Your guide to a career in finance
Are you eager to become an expert in money management and offer advice on investment tactics, taxation, and related economic matters? If your answer is yes, read on to discover the prospects a career in finance can offer.
Those who earn a bachelor’s degree in finance may work as financial experts, personal fiscal counselors, investment professionals, budget analysts, or financial examiners. Career paths such as these can provide rewarding salaries as well as numerous growth opportunities in related domains, such as accounting.
Where do people with finance degrees work?
An undergraduate degree in finance usually takes 4 years to complete. It prepares you for a career in several domains, including financial planning, commercial or investment banking, real estate, or the insurance industry. Many specializations within the field are connected; therefore, your finance education opens the doors to a wide range of potential roles and careers.
When choosing a program, you have the option to narrow your focus from the very beginning by selecting accounting or finance specializations.
When choosing a program, you have the option to narrow your focus from the very beginning by selecting accounting or finance specializations. The other option is to choose a bachelor’s degree that offers a fair amount of generic financial knowledge before focusing on a specific area.
Usually, graduates in finance seek roles in banks and investment institutions, join accountancy companies or insurance firms, or work in management consultancy companies. They can also decide to pursue careers in the public sector, where their financial skills or accounting experience can be put to use.
Is a career in finance right for you?
Are you a meticulous person with excellent attention to detail? Are you fond of mathematics, especially statistics? Can you work long hours and still be able to focus on the fine print? If this sounds like you, then a career in finance may be a perfect match.
The most successful finance professionals know how to make nerve-wracking decisions using logic and data. They are also rarely in the limelight. Instead, they tend to assume important background roles, where fast decision-making abilities are critical.
People tend to choose trustworthy professionals for roles that involve making sensitive decisions and working with personal financial information. Financial experts maintain solid track records and impeccable reputations for continued success.
What accounting and finance have in common
Accounting and finance share a good deal of similarity. Both domains have money at their core and deal with the recording and analysis of monetary transactions. Working with numerous IT tools, software, and applications is part of becoming an accomplished professional in either of these fields. Critical thinking abilities also play a crucial role in sorting financial data and offering financial inputs to your employer, no matter if you work for a small company or in a multinational corporation.
Moreover, finance and accounting are deeply intertwined and depend on one another. For instance, consider the case of a finance expert who needs to plan and make projections about an organization’s financial results. To do these activities accurately, they need to rely on data compiled by an accounting team, browse through records, and identify past flaws and future business opportunities.
Some of the main activities that the 2 fields share are:
- managing revenues and assets
- driving expenses
- compiling financial statements
- analyzing liabilities
Ways that finance and accounting differ
Accounting revolves around compiling an accurate report of fiscal activities and presenting fiscal data to internal decisionmakers and external partners or stakeholders. The information is used to leverage cash flow and for financial analysis of past recordings, and includes periodical budgeting.
Finance, on the other hand, is future-oriented and focused on making forecasts of future financial outcomes. Finance experts allocate and manage a company’s assets, juggle with liabilities, and determine the most appropriate growth strategy for the near future.
Finance experts allocate and manage a company’s assets, juggle with liabilities, and determine the most appropriate growth strategy for the near future.
Thus, accountants use financial information for thorough analysis, whereas for finance professionals, it serves as fertile ground for future projections and estimations.
Finance degree paths at a glance
If you have already opted for a career in finance, the next step would be to analyze currently available degrees and decide on a program that fits your needs and interests. There are plenty of elements you should take into consideration when choosing a finance program. These include the length, location, and type of program (on-site, online, or a combination of the 2).
Why choose an accredited program in finance
It’s always better to choose an accredited program in finance. Accreditation is solid proof that a program or an educational institution meets the quality standards reinforced by accrediting institutions or agencies. This in turn is a sign that the people who are coordinating your chosen program are continuously seeking to improve the overall quality of the education they provide.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is an essential accrediting institution for finance and accounting programs. AACSB ensures that degree programs in accounting, finance, or business administration comply with the highest education standards at the undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral levels.
What will you study in a finance program?
