A career in finance may conjure up an image of a bank teller or a high-powered stockbroker, but the world of finance is far more extensive and intricate than checking accounts and investments. It’s a rapidly growing profession, with new job opportunities emerging as the industry changes. This guide explores various finance careers and salary trends, along with necessary skills and insight into how to break into the field.
Finance is a global, complex marketplace. In the United States, the size of the financial services market is daunting, accounting for some $1.2 trillion of the country’s gross domestic product in 2014, noted Select USA. Within that market exists an array of various sub-industries, such as insurance, banking, accounting, investments, and risk management. If you’re ready for a challenging – and potentially lucrative – career, you may want to consider one of the following finance careers:
For a better idea of what’s available, take a look at the different jobs discussed below:
Actuaries are risk specialists, applying statistical techniques to determine the likelihood and economic impact of events such as natural disasters, illness, accidents, or death. Those forecasts are used by multiple industries, such as financial services and insurance, to minimize risk exposure and issue profitable investments, insurance plans, and other financial products.
Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 18%
Minimum Education Requirements:
Bachelor’s degree in mathematics, actuarial science, statistics or related field, and certification from either the Casualty Actuarial Society or Society of Actuaries.
Financial examiners are compliance specialists, with comprehensive knowledge of the laws, rules, and regulations that govern financial institutions. They monitor the overall financial health of banks and other financial organizations to ensure that borrowers receive fair loans, that financial policies are followed properly, and that the overall financial system remains stable.
Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 10%
Minimum Education Requirements:
Bachelor’s degree in economics, finance or related field. Some employers prefer candidates with a master’s degree or CPA license.
These investment professionals study financial markets and securities, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Using their knowledge of economic trends and financial performance, they develop investment strategies for individual investors and businesses. Financial analysts may manage entire financial portfolios, specialize in specific products such as hedge funds, or work in risk analysis.
Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 12%
Minimum Education Requirements:
Bachelor’s degree in economics, finance, statistics, or related field. An MBA and professional certification is traditionally expected and recommended.
Financial managers oversee and protect the financial stability and health of businesses, government agencies, and other institutions. Responsibilities include monitoring and preparing financial statements, reviewing market trends, supervising financial reporting, and ensuring that financial regulations are followed.
Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 7%
Minimum education requirements:
Bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, business administration or related field, with at least five years of experience, and professional certification, such as Certified Treasury Professional or Chartered Financial Analyst.
Budget analysts advise government organizations, businesses, and academic institutions on how finances should be developed, managed, and organized. They handle budget compliance, conduct cost-benefit analyses, project financial needs, and prepare program reports, all with an eye to ensuring that institutional budgets are complete and accurate, and that spending remains within expected parameters.
Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 3%
Minimum education requirements:
Bachelor’s degree in economics, statistics or related field; a master’s degree and certification from the Association of Government Accountants is typically preferred.
Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 30%
Minimum Education Requirement:
Bachelor’s degree in finance, business, mathematics, or related field.
Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 11%
Minimum Education Requirement:
Bachelor’s degree with Certified Public Accountant examination and license to work as a CPA.
Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 9%
Minimum Education Requirement:
Bachelor’s degree in mathematics, business, finance, or related field.
Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 8%
Minimum Education Requirement:
Bachelor’s degree in business or related field, and Mortgage Loan Originator license.
Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
Annual Earnings in Finance
Investment banking, wealth management, and venture capital are just some of the lucrative areas in financial services. Take a closer look at salaries for professionals in the finance industry:
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015
In addition to location, employer, and educational attainment, two other factors can influence finance salaries—experience and skills. Whether it’s earning a professional credential, such as Certified Financial Planner, or developing proficiency with business intelligence software, there are concrete steps to take to boost your pay. To illustrate, take a look at how various skills and experience translate into increased earnings for financial analysts:
How Experience Affects Financial Analyst Salaries
- Late-Career +25%
- Experienced +17%
- Mid-Career +12%
- National Average $58,000
How Certain Skills Affect Financial Analyst Salaries
- Financial modeling +7%
- Forecasting +4%
- Data modeling +4%
- Budgeting +3%
- Budget management +3%
- Performance analysis +3%
- National average $58,000
Figuring Out if Finance is Right for You
Finance careers often involve extensive training, so before committing to a degree program, it’s a good idea to review your goals and preferences—both professionally and personally—and to take stock of your skills to determine if a finance career is a sound choice. Here are some key things to consider:
- Are you analytically minded?Financial positions require mathematical literacy to perform calculations, as well as to analyze financial data in the course of evaluating potential investments, identifying patterns in market performance, or reviewing financial transactions.
