. Andrew Brigden, an economist at Fathom Financial Consulting, says: “In the US they seem to expect a PhD. But we’ve recruited people straight from undergraduate level.”

If it is not academic cred that propels you up the ranks, what does? Jones says the top jobs go to the articulate and confident: “Plenty of analysts aren’t rocket scientists, a lot of the job is about being good enough to go on TV and explain economics in a clear and concise way.” Indeed, Ellis says he knows of economists that have bonuses dependent on how often they get in the press.

Chiefdom, perhaps, then depends on getting in with the analyst tribe before donning some face paint for the TV audience’s entertainment.