Your coursework and primary curriculum will depend on the university you choose. However, there is a set of common foundational topics and courses available at almost every educational institution.
Your program may begin with core courses in business fundamentals, including subjects such as:
- accounting and fiscal reporting
- corporate finance
- business leadership
Next might come a functional set of courses related to finance, such as:
- empirical or computational finance
- equity and debt
- linear or nonlinear econometrics
Besides these courses, students usually have the chance to explore the fundamentals of trending topics such as:
- emerging markets
- blockchain technology
- managing monetary risks
- mergers and acquisitions
- big data and machine learning
Can you start a career in finance with a bachelor’s degree?
You may be wondering if earning an undergraduate degree in finance is enough to start a career in this field. As with many other related areas, the answer depends on how far up the hierarchy ladder you plan to go.
Typically, earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from a prestigious educational institution should be enough to access entry-level roles in financial departments such as:
- budget analyst
- financial advisor
- financial examiner
The finance coursework that is part of a bachelor’s degree can help you hone skills and develop expertise in various areas, such as financial markets, investment banking, asset management, and financial management of industrial or commercial enterprises. In addition, you can acquire enough know-how to work in financial institutions, conduct mergers and acquisitions, perform global management consulting, or even begin a career in the public sector.
There are also several differences between bachelor’s degrees in finance, economics, and accounting, explored below.
- Those majoring in accounting may become experts in financial data analysis, compile monetary reports, and provide an accurate overview of a company’s financial situation.
- Students majoring in finance may begin successful careers as financial counselors and become experts in forecasting overall revenues and expenses.
- Economics majors know all the ins and outs of global markets, understand the current macrotrends, have a clear overview of the mechanisms behind integrated supply chains, and can provide valuable insights for their company’s decisionmakers.
Consider double-majoring in fields related to finance
If you want to broaden your career opportunities and expand your area of expertise, you may want to consider earning a double major. Dual-degree programs usually take longer than a normal undergraduate degrees – 5 to 6 years. Economics, business, finance, and accounting easily go hand in hand, so you can explore several combinations to find what suits your ambitions and career expectations.
Economics, business, finance, and accounting easily go hand in hand, so you can explore several combinations to find what suits your ambitions and career expectations.
For instance, you can opt to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics with a specialization in business. That way, you could gain a solid business background and have the chance to start a corporate management career in a globalized, expanding market. The core coursework of such a program would likely revolve around the functional details of running a successful business within the context of a global economy.
Another option is a double major in accounting and finance. In additional to foundational knowledge, such a program could dive deeper into risk management and how to mitigate various business threats while preserving a company’s assets and financial security.
Should I choose an MBA or a master of science in finance?
If you want to be a subject matter expert in finance, earning a graduate degree can help set you apart from your peers and achieve more ambitious career advancement. Employers tend to grant better employment options and more rewarding compensation to graduates who have earned a master’s degree in finance, accounting, or a related field.
An MBA program with a clear focus on finance is ideal for students who want to grow their expertise in the field and widen their business communication and managerial acumen.
An MBA program with a clear focus on finance is ideal for students who want to grow their expertise in the field and widen their business communication and managerial acumen. Another interesting choice would be to enroll in a master of science (M.S.) program in finance.
When pondering whether an M.S. in finance is preferable to an MBA, consider the time constraints and potential compensation and benefits you may earn after graduation. Here are the main differences between these programs to determine which one best fits your professional goals and academic interests.
|M.S. in finance||MBA|
|Time||1-2 years||2 years|
|Experience required||Students can enroll immediately after earning their bachelor’s degree||Typical requirements include 3 to 5 years of relevant work experience|
|Focus||Mainly revolves around specific and operational financial processes||Leadership, management, and marketing, within a broader program|
|Format||Full-time or part-time||Executive, full-time, part-time|
Why choose a master of science in finance?
As part of a master of science in finance program, you learn the basics of econometrics, preparing you for a career in leading and discovering new business opportunities. You learn how markets evolve and interact, and dive into various topics such as corporate governance and finance, or capital markets.
