What Can You Do With a Finance Degree?
Managing money – earning, spending, saving and investing it – is an essential life skill. It can also be a rewarding or fulfilling career path for someone with a finance degree. If you’re an analytical person with good communication skills and an eye for details, studying or working in the field of finance might be the right fit.
“Finance is all about the management of money, for individuals and institutions,” said Kristin Regis, finance faculty lead at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Since every organization has financial aspects to it, there are opportunities to pursue this kind of work in the public or private sector.
Nearly all finance jobs today require at least a bachelor’s degree, and some require specific licensing or credentialing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Having a master's degree in finance can position you for career advancement: a majority of surveyed companies (83%) planned to hire graduates with either an MBA or a non-MBA master's degree, as reported in the latest Year-End Poll of Employers Report by the Graduate Management Admissions Council.
Whether you’re going back to school or already have your degree in hand, you might be wondering about the specific types of finance jobs available.
Finance Degree Jobs
Every year, thousands of graduates ask what can you do with a finance degree. Those with an aptitude for numbers might consider an accounting career or a career in finance. A finance degree can help open doors to a range of jobs, including in banking, asset management, insurance, venture capital and private equity.
If you don't know which type of finance job is right for you, some corporations offer rotational programs to new employees so they can experience different areas of the business, according to Regis. "This can help the employee determine which type of job and compensation model is the best fit," she said.
No matter the path you choose, the endgame is the same: to help your organization or clients manage and improve their financial situation. To do so, you’ll need skill in financial analysis, management and economic modeling and forecasting, all of which you can learn as part of online finance degree programs.
Budget analyst, research analyst, risk analyst, investment analyst, financial analyst – these and similar positions use software to analyze and evaluate financial data for reporting, modeling, forecasting and investing purposes. Perhaps even more importantly, analysts then use soft skills, including interpersonal skills, communication skills and emotional intelligence, to build relationships with colleagues and clients while conveying confidence in their findings and recommendations.
Although some financial analysts work for individuals, most analysts work for institutions such as:
- Hedge funds, mutual funds or pension funds
- Insurance companies
- Credit rating agencies
- Nonprofits with large endowments
Investment analysts employed by institutions or companies are considered to be on the “buy side,” while those working for banks and other dealers are said to be on the “sell side.” While there are differences between the two in terms of scale, audience, compensation and more, analysts on both sides “study companies in order to make recommendations about whether to buy, sell or hold specific securities,” Boris Groysberg, Paul Healy and Craig Chapman wrote in an article for Financial Analysts Journal.
“A good analyst can forecast, identify trends or variances to address and make recommendations,” Regis said. This kind of research is foundational, especially when it is time for management or leadership to make strategic financial decisions. However, analysts must be able to communicate their recommendations as well as the rationale behind them.
Entry-level analyst positions usually require a bachelor’s degree. For financial analysts who work with investments, an advanced degree in finance or the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) credential may be helpful and even, at times, expected, according to BLS.
Financial Advisors and Planners
Whether they are working on behalf of organizations or individuals, financial advisors and planners provide financial advice and recommendations. But the employment outlook specifically for personal financial advisors and planners is projected to grow faster than average between 2016 and 2026, according to BLS.
This can be attributed, in part, to an aging baby boomer population in the U.S. "There are many baby boomers working in finance, and, as they retire, finance jobs become available," Regis said.
Those with a finance certification, or are on the path to certification, often have an advantage in the financial job market, according to Regis. For example, earning the Certified Financial Planner™ credential indicates that you've met strict education, examination and experience requirements. There is an emphasis placed on ethics since the financial planning professional does not have government oversight, as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) notes.
CFP Board-approved programs of study address all the major financial planning topics:
- Financial planning process
- Tax planning
- Employee benefits and retirement planning
- Estate planning
- Investment management
In addition to the educational foundation, good communication and relationship-building skills are imperative. “With personal financial advising, you need to be able to speak in layman’s terms to ensure your clients understand the questions they are being asked during the information-gathering stage as well as the financial plan itself,” Regis said.
Back on the corporate side, entry-level finance positions conduct research and provide findings to their financial managers. These financial managers, sometimes called treasurers or financial officers, help organizations or industries meet their financial goals, according to BLS. As a result, they work in a range of businesses and enterprises, from local organizations to global conglomerates.
In addition to a bachelor's degree, financial managers typically have "five year or more of experience in another business or financial occupation, such as an accountant, auditor, securities sales agent, or financial analyst," per BLS. But in managerial roles, they must combine that previous experience with leadership skills. In higher-level and executive positions, said Regis, "they need to be able to work with others while effectively explaining their recommendations or decisions to their non-finance colleagues and stakeholders."
Along with professional experience, most upper-management positions in finance require an advanced degree or additional certification, such as the CFA. “A graduate degree in finance lets you learn more about some of the more specific or challenging finance topics, such as options, futures and other derivatives, which can then help you advance in those areas,” Regis said.
For many Americans, financial literacy and capability remain elusive. According to a national report titled “Financial Capability in the United States 2016” by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, “addressing the inequalities in financial capability requires a combination of far-sighted public policies and well-designed financial education programs” (FINRA pdf source).
The FINRA report states that financial education programs have been launched at:
- Colleges and universities
- Government agencies
Working for such programs can be an option for those with a finance degree, professional experience, and an interest in helping people through teaching and outreach. Keep in mind that in order to teach finance at the post-secondary level, you’ll generally need an advanced degree, according to BLS.
Small Business Owners
Self-employment rates are on the rise. BLS projects a 7.9% growth rate between 2016 and 2026, an increase to 10.3 million self-employed workers (BLS pdf source).
"(A) finance degree has long been recognized as one of the top degrees when owning a small business," said Dr. Zuzana Buzzell, associate dean at SNHU. "Understanding the financial aspects of a small business operations and smart budgeting is a key to long-term success of small business owners."
How To Get a Job in Finance
Knowing your preferences and strengths can help you identify the best finance job for you. Ask yourself:
- Do you prefer helping individuals realize their long-term goals or assisting organizations to increase value for their shareholders?
- Do you want to work directly in finance or in a closely related field?
- Would you like to start your own business and manage its finances?
- What level of education or credentialing are you interested in pursuing?
When it comes to the actual job hunt, Regis suggests starting with your school’s resources. Career services teams often work to connect students with employers through career fairs, webinars, and other events with employers and industry experts.
Another option as you consider different types of finance jobs is learning about or joining professional associations, such as:
- CFA Institute
- Financial Managers Society
- Financial Planning Association (FPA)
- National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA)
- National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA)
- National Financial Educators Council (NFEC)
Doing so can help you build and grow your network as you look to start or advance your career in finance.
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