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Finance Career Paths (Roles, Duties & Skills Required)
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.
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 Are Some Careers in Finance?
A career in finance offers a wide range of opportunities in diverse sectors, including Wall Street and beyond. Popular roles in the finance industry include financial planner, financial analyst, actuary, securities trader, portfolio manager, and quantitative analyst (quant). These careers involve various aspects of financial management, analysis, and decision-making.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.