You learn how markets evolve and interact, and dive into various topics such as corporate governance and finance, or capital markets.
The program will likely focus on the fundamentals of financial analysis and asset valuation. Other coursework topics may include derivatives, bonds, individual stocks, and financial instruments. Also, you may begin exploring financial institutions, the way they work, and how they interact with markets.
Other topics generally covered in this program are quantitative analysis, portfolio theory, forecasting, and risk management. Earning a master of science in finance may open doors to various advanced positions where postgraduate studies are mandatory, or unlock lucrative opportunities in real estate, mergers and acquisitions, hedge funds, and complex trading.
Reasons to enroll in an MBA with a focus on finance
Whereas an M.S. in finance typically focuses on mastery of finance skills, an MBA with a focus on finance includes mostly courses on business, administration, and leadership. Suppose you are interested in joining a prominent organization or multinational company and you’d like to climb up the hierarchy towards managerial and decision-making positions. If that’s the case, an MBA with a focus on finance may be your best choice.
It usually takes 2 years to finalize your MBA and, during this time, besides developing your business expertise and managerial abilities, you can start joining various business networks.
It usually takes 2 years to finalize your MBA and, during this time, besides developing your business expertise and managerial abilities, you can start joining various business networks. Here, you can meet and learn from highly motivated professionals, taking your problem-solving abilities to a new level.
Most MBAs are STEM-designated degrees and teach you to make analytical and strategic financial decisions in data-driven working environments. STEM-designated programs focus on 1 or more of the following categories: science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Marketing also plays a key role in today’s business world. By combining financial acumen with advanced marketing tools and techniques, you can become a valuable specialist for organizations that operate worldwide.
Career pathways for finance professionals
Whether you are still considering a career in finance, you’ve just earned your undergraduate degree in the field, or are currently studying for an M.S. or an MBA, you may be wondering what future careers might be available to you. The following are the most prominent roles and positions for finance specialists.
Budget analysts oversee how private or public organizations plan their expenses. They collaborate with project and program managers to develop annual budgets and evaluate funding requests.
Financial examiners are mainly responsible for a company’s compliance with local, national, or federal economic laws. They analyze balance sheets while evaluating the risk levels of loans to compile reports on an institution’s monetary stability.
These professionals help individuals or companies make the right decisions regarding using their money to invest and make a profit. Financial analysts are also primary experts in assessing various types of investments, from stocks and bonds to mutual funds or banking products.
Personal financial advisor
Individuals who want to manage their wealth properly often seek advice from personal financial advisors. These experts know all the relevant details about investments, mortgages, estate planning, or taxes. They may even act as retirement counselors.
Financial manager, treasurer, or controller
Becoming the financial manager, treasurer, or controller of a company takes a great deal of work and integrity as they are responsible for the organization’s financial health. They create financial reports periodically, suggest the most appropriate investment options, and put together long-term plans and financial objectives.
Executive level (CFO or VP finance)
The CFO or Financial Vice President manages all the financial activities of an organization. Duties include determining the best policies the organization should follow and making sure the overall strategic direction is correct. Together with subordinate executives and direct reports, they coordinate the company’s operational and financial activities.
How to have a successful career in finance
It’s safe to say that becoming an expert in finance can open a vast range of career opportunities. As in most fields, education pays off, and so do integrity, attention to detail, strategic thinking, and determination. As a rule of thumb, the higher your role, the greater your responsibilities and earnings. There are numerous careers in finance you may want to explore. Most offer above-average salaries and additional compensation and benefits.
AFA is the most prominent American academic organization that aims to support and promote the knowledge and study of financial economics.
Representing state or local regulators from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, NASAA’s members help protect investors from fraud and financial abuse. They also provide guidance and support to help power the North American economy and ensure the full integrity of the financial markets.
FINRA’s main objective is to protect investors and shelter the overall market integrity by overseeing more than 600,000 brokers nationwide and analyzing billions of daily market events.
AFP is the certifying body in finance and treasury, setting top quality standards of excellence in this profession worldwide. One of its main goals is to shape the future of finance and grow tomorrow’s managers and leaders through certification and training programs.