- Do you have an interest in financial markets and business?Being good at math is essential in finance, but it’s even more important to have a genuine interest and understanding of the big picture: how wealth is created, distributed, and managed. A real love for numbers and analysis is ideal too.
- Are you willing to work long hours?Entry-level financial analyst and investment banking positions are notoriously competitive and may routinely require hours outside the typical 9 to 5.
- Are you outgoing with good communication skills?Many financial careers involve direct contact with clients to provide guidance and advice about investments and other financial decisions. The ability to communicate clearly, concisely, and effectively is key, whether it’s in preparing a financial statement as a controller or helping a client choose a retirement plan.
Preferred and Required Skills for Finance Professionals
Math skills, writing skills, people skills—all of these come into play in a finance career, although the relative importance of each varies by the specific role. In general, people who are successful in finance show facility in the following areas:
Financial professionals encounter myriad situations in their jobs and must be able to find solutions to whatever problems arise.
Financial professionals should have mathematical literacy, the ability work with and reason with numbers, interpret charts, and use mathematical data to solve problems.
Math is a language unto itself, but people who work in finance often must translate that information into strategies that are understandable to others with varying degrees of financial background. They must be able to communicate information and its implications in simple and concise terms—whether written, verbal or, increasingly, through visual data representation.
Finance careers require technological proficiency in financial software programs, database applications, spreadsheet software, and data visualization tools.
Analytical software such as the Statistical Analysis System (SAS) suite is used to generate business intelligence, manage data, and conduct predictive analyses.
Business intelligence and data software is used to analyze financial data, identify trends, monitor investment performance, and create reports. Examples include Oracle Business Intelligence and Tableau.
Financial management software such as Oracle Financial Management Analytics allows users to generate real-time analytics in order to facilitate decisions.
Relational databases such as those offered by Oracle, Microsoft and IBM are used to collect, store, organize, and share financial, accounting, and customer information.
Getting an Education in Finance
Students interested in finance careers can take any number of educational paths, from degrees in finance or accounting to ones in economics or general business. Depending on the level of education and the focus of study, students may concentrate on a specific area such as risk management, or develop broader knowledge to prepare them to make decisions in managerial positions. Typically, the minimum level of education required for a finance career is a bachelor’s degree. Here are potential degree options:
The BS in finance prepares graduates for entry-level careers in areas such as financial planning, portfolio management, banking, risk management, and financial analysis. Students explore core financial theories – as well as principles in business, economics and accounting – and learn how to apply these theories to real world situations. Curriculum introduces students to economic theories, financial markets, and regulatory systems and can serve as a launchpad to graduate studies. Example courses include:
- Principles of Accounting I and II
- Risk Management
- Security Analysis and Valuation
- Financial Management
- Management and Organization Theory
The MS program is designed for students pursuing careers in financial management, administration, analysis, or regulation. Students explore advanced financial topics, such as the principles of global trade or hedge fund management, and gain practical, real world experience with financial modeling, investment evaluation, and valuation methods. Before the end of the program, students are required to complete a capstone project. Programs often include courses such as:
- Financial Markets
- Managerial Economics
- Corporate Finance
- Quantitative Methods in Finance
- Forecasting and Risk Analysis
- Investments and Portfolio Management
Some finance professionals choose to pursue an MBA with a concentration in finance instead of master’s degree in finance. This route provides students with a broader set of skills and helps prepare them for executive or leadership positions in fields such as banking, hedge fund management, venture capital, and insurance. Curriculum is focused on providing students with real world knowledge of money management, investing, taxes, financial reporting, regulatory requirements, and portfolio management. Sample courses include:
- Applied Portfolio Management
- Corporate Risk and Insurance Management
- Hedge Funds
- Investment Analysis and Management
- Aggregate Economic Analysis
- Advanced Financial Management
Those interested in careers in research or teaching will need to take their education beyond the master’s degree to earn a PhD. The curriculum of PhD programs in finance is analytical, not operational in nature. Students engage in independent research into specific financial topics such as asset valuation, theoretical modeling, or corporate finance. Graduates complete and defend a dissertation or research project. Sample courses could include:
- Microeconomic Theory
- Corporate Finance and Financial Institutions
- Topics in Asset Pricing
- Empirical Methods in Corporate Finance
- Behavioral Finance
- International Finance
Certificate Programs in Finance
A degree in finance, business, economics, or accounting is the typical prerequisite for a job in finance, but it’s not the end of the educational journey. The financial world is constantly evolving, demanding individuals with in-depth knowledge in areas such as derivative securities, bonds, foreign currencies, portfolio management, financial regulations, corporate governance, banking regulations, and risk analysis.
