CAREERS in finance are hot right now, particularly in Singapore, which is being touted as the financial hub of Asia, with its strategic location between the new Asian powerhouses of India and China.

For fresh graduates seeking jobs with long-term development prospects, the finance industry is a very attractive field. It is also a very competitive one - a total of 11,300 finance jobs were created last year.

What does it take to join the industry?

People think that successful financial professionals all fit a stereotype: They have a wizard-like prowess with numbers, a macro perspective with a micro focus, magna cum laude degrees in finance and the ability to understand words like "hedge" and "FX-instrument".

Well, think again. There are opportunities for everyone in the finance industry, even for those who do not have business or finance degrees, as well as executives who are thinking of switching careers from a different industry.

Take Mr Gerald Ong, chief executive officer of PrimePartners Corporate Finance, for example. Prior to joining the finance industry, he was an English literature honours student at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Upon graduating from NUS, Mr Ong decided to pursue a career in the finance sector and enrolled for a Master of Business Administration course offered by the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Following that, he took a job in the merchant banking industry. In addition to his current position, Mr Ong has held senior positions with several Singapore-based financial institutions, such as N M Rothschild & Sons, TokyoMitsubishi International (Singapore) and the DBS Bank Group.

He says: "I was initially apprehensive about my decision to enter the finance sector, as I would have to switch from a highly subjective and literary discipline to one that is objective and highly numerate.

"At the same time, I was attracted to a highly challenging professional environment.

"There are many open doors in the finance industry for anyone who has a hunger to learn and upgrade, even someone who is not previously equipped with financial knowledge and skills. It is my firm belief that if I can successfully make this switch, anyone can."

Another example is Ms Euleen Goh, who started out as a chartered accountant but decided that she needed a change and joined Standard Chartered Bank.

In her 21 years with the company, she travelled widely throughout the company's operations. Her route to success involved constantly upgrading her financial skills.

"The finance industry has equipped me with immense knowledge and skills to constantly challenge myself to stay ahead of the competition and be competent in my work.

"I think it is never too late to find a foothold in the finance industry as long as one is willing to learn and upgrade one's skills set," says Ms Goh, who retired in 2006 as the bank's chief executive officer.

She is a member of The Institute of Banking & Finance Council and the chairperson of the Financial Industry Competency Standards (FICS) steering committee, of which Mr Ong is also a member.

FICS is a comprehensive quality assurance framework with a certification and accreditation system for financial professionals in Singapore.

The framework helps to raise the professional bar of Singapore's financial workforce and training providers. It was developed by leading financial practitioners and financial institutions based in Singapore and abroad.

There will be over 270 FICS-accredited programmes for an all-encompassing 53 job families within the financial services industry by mid-2010.

They cover areas that range from wealth management to insurance, and will be administered by a pool of accredited providers.

Currently, five lead providers have been appointed and they are the Financial Training Institute @ SMU, the International Compliance Association, the Risk Management Institute NUS, the Singapore College of Insurance and the Wealth Management Institute.

The finance industry is very diverse and sophisticated. It is an exciting field where changes are constantly taking place.

It is a myth that jobs in the finance industry are only reserved for "men in grey suits".

There are jobs available for bright graduates from all fields of work as long as they are lifelong learners.