Relevant work experience and a network in your field of interest will be invaluable for breaking into a career as a political risk analyst
Working as a political risk analyst, you'll examine issues such as economic conditions, crime levels, threat of conflict, government stability and governance, trade and regulations, or humanitarian and human rights issues.
You may work in or with a range of private sector companies to inform business and investment decisions, or on behalf of governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to assist national and international policy making and strategy.
This role is also sometimes referred to as country risk analyst, country researcher, geopolitical risk analyst or intelligence analyst.
Types of political risk analysis
The focus of your work will depend on whether you work for a consultancy or risk advisory firm, in-house for a business or for a Think Tank, NGO or research institute.
Some roles are generalist, others are more specialised. Your work might focus on:
- a country or region - providing in-depth intelligence on a range of issues and risk factors relating to a specific part of the world
- certain themes or issues - such as governance and regulations, security and cyber security, crime, conflict, human rights or humanitarian issues, environmental and economic developments
- a sector or industry - for example, you could work within or provide consultancy to financial services and insurance companies, energy, oil and gas companies or consumer businesses.
In-house roles usually involve using internal data to advise businesses on risk factors within the context of the industry and market in which they're operating. In this scenario, you would be involved in the full lifecycle of an investment or business decision.
As a consultant, you'd work on different projects for a range of clients - supporting companies, governments and other organisations with ongoing or ad-hoc information about the political environment.
Risk analysts within Think Tanks, NGOs and research institutes provide intelligence to inform and influence national and international policy making, strategy and humanitarian initiatives. In this type of setting, your work is likely to be focused on a particular theme or issue.
As a political risk analyst, you'll need to:
- collect and analyse information from different sources, relating to a particular area of interest
- monitor conditions and update intelligence platforms and databases with trends and developments
- use modelling tools and data analytics to calculate risk scores
- produce scenario models and forecasts for different business or policy decisions, or to assess the impact of political or international developments
- write bespoke risk assessments and reports for clients, including offering recommendations about managing risks
- research and write reports and articles on trends and developments in the region or sector
- deliver verbal briefings and presentations to clients and wider audiences on your research
- develop and communicate regularly with a network of individuals and groups in the region or sector - including government, academic, business and journalistic contacts
- read local and/or sector specific press and publications to maintain up-to-date knowledge of political developments.
- Starting salaries for junior analysts and consultants are between £25,000 and £32,000.
- Experienced risk analysts can earn anywhere between £35,000 and £60,000.
- As a team or division leader, you could earn £52,000 to £70,000+.
Salaries vary widely. You'll typically earn more if working within financial services or for a private sector company, or for one of the larger more well-established political risk consultancies. Salaries at Think Tanks, research institutes and NGOs can be considerably lower.
Working hours will vary depending on your role and who you work for, but you'll typically work Monday to Friday. Your work will usually be project based, so your hours will depend on client needs and deadlines, and can be long.
You may have to attend events and meet with contacts or clients in the evenings. Some roles will also involve travel or periods spent working overseas, which can often mean working additional and unsociable hours.
What to expect
- The diversity and variety of work in this field means that you have the opportunity to develop a breadth of skills and experience. You should research companies and positions before you apply, so that you find a role which matches your skills and interests.
- Work is fast paced as you'll be responding to complex and often rapidly shifting political and international developments. This can be exciting, but also a challenge and you'll need to adapt quickly and work well under pressure.
- You could become an expert and thought-leader in your area of interest, with the opportunity to influence decision making and policy at the highest levels of business or government.
- Most risk consultancies, financial services firms, and headquarters of businesses with intelligence and risk divisions are in capital and major cities. There are opportunities in the UK and internationally.
- You'll need to be comfortable working with large amounts of data and using new software tools and programs to perform analysis. Although there can be variation in the research methods and tools required between roles, quantitative analysis is increasingly common across the sector.
A Masters degree is a distinct advantage and a requirement for some roles. An undergraduate degree could be sufficient for an entry-level position or training programme, but you would need evidence of quantitative and qualitative research experience or additional training.
A PhD can be useful for some roles, especially if your research relates directly to the area of work. However, it's not normally a requirement.
A degree in a social science or humanities subject is the most common background of professionals in this sector. The following subjects in particular may help:
- international relations
- modern languages
- regional or country studies.
