There are two problems people encounter learning to develop financial analysis skills. Firstly, most people only get to learn when they have money on the line. This means the learning process is clouded by emotion as positions rise and fall. The second problem is that it can get boring poring over endless statements and reports.
In fact, financial reports, statements, and data is only half the story anyway. You also need to understand the emotional side of decision making. And, you need to learn about your own cognitive processes and the biases that affect your decisions.
Becoming financially savvy will help you in many ways. One of the ways you can do so is by becoming really good at financial analysis. There are all sorts of ways to learn analytical skills that don’t require investing one’s life savings or reading through reams of boring statements.
While video games are often seen as just another form of entertainment, we can actually learn valuable skills from them. And, they provide just the sort of engaging environment conducive to learning.
Video games are a great way to learn to make split-second decisions. There are games specifically designed to teach certain skills but, actually, many popular games, like Call of Duty, can also teach us valuable lessons.
One of the foremost experts on the subject is Jane McGonigal who designs video games but also has a PhD in performance studies. She believes that people don’t want to escape reality; they just want better engagement. Research from Stanford University suggests that when playing games, parts of the brain can fire 60 times in a minute.
There’s more research into this than one might think. Researchers at North Carolina State University looked at the types of skills people can learn from games. They found that mainstream games can improve attention, focus, spatial orientation, and problem-solving abilities.
So, what does this have to do with finance? Well being able to make decisions quickly and being a good problem solver are key skills for anyone doing financial analysis. And these are not skills you’ll learn from a book either.
Whether its online or in a casino, card games and other casino games can teach valuable lessons. It would be very difficult to spend eight hours in a row learning about probability but playing blackjack or poker for eight hours can be eight hours of fun. And it may just be the best lesson in probability you’ll ever receive.
Blackjack and poker are both games where probabilities play a big part in developing an edge. And the financial world is also full of probabilities. Good investors and traders see each opportunity as a risk-reward payoff with a probability of success. They always try to reduce complex problems down to a set of probabilities – and to do that takes practice.
According to Betway Casino, typical blackjack strategies made for casinos have a set of rules that a player uses to decide whether to ask for another card or stand. These are all based on probabilities. For instance, if your hand totals 17 and you ask for another card, there is a greater than 50% chance you will go bust. However, these rules can be refined based on additional information. If the dealer is showing an Ace, he will probably beat your 17 anyway, so you have less to lose by asking for another card. The cards that have already been played on the table also change the probabilities. Playing blackjack like this can rapidly teach you to reduce each situation down to probabilities.
A little closer to the world of finance, but still entertaining, are platforms that make investing into a game. This is known as gamification, and several startups have launched successful platforms around the theme.
The idea is to make investing more like fantasy football and less like taking on Goldman Sachs at their own game. Instead of picking a team, you pick a portfolio of stocks. Players enter various leagues or form a league with friends.
Competitions usually run over the course of weeks to months, with cash prizes for the player with the portfolio that increases the most in value.
The attractive part of it is that it brings in a sense of competition which keeps people interested. The prizes add a small incentive, without the chance of really big losses. Perhaps the most useful aspect of these games is the message boards where people discuss their investment ideas. You can suggest an idea and other people will share their views, giving you immediate feedback.
Two popular platforms to check out are Wall Street Survivor and How the Market Works.
These days, there are lots of free courses you can take too. The great thing about online courses is that you can study for the sake of learning rather than to earn credits toward a certificate. That means you can pick and choose the parts of a course that you want to study.
You can sign up for over 100 free finance courses at Coursera. It’s one of the best courses there is on behavioural finance, a subject not many people get to study at school or university, and yet it explores the way decisions get made in the real world.
Online courses include video lectures by some of the best lecturers in the world. This means that if you want to learn a lot about something very specific – say company valuation or probability theory – you can watch five videos by five of the world’s foremost experts on the subject.
If you ever need a refresher on maths or stats concepts, Khan Academy has short 10-minute videos covering specific topics.
Improving your financial analysis skills will obviously help you in a career in finance. But, even if you don’t go into finance, the same skills can help you manage your own savings or create passive income on the side. Either way, you can improve your bank balance while having fun.