To that end, certificate programs in finance are designed to prepare students for work in specialized areas. Typically, these programs serve both undergraduates who want to enhance their degree program with additional specialization, as well as current professionals who want to develop additional skills and expertise in a particular area or subject matter. Certificates typically require 15-25 credit hours to complete, and subjects vary by college.
Finance is an umbrella term that spans multiple subindustries and includes numerous job titles. As a result, it’s important for individuals to determine which specific aspects of finance interest them, and look for careers accordingly. Below is an overview of some of the major specializations in finance:
Actuarial science blends financial theory with statistical techniques to identify and assess risk. Professionals in this area use sophisticated financial modeling techniques to guide decision making in different industries, such as life insurance and asset management.
According to 2014 projections from PricewaterhouseCoopers, global assets under management are expected to increase by 59 percent between 2012 and 2020, from $64 trillion to $102 trillion. This translates to growing opportunities in the management of stocks, bonds, and other assets.
Corporate finance deals with the complex financial issues businesses face, including how to develop a capital structure and raise funds, and how to structure the financial governance of a company. Corporate financial managers may work on issuing equities, determining how to finance certain projects, and establishing payout policies.
In the U.S., the commercial banking industry produces nearly $700 billion in revenue, according to research from IbisWorld. Commercial banks provide a range of services to individuals and businesses alike, such as checking and savings accounts, establishing credit lines, and financing mortgage loans.
Investment bankers are known for their work in mergers and acquisitions; trading stocks, bonds and other securities; facilitating underwriting processes for public stock offerings; and brokering corporate deals for major institutional clients.
Due to greater access to healthcare, the need for finance professionals in this industry has increased. Hospitals, medical practices and facilities, insurance companies, and the government all need skilled professionals to handle a range of financial tasks related to healthcare administration.
As of November 2015, there was almost $3.2 trillion in assets under hedge fund management worldwide, according to the 2016 Prequin Global Hedge Fund Report. Hedge fund managers work to maximize returns on portfolios that combine a variety of securities and other investments.
Private equity firms purchase established companies to streamline operations and generate a profit, while individual venture capitalists and venture capital firms invest in startups and emerging companies that present significant growth potential. In 2015, nearly $60 billion in venture capital was invested in startups across the country, according to a report from the National Venture Capital Association.
The financial planning and investment market connects financial advisers to clients seeking professional advice on selecting financial products (such as retirement plans) or investment opportunities with stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other securities.
Exams and Certifications
Many areas of the financial industry are heavily regulated, with certain roles requiring professional licensing and certification for employment. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the securities industry and requires individuals to pass financial product examinations administered by the Finance Industry Regulatory Authority in order to buy and sell securities such as mutual funds, variable insurance policies, and stocks. Common securities examinations include the following:
This examination is required for individuals who want to purchase and sell the following securities: mutual funds, variable life insurance, variable annuities, municipal fund securities, or unit investment trusts.
This examination qualifies individuals to purchase and sell securities products, including municipal funds, corporate securities, investment company products, and variable securities.
This examination is required for individuals to work as Investment Adviser Representatives, and covers topics such as portfolio management and retirement planning.
Financial planners, risk management, insurance agents and other financial professionals may pursue voluntary certification and credentials within their respective industries. These credentials demonstrate commitment to the profession, expertise in a specific subject area, and knowledge of the rules and ethics in a given area. Below are common finance industry certifications:
Sponsored by the Institute of Business and Finance, this credential is for individuals who work with mutual funds; it requires candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree or complete 2,000 hours of financial services work experience, and to pass an examination.
The CFA is an investment designation that requires candidates to pass three examinations, meet work requirements in investments, and be a member of the CFA Institute.
Offered through the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, this credential requires candidates to meet college education requirements, pass an examination, have three years of work experience, and adhere to a professional code of ethics.
The American College of Financial Services sponsors the ChFC designation for financial planners. It requires approximately 400 hours of education and an examination to complete.
The CIC credential was created by the Investment Adviser Association and requires candidates to hold a Chartered Financial Analyst designation, adhere to the IAA’s standards of practice, be employed by a member firm of the IAA, and have at least five or more years of work experience.
For advanced investment consultants, this certification is sponsored through the Investment Management Consultants Association and requires a qualification examination, graduation from an executive education program at an approved business school, a comprehensive certification examination, and at least three years of professional work experience in financial services.
The Global Association of Risk Professionals sponsors this credential, which requires candidates to have at least two years of work experience and passing scores on a two-part examination.
