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Careers in Finance

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woman leading meeting with line graphs on screen in background

An education in finance can prepare you for a range of industries and job settings. Almost every company, large or small, has a budget. Skilled professionals are always needed to manage those budgets and advise companies on the best ways to increase their profits.

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Your exact job duties will depend on your job title and industry. For instance, accountants collect and analyze data about a company's profits and losses. Financial analysts advise companies and individuals about the best investments to create a strong portfolio and increase wealth. In any finance-focused job, you'll likely be helping companies or individuals shape their financial futures. You'll need at least an associate degree to get started, but a bachelor's degree or higher is standard for many roles.

What Work Can I Do in Finance? 

Finance is a broad career field with multiple career paths available. You might spend your days focused on the budget of an individual, a large corporation, or even a department of your local government. No matter which route you take, your career will be dedicated to helping others find financial success. You'll analyze financial data to help people or organizations make the best financial decisions possible, and you'll offer solutions to help improve their financial situations.

Some popular careers include:

Accountant 


About the job: Accountants collect and analyze financial data for companies or individuals.

What you'll do: You'll be responsible for large amounts of financial data and ensure that records are complete and accurate. Accountants use this data to create records of a company's or customer's finances. You'll evaluate the data you collect to prepare reports such as earnings statements, profit-and-loss statements, periodic financial reports, and cash-flow sheets. Accountants will analyze patterns in the overall financial picture to possible areas of improvement.

Where you'll work: Accountants are needed at any business with money to manage and by many private clients. Accountants can be found at banks and large corporations, but they can also be found at small local businesses and nonprofits.

Budget Analyst


About the job: Budget analysts help companies, organizations, and governmental agencies organize and plan their finances.

What you'll do: As a budget analyst, you'll make sure that an organization's plans don't go over their budget, monitor spending, and collect data to help estimate future expenses. Collected data will be used to prepare reports to be shared with your organization's leaders. If needed, you'll suggest ways to increase the budget or change plans.

Where you'll work: Budget analysts work with private companies and nonprofits, but they also work in the public sector and for government agencies.

Financial Analyst


About the job: Financial analysts help businesses and individuals increase their profits through investments. Financial analysts are also sometimes known as fund managers or financial risk specialists, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What you'll do: Financial analysts keep a close eye on the stock market and use their knowledge of the market to advise companies and individuals. You'll create investment plans to help increase the wealth of your clients, and study a company's current and past financial performance to determine its overall worth and risk.

Where you'll work: Many financial analysts are employed by financial firms or agencies. Some analysts also work as independent contractors.

Financial Manager


About the job: Financial managers take on the responsibility of a company's financial health.

What you'll do: As a financial manager, you'll develop, implement, and oversee financial strategies for your company. The financial data you collect and analyze will be used to create reports and monitor larger financial trends. You will advise company leadership on changes that should be made based on data and your reports, and you'll develop strategies to put those changes into place. Most financial managers supervise other financial staff such as accountants or budget analysts.

Where you'll work: Financial managers are needed in multiple industries and types of companies.

Investment Banker


About the job: Investment bankers serve as financial advisors to corporations, private individuals, governments, and other clients.

What you'll do: As an investment banker, you'll assist your clients in making large financial decisions. Often, this means helping companies purchase, consolidate, or merge with other companies. You'll lay out the financial risk and benefits of these large-scale financial choices for clients and advise them on the best route. You'll need to keep a close eye on the performance of stocks and financial markets to accurately advise your clients.

Where you'll work: Investment bankers are often employed by private firms or agencies.

Personal Financial Advisor


About the job: Personal financial advisors help individuals make the best financial choices for current and future needs.

What you'll do: As a personal financial planner, you'll meet with individual clients to review their finances and budgets and set financial goals. Your clients will depend on you to help them choose loan and credit products and invest their money appropriately. You might also advise your clients on tax regulations or insurance policies. 

Where you'll work: Personal financial advisors find work in banks, private agencies and firms, and as independent contractors.

What Education Do I Need?

Most financial professionals have bachelor's or master's degrees, but associate and doctoral level degrees are also available. The right degree for you depends on how much time you can devote to school, how quickly you'd like to begin working, what types of jobs you'd like to have when you graduate, and other personal factors.

