Your Guide To Careers in Finance

Updated December 9, 2022

Careers in finance focus on managing money to help individuals, corporations or other institutions succeed financially. Those who work in the financial sector often track and predict changes in the economy to provide quality advice and tend to be skilled at fostering innovation, critical thinking and communication. If you are looking for a career in finance, there are many options to explore. In this article, we’ll guide you through 10 financial careers.

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Finance career paths

There are three broad categories of finance careers:

Personal finance

This path assists individuals in making decisions to pay for important items, such as higher education, real estate and vehicles. They also help clients understand their financial position, including assessing their household net worth and cash flow. Additionally, personal finance can involve investment goals and planning, retirement planning, tax planning and more.

Corporate finance

Job duties in corporate finance focus on managing money for corporations and businesses. In the corporate sector, finance professionals might balance risk and profitability, manage a portfolio of investments or forecast economic trends.

Public finance

Those working in public finance typically perform tasks similar to corporate finance but for public institutions, such as states, school districts or government agencies. Just like individuals or corporations, public institutions also need professionals to manage their financial planning and real estate holdings.

While each of these three sectors involves working for a different kind of client, the skills you acquire in one area can often translate into another and can provide you with a diversity of experience as you advance in your career.

Educational background needed for a career in finance

Almost any career path in finance requires a bachelor’s degree. While you don’t necessarily need a degree in finance, it can be helpful to have at least a bachelor’s in a related field, such as business administration, accounting or economics. Finance programs generally provide students with a comprehensive understanding of financial management, including relevant technical knowledge, interpersonal skills and professional insight.

Beyond an undergraduate degree, there are two advanced professional degrees that people in the finance field tend to pursue.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

This graduate degree provides students with a broad base of business-related skills. Core courses in an MBA program include finance, applied statistics, business law, management and entrepreneurship. MBA students may choose to concentrate on finance.

Master’s Degree in Finance

This graduate degree option is highly-specialized in finance-related skills. These programs usually emphasize quantitative coursework. Some types of non-quantitative electives in topics like business strategy and corporate governance may be offered.

In addition to master’s degrees, several certifications may be relevant for particular roles, including:

  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

  • North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA)

  • Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)

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Common careers in finance

There are many options for career paths in the finance field that can align with your interests, core values and offer a competitive salary. Here are the top 10 career opportunities in the financial sector to get you started in your search including both entry-level jobs and options for seasoned professionals:

1. Finance intern

National average salary: $13.78 per hour

Primary duties: A finance intern typically works either part-time or full-time during the summer or school semester. Depending on the role, interns might work on budgeting, estimating or managing cash flow. An internship is a great way to learn more about the financial sector. Many internships are paid and can help fund school-related expenses.

Educational requirements: Pursuing a bachelor’s or MBA in a related field, such as finance, accounting or economics

2. Collection agent

National average salary: $15.39 per hour

Primary duties: Companies sometimes have problems recouping loans from borrowers who are unable to pay them in a timely manner. Collection agents specialize in finding loan repayments for corporations. Collection agents may meet with clients and help them restructure their debt to ensure repayment of a loan. This may mean, for example, that the individual or institution can pay off a loan in monthly installments.

Educational requirements: No degree is required, but it often helps to have a bachelor’s degree.

3. Finance coordinator

National average salary: $18.92 per hour

Primary duties: Finance coordinators are responsible for financial record-keeping within their company. They oversee accounts payable and accounts receivable, monitor outgoing vendor payments and ensure that payments go out on time. They may also create payment schedules to handle outstanding payments from customers and clients.

Educational requirements: Some companies require candidates to have a Bachelor’s in Finance or a related field, while others only expect a high school diploma or equivalent work experience.

4. Financial planner

National average salary: $58,242 per year

Primary duties: Financial planners help individual clients plan for their present and future financial stability. They develop a savings and investment plan that fits the client’s needs, income and goals. Most people in this role are employed either by locally based firms or larger, nation-wide institutions. Financial planners may receive commissions based on the products they sell or receive a percentage of the assets they manage, while others charge a flat fee.