Other subjects are also accepted, but you'll need evidence of research experience and a developed interest in politics, current affairs and international relations.
If you'd like to work in a country or sector-specific role, specialist knowledge and skills gained through a degree or qualification in a relevant subject will be an advantage. For example, a degree in African Studies would be an advantage for roles focused on that region. Similarly, if you'd like to work in financial services or banking, an economics or finance-related subject is advantageous.
A qualification and fluency in a foreign language is also highly sought after and can be a requirement for some roles. Being able to speak one or more languages will also positively impact your earnings potential.
As a political risk analyst, you'll need:
- a keen interest in politics and current affairs
- good written communication skills - for writing concise, coherent reports and presenting complex information to different audiences
- excellent research skills, both quantitative and qualitative - for gathering, sifting and evaluating large quantities of information and select evidence
- critical thinking skills - in order to analyse evidence and draw reliable conclusions to inform decision making
- numerical skills - for working with data and statistics, calculating risk scores and undertaking economic and financial analysis
- to be diplomatic - when questioning, challenging and influencing decision making
- good interpersonal skills - for building relationships with clients and developing effective professional networks
- technological competence - as you'll use software tools to research and collate information
- commercial awareness - to understand how businesses operate and the internal and external factors that impact decisions and performance
- global and cultural awareness - to understand issues and build relationships in different local, national and international contexts
- up-to-date knowledge of political and international developments and trends
- language skills - fluency in other languages is highly desirable and will increase your employability and earnings potential.
Political risk analysis is a competitive field to get into, so relevant work experience is essential.
Identify the companies and organisations you'd like to work for and check their websites for advertised internship opportunities. These can be competitive.
Approach organisations directly and show your enthusiasm for their area of work and the relevant experience and skills that you can bring.
Work experience which helps you develop the skillset needed for the role is particularly valuable. This includes:
- undertaking research, data analytics and report writing
- gaining experience in a commercial environment and learning how a business operates
- time spent working in the sector or region you want to specialise in. For example, working within an energy or oil company or working/volunteering in a particular country.
Opportunities exist within:
- political risk consultancies and advisory firms
- political risk or intelligence divisions of financial services firms (for example banks or insurance companies)
- risk or intelligence divisions of private companies - particularly in oil, gas, or energy companies and consumer goods businesses
- Think Tanks and research institutes.
Look for job vacancies at:
However, you'll most likely need to identify the companies and organisations you're interested in and look directly on their websites. You can check the Chamber of Commerce for the country you're interested in to see if they have a directory of these.
These can be competitive, and many roles are not advertised. Speculative applications and building a network in the sector will be very important. It's common to do an internship which could then lead to a permanent position.
Joining relevant institutes such as Chatham House or the IISS can help your search. You can also read specialist publications and look at trade associations for the industry you're interested in - such as Oil and Gas UK and The Consumer Goods Forum.
There are some specialist recruitment firms and headhunters, such as Lawson Chase and Barclay Simpson. However, these typically work with experienced professionals and do not have extensive opportunities at entry-level.
Some political risk analysts also work freelance for clients. This is an option once you've developed experience and expertise in your area.
Most employers will provide training and development relevant to your role. This could include training specific to working in risk, and general business and professional skills.
You could also undertake further postgraduate study in a relevant subject, such as an MA or MSc in Risk, International Relations or Security studies, or to specialise in an area such as Risk and Finance or Insurance.
You may also join a professional association in your field of interest, many of which offer training courses and events. For example:
- The Institute of Risk Management
- Society for Risk Analysis
- Chatham House
- International Institute for Strategic Studies
It's usual to start in an analyst or associate role where your work would be primarily research and analysis, producing regular and ad-hoc reports. After two to three years you're likely to move into a more senior position, where you'd be leading projects and having more contact with clients. From there you could progress to managing a political risk team or division, and become more involved in business development and managing operations.
Movement between roles and employers is also common, so you could develop by gaining experience working in different business areas or with different types of clients.
Alternatively, you may choose to specialise in a country, region, type of risk or business area, progressing to become an expert in your field. This could lead to writing and media opportunities and providing consultancy on a freelance basis.
Your skills and experience will also be highly transferable. For example, you could move into financial/credit risk analysis or management in the private sector. You could also go on to work in security or crisis management, or to research and policy roles within government or for a Think Tank.