Educational options include:

Associate degree

An associate degree in finance can help you jump into the field quickly and take on an entry-level role within a company. Students who earn an associate's might consider roles such as financial clerk, accounting associate, loan officer, credit analyst, bookkeeper, or associate financial analyst.

Bachelor's degree

A bachelor's in finance will give you a broader knowledge of financial topics and solid foundation for your financial career. You'll be able to take on roles such as budget analyst, financial analyst, personal financial advisor, accountant, and investment banker.

Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance

An MBA in Finance is a high-level business degree that can help you advance your financial career. Your courses will go beyond financial topics to give you an in-depth business education. You'll be able to take on roles such as financial manager, financial controller, chief financial officer, credit manager, auditor, or controller.

Master in Finance degree

A Master in Finance degree is an advanced degree that focuses on financial knowledge. It is a highly specialized degree for those specifically in the financial sector.

Doctoral degree

A doctoral degree in finance will prepare you for leadership roles, large-scale financial roles, or teaching roles in the financial field.

What About Licensing and Certification?

Whether licensing or certification is required depends on the financial job you pursue. Licensed financial professions include insurance and real estate agents who will normally need to earn licensure in their state before they'll be able to sell policies or properties. In other roles, certification isn't required by the state, but it will be required by most employers. For instance, although accountants aren't mandated by any state or national body to earn a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification, nearly all employers in the field will require it.

Whether licensing or certification is required depends on the financial job you pursue. 

Other financial roles, such as financial analyst or financial planner, can choose from optional certifications. These are less likely to be required by employers, but they can make a big difference in your career. Professionals who've earned these certifications often see career advancements and boosts to their salaries.

Skills You Should Have

You'll need to understand concepts such as money, budgeting, and economics, to be successful in a financial career. Beyond those core knowledge areas, it helps to have strong skills in areas such as math, data analysis, problem solving, and critical thinking. Additionally, although you might think of finance as a numbers and data field, people skills and creativity are just as important. Strong communication skills, the ability to negotiate with others, and a willingness to work as part of a team will help boost your financial career.

"You'll need to be a problem solver and know how to get what you want out of people. This means knowing how to motivate them, and how to build a team," says Stanford Nix, MBA, a venture capitalist and managing partner of The Nix Organization. "You should be able to go deep on something. Deep work is doing one thing, and one thing only, until it is perfect. Success requires doing a lot of deep work."

You'll need to be a problem solver and know how to get what you want out of people.

"Know your numbers, and even more importantly, know people," says Cliff Auerswald, president of All Reverse Mortgage, Inc. "There are very few sectors in finance where you would not be dealing with people in some capacity. Therefore, your communication and interpersonal skills need to be top-notch. Add negotiation and decision-making to the mix if you really want to grow your career and stand out from the pack."

Salary and Job Outlook

Finance is a field that includes a variety of career options. Your exact salary as a financial professional will depend on factors such as your job title, education level, experience, certification, industry, and location. For instance, although data shows that financial managers earn more on average than investment bankers, you might find a very high-paying investment banker role with a specific employer who is seeking your specific qualifications. Across job titles and industries, financial careers offer above-average salaries and career paths that might allow you to increase your earnings in the future.

Stay Connected 

It's important to stay current in the world of finance. It's a great idea to get connected with a few associations. They'll help you network and keep up with the latest trends and developments in the field. We've rounded up a few great choices below to get you started.

  • Association for Financial Professionals (AFP)—AFP offers certification, industry news, career resources, networking opportunities, and conferences for financial professionals.
  • National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA)—NAIFA is one of the oldest organizations for financial professionals in the country and offers career resources and advocacy for financial advisors and insurance agents.
  • American Finance Association (AFA)—AFA is dedicated to the academic study of finance and publishes journals, hosts events, and creates other resources to help share educational information.
  • American Bankers Association(ABA)—ABA offers training, events, advocacy, and career resources for all professionals employed in banks.

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

stanford nix

With professional insights from:

Stanford Nix, MBA

The Nix Organization

cliff auerswald

Cliff Auerswald, President

All Reverse Mortgage, Inc.