Educational requirements: Getting the CFP is beneficial to this role and typically requires having three years of professional experience in financial planning and passing several exams, including a 10-hour case-study exam spread over two days. While this is an arduous certification to achieve, it is also in high demand for financial planners.

5. Financial analyst

National average salary: $67,377 per year

Primary duties: Financial analysts guide businesses and individuals in making investments in bonds, stocks or other kinds of investment opportunities. They help organizational leaders make investment decisions on behalf of the organization. This job often involves working with a variety of senior leaders, writing reports and giving presentations. Financial analysts can work across a broad range of institutions.

Educational requirements: At least a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance or Business. Many financial analysts hold master’s degrees. It is also possible to obtain professional certification by passing an exam and meeting experience requirements.

6. Investment banker

National average salary: $71,366 per year

Primary duties: Investment bankers issue and trade corporate securities and provide financial advice to investors and corporations. Investment banks have several divisions, each with different responsibilities and objectives.

At a traditional investment bank, depending on where the role is housed, these bankers interact with a trading desk, which trades bonds, stocks and other securities in the secondary market.

They could also work with issuers of securities or acquisitions and mergers professionals. Some investment bankers have a specialized role selling bonds or equity, while others advise a variety of clients or work with different securities.

Educational requirements: Entry-level positions only require a bachelor’s degree, but many investment bankers pursue a master’s degree, often an MBA or law degree.

7. Loan officer

National average salary: $74,560 per year

Primary duties: Loan officers consult with bank customers to understand their financial needs and recommend the right loan products. They help customers navigate the bank’s lending guidelines. Commercial banks can vary in size, from local institutions to international entities, and offer a variety of financial services, including loans, IRAs and savings and checking accounts. It is possible to be promoted from a position such as loan officer at a local branch to corporate headquarters.

Educational requirements: Many mortgage companies and banks require loan officers to have a Bachelor’s in Finance, Business or a related field. Loan officers are also required to gain licensure. Additionally, there are voluntary certification options.

8. Certified public accountant (CPA)

National average salary: $80,600 per year

Primary duties: Many CPAs help individuals and businesses track their finances, prepare their income tax returns and provide consulting services related to finances and taxes. CPAs typically start as staff accountants and work their way up through the ranks of other roles, including audit manager and tax manager. With time and hard work, CPAs may make partner at their firm.

Educational requirements: All CPA candidates must hold a bachelor’s at a minimum and have 150 semester hours of formal education. Additionally, CPAs are required to pass the Uniform CPA exam. Licensing requirements vary by state, so check your state’s eligibility requirements.

9. Private equity associate

National average salary: $105,924 per year

Primary duties: Private equity associates assist businesses in finding capital that can help them expand and fund current operations. They also provide financing for corporate business transactions, such as restructurings and managed buyouts. Some of the duties of a private equity associate include analytical modeling, reviewing confidential information memorandum (CIM), portfolio company monitoring and fundraising.

Educational requirements: Private equity associate candidates are required to have a bachelor of arts in a related field, such as finance, economics or statistics. Private equity firms usually only hire candidates who have significant work experience after graduating from college or business school or ones who have held private equity internships.

10. Quantitative analyst

National average salary: $149,694 per year

Primary duties: Quantitative analysts use quantitative methods to help companies make financial decisions. This role exists across a variety of institutions, including insurance companies, private equity firms, hedge funds and investment banks. These analysts help companies manage risk and identify investment opportunities through programming or statistical analysis. Quantitative analysts are in high demand in the field of trading, where they help produce algorithms that show traders when to buy and sell stocks and other financial products.

Educational requirements: Becoming a quantitative analyst typically requires a Master’s Degree in Financial Engineering, Quantitative Finance or a related field like statistics or mathematics. Many employers also require a Ph.D. for senior-level positions.

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