Finance Employment Settings
In financial services, no two companies and positions are exactly alike. Certainly, many professionals have desk jobs, but others may find themselves making house calls to clients or working the floor of a stock exchange for a trading company. Learn more about the various employers in finance below:
Finance jobs are common to businesses of all sizes, from small-scale startups to international manufacturers. Corporate finance positions and responsibilities vary widely, but may include developing financial models, working in mergers and acquisitions, or planning financial strategies for business development and growth.
Individuals who work at commercial banks manage services and products such as checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposits, and mortgage and business loans.
Investment banks such as JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, and Barclays specialize in large, intricate, financial transactions such as mergers and insurance underwriting for institutional clients.
Hedge funds are private investment groups that combine their capital resources and, through a variety of strategies, seek out profitable investments.
Venture capital firms are investment partnerships that provide capital, managerial, and industry expertise to startup firms and small businesses to help them grow.
Brokerage firms, such as Charles Schwab and Fidelity Investments, are financial intermediaries that buy and sell securities on behalf of clients.
These firms coordinate a range of services for individuals with large net worths, including banking, investment management, and estate planning.
How to Find a Job in Finance
Once you’ve earned your degree and decided exactly what you want to do within finance, finding a job is the next step. In addition to career sites such as LinkedIn and Indeed, professional finance associations and societies are good places to start a job search. The sites below offer information about job listings in various fields of finance.
American Association of Finance and Accounting
This network of executive search firms connects finance and accounting professionals to employment opportunities.
Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
The website for this association offers a comprehensive employment section that includes career path descriptions, member profiles, and expert commentary for individuals in the anti-fraud industry.
Financial Planning Association
The membership organization for Certified Financial Planners provides a searchable database of job postings, and a board where job seekers can post their resumes.
Global Association of Risk Professionals
Offers a career center for both employers and job seekers, including a filterable job search tool with opportunities throughout the world.
Healthcare Financial Management Association
A career center with sections for employers and job seekers can be found on the website for this association for financial leaders in the healthcare industry.
National Association of Personal Finance Advisors
A career corner offers information about employment openings, internships, and a section for resume postings.
Internships: A Stepping Stone for a Finance Career
In the world of finance, experience goes a long way. Completing an internship demonstrates that you are ready to take the all-important step of moving from the world of education into a professional setting. Many finance firms, especially those on Wall Street, prefer to hire directly from their pool of interns, so it’s no wonder that financial internships can be extremely competitive. Candidates should take the time to polish their resumes and interviewing skills to boost their chances. Following is a small sample of available finance internships.
Program Name: Consumer Banking MBA Internship
Location: Charlotte, N.C.; New York, N.Y.; Dallas, Texas
This 10-week summer internship for MBA candidates exposes them to both client-facing and non-client-facing roles in consumer banking, retail banking, global marketing, and small business banking.
Program Name: Summer Associate
Location: San Francisco, Calif.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Chicago, Ill.; Houston, Texas; New York, N.Y.; Toronto, Ont.
This internship, designed for individuals pursuing a graduate degree or MBA, is an intensive 10-week program that provides participants with an immersive experience in one of several settings, such as real estate, healthcare, equity and debt capital markets, or consumer retail.
Program Name: Portfolio Analyst Intern
Location: Atlanta, Ga
This internship offers an opportunity to gain experience working with quantitative tools in portfolio analytics to support the needs of cross-functional teams, such as investments and marketing.
Program Name: Analyst and Associate Internships
Location: Charlotte, N.C.; Houston, Texas; New York, N.Y.; Silicon Valley, Calif.
A 10-week summer program, this internship provides a look at careers in capital markets, connecting them with senior bankers and offering mentoring relationships with professionals in the field.
Program Name: Quantitative Research Associate Program
Location: Various U.S. cities, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore
This summer internship in investment banking blends training courses with hands-on experience in financial engineering and risk management.
Program Name: Audit Associate Program
Location: Charlotte, N.C.; Denver, Colo.; Des Moines, Iowa; Minneapolis, Minn.; Philadelphia, Pa.; San Antonio, Texas; San Francisco, Calif.; St. Louis, Mo.
Designed for individuals with experience in control testing and risk identification, this program introduces the basics of auditing, financial services, and risk analysis in real-world settings. Candidates should have a bachelor’s degree in information systems, business, finance, or accounting.
Professional Finance Associations
Members of professional associations in finance can gain industry knowledge, develop new skills, and network with others. Hundreds of associations span every sector and professional area of the financial industry; listed here are some of the major organizations.
This national organization, comprised of a collection of banks of all sizes, works to protect the interests of hometown bankers.
This academic organization is dedicated to the study of financial economics.
Professionals working in treasury and finance make up the membership of this association.
This global association is for financial and accounting professionals who work in business.
Founded over 100 years ago, this association represents insurance professionals in every state.