dereksilva - Financial copywriter

Derek Profile 2

For someone who grew up introverted, it has been surprisingly easy to find icebreakers lately. People inevitably ask me, “How did a Canadian end up in Finland?”or, “How did an ex-banker end up as a copywriter?” or, “Why would they pick you as Copywriter of the Week?”

I never dreamed of becoming a writer. My speciality in school was mathematics. I knew that I would follow in my father’s footsteps into the business world. After getting an Economics degree, I escaped frigid Canada to explore the European banking world… in frigid Finland. My mother is Finnish, so this was an opportunity to know more about my roots and relatives.

However, while I was analysing and managing investments, I was also thrust into a side role as the unofficial proofreader, editor and translator at my Finnish bank. For many years, I was the only native English speaker among the 200-300 employees at the bank.

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Colleagues often came to me for help with language issues. Needless to say, I made lots of friends in the Communications and Marketing departments over the years.

I noticed that my banking colleagues were often dissatisfied with the English texts that we would get from the translation agencies. Why? The translators were often wrong with the business and investment terms.

Does a translator or copywriter know the huge difference, for example, between simple terms like “earnings” and “revenue”? How about more advanced terms like “EBITDA” or “maintenance covenants”? I thought that the local Finnish copywriters, and even the native English copywriters abroad must have these difficulties.

I also noticed that, while my colleagues had wonderful senses of humour around the office, their blog texts were often dull and repetitive. When I was asked to write a blog post, they all raved about it because it brought a touch of humour and was not as bland.

There is one clear disadvantage to switching careers to becoming a freelance writer when you’re over 40: those who are hiring will want to see an established portfolio or a few years of work experience with a copywriting agency. But the agencies are also looking for experienced writers or fresh graduates.

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Even though I had spent almost 20 years of fixing the poor English writing of others, I did not have much of a portfolio to show of my own. Fortunately, I have since managed to get a number of ghost-writing projects. I have also supplemented my income in my first six months as a freelancer with over 100 proofreading and translating projects from a local Finnish company.

My career came full circle recently when a large Finnish company with almost EUR 5 billion in revenue asked me to write an article for them. Wärtsilä (no, not a Japanese movie monster), was a company that I analysed when my banking career started and now, many years later, I was writing an article for them.

I prefer to work as a freelancer because I grew tired of the office life. My greatest love in life is to travel and this gives me a chance to work from anywhere around the world: just me and my laptop. I know that it takes longer to build up a portfolio without working at an agency, but I am prepared to push through that.

I have looked at some Finnish agency websites and I see lots of beautiful & handsome 20-somethings who are producing content. I know that Finns are highly educated, creative, adept at many languages, and I am certain that they can put out great content.

But I also know that my 20+ years in finance gives me something that they don’t have. I have had lunch with CEOs from some of the biggest companies in the world, I’ve read through thousands of annual reports and investor presentations, and I have raised hundreds of millions of euros from investors through my own fund sales presentations.

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Fortunately, I have still a good relationship with my former employer, and they continue to ask me to write for the bank. Just last week, I felt honoured when my ex-boss asked me to write an article for him, ashe is one of the most respected professionals in the European bond market and has won many awards.

I hope to also make use of my extensive network of ex-colleagues in finance and communications, and perhaps even those ex-clients in London, Hong Kong and Singapore who did many bond trades with me. After all, I have almost 500 connections on LinkedIn from the world of finance. That must be worth something, right?

I also found a fantastic mentor online, Paul Connolly, who is an established financial copywriter with a great deal of experience in journalism. He let me ghost write some articles for him (for a UK financial firm) and gave me valuable tips on how to improve.

It was extremely beneficial for me to take a couple of online courses in Copywriting from the College of Media & Publishing (UK). The courses were very practical. I also found it helpful to get direct responses from a tutor for each assignment.

It’s funny, nobody asks me, “Will you stay in Finland?” I guess they assume I will, but the answer is no. Thus far, my whole life has been spent in two wonderful, but cold countries (Canada, Finland). I am eager to finally enjoy some years in a warm climate, in a place where I can sit outdoors, all evening, in shorts and a t-shirt. And a laptop.

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