Choosing a Career in Finance: Your Ultimate Guide

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The finance industry is experiencing massive growth the world over, with a huge number of professionals working in areas like risk management, insurance, compliance, accounting, government and more.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in finance or want to know more about the various careers on offer in terms of salary and opportunity, read on.

Working in Finance

The finance industry covers a lot of ground, including both how money is managed and how the funds are acquired in the first place. Usually, it is broken into three subcategories:

  • Corporate
    Public
    Personal

Each of these requires a different mindset and set of skills, but the principles are similar, and each role will require some familiarity with certain aspects of accounting. Money management requires sourcing money, which can be done personally, through a bank, or through corporate funds depending on the financing being handled.

A job in finance requires not only an understanding of the principles of accounting but a clear understanding of the best tactics for both raising and investing capital.

Why Finance?

There are many reasons to consider a career in finance.

Generous pay rates
Fast career placement after gaining a degree
Fast career growth rate
Plentiful job opportunities

For personal financial advisors, in particular, the growth rate by 2024 is expected to reach 30%; there’s no shortage of opportunity for people interested in pursuing finance as a career both in the US and elsewhere. In parts of Europe and Asia, finance jobs are growing at a rapid rate, overtaking many industries.

Finance Careers, Salaries & Outlooks

Due to its high pay and competitiveness, most people have heard about investment banking. But most people don’t realize that there’s a wide range of career opportunities in finance that extends far beyond supporting banks, while still offering pay packages, opportunities, and benefits that are equally impressive.

Common job titles within investment banking include:

Financial Consultant
Financial Analyst
Investment Banker
Portfolio Manager
Financial Advisor
Credit Analyst
Risk Manager

Each has their own career path, and there are many more. In general, it takes around two years to move to a higher-level position on the career ladder – so substantial career progression will require you to be committed over the long-term.

Financial consultants or advisors generally work with businesses and individuals concerning their finances. Most will focus on specific offerings to differentiate themselves from others, such as specializing in taxes, insurance or investment decisions.
Personal financial consultants work closely with individuals to offer tailored financial advice and may direct buying and selling of stocks, bonds and other investments on their behalf. Some financial advisors work for large banks, but many work for smaller operations or as freelancers.

Job outlook:
Average salary: $90k
Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree
Recommended licenses: Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and CFA charterholder
Job outlook 2014-2024: 30%

Financial Analyst

The main role of a financial analyst is to analyze financial information, but the position differs substantially by organization and industry. If you work within a corporation, you could be analyzing company financials and investments. Your tasks might include looking for financial issues, running numbers for new projects or conducting ad hoc financial reporting and analysis.

Those who work as financial analysts within investment organizations tend to be tasked with examining the financial situations of other companies that are prospects for investing in, buying or selling. It requires a broad knowledge base about different kinds of companies within industries, in addition to a strong knowledge of investments.

Job Outlook:
Average salary: $80k
Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree
Recommend licenses: FINRA and CFA charterholder
Job outlook 2014-2024: 12%

Investment Banker

Investment bankers are tasked with raising money for organizations, governments or other entities. They can work within a large financial institution or a division of a large bank. They are involved with large, often complicated financial transactions, and help shape financial deals in order to raise money for acquisition, merger, expansion or the sale of a business. This also includes the initial public offering of company stock which is done to raise capital for a company to meet its objectives.

Job Outlook:
Average salary: $104k
Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree
Recommended licenses: FINRA, CFA charterholder, and CAIA designation
Job outlook 2014-24: 4%

Portfolio Manager

The main role of a portfolio manager involves making investment decisions for the portfolio of an individual or business. They tend to be professionals who have substantial prior experience working as a financial analyst and immediately know how to value and make the best investment decisions.

Portfolio managers tend to manage investments towards clearly defined client objectives or portfolio focus, such as small-cap, growth or value, desired return goals and acceptable levels of risk. Portfolio managers can work managing investments for one person, a group of people or an organization. Institutional roles may include managing retirement funds, foundations, endowments or other pools of money.

Job Outlook:
Average salary: $123k after 5-7 years of experience working in finance
Educational requirements: Master’s degree
Recommended licenses: FINRA, CMA designation, CFP designation, FRM designation
Job outlook 2014-24: 27%

Credit Analyst

Credit analysts are responsible for assessing the creditworthiness of a company or individual. They tend to work for commercial or investment banks and are responsible for performing various financial and ratio analyses. If working within the scope of investing, they will examine potential fixed income investments and analyze them to determine whether they are suitable for purchase or sale, depending on the objectives of the business. Credit analysts often have a background in finance, accounting, statistics or economics.

Job Outlook:
Average salary: $70k
Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree
Recommended licenses: CMT designation, CFA charterholder, FRM designation
Job outlook 2014-2024: 8%

Risk Manager
Risk managers are responsible for monitoring and mitigating financial risks within an organization. They identify and assess any potential threats to the company, devise plans to combat such threats, and decide how to reduce and transfer risks from the company. The focus is on utilizing a variety of financial instruments to manage the company’s exposure to risk, which could include credit, market, operational, and foreign exchange exposures, for example. Risk managers are needed in various industries as they are extremely valuable to protect the interests of the company. As a risk manager, you can find employment opportunities in the financial, legal, accounting, and insurance fields plus many more.

Job Outlook:
Average salary: $121k
Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree
Recommended licenses: CMT designation, FRM designation
Job outlook 2014-2024: 7%

Steps to Starting Your Career in Finance:

Get the right degree: A bachelor’s degree is now the bare minimum for pretty much any financial job, so be sure to choose your degree and university carefully. It’s worth noting that some companies and banks limit their scope to graduates from specific colleges, so bear this in mind if you have a certain employer in your sights. Make sure that the college or university you choose has a reputable business school and a good reputation in the finance industry.

Choose a specialty: Finance is a very wide-ranging industry and there are lots of options to choose from when earning a degree. Graduates can find jobs in finance departments, education, banking, sales, accounting, financial advising, insurance and much more. Most employers are looking for somebody with a good head for numbers and strong analytical skills who can read financial data, interpret it and communicate findings, plus make recommendations. You’ll have a few years to decide on the best specialty for you during your education, so spend time researching and gain as much experience as you can, to determine what you are good at and what you enjoy the most.

Getting a job: Once you’ve graduated, it’s time to find a job. Job opportunities are plentiful in the finance industry but it’s also very competitive. Bear in mind that it’s not just what you know; who you know is also important, so put effort into building and maintaining personal connections with professionals in the industry by attending conferences, educational seminars, job fairs, and other industry-related networking events. You may also want to consider differentiating yourself by gaining early career experience with internships. And, earning a professional credential early on can be a great boost for landing your first job out of college.

Certification & Licensure

Employers in finance tend to be searching for potential hires who have additional credentials to demonstrate their skills and knowledge necessary for a specialist job in finance.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA): considered the gold standard in the investment industry and often pursued by professionals from the corporate and investment worlds.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP): a highly respected professional designation that requires extensive training, plus rigorous ethical standards. People with this credential tend to work in insurance, banking or brokerage as financial advisors or consultants.

Financial Risk Management (FRM): with business competition rising, more organizations are making risk management a priority. Earning the FRM designation online with a school like Suffolk University is a great way to set yourself apart from your competition when searching for jobs.

Others include Chartered Market Technician (CMT) and Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA).
As you can see, working in finance is not a one-size-fits-all career. There are many diverse opportunities that you can choose from, each with their own set of skills, specialties, and job opportunities.