Finance is an interesting field. On the surface, it looks like it’s all about crunching numbers and counting money. Actually, it’s more complicated than that.
Regardless of your background, it’s possible to have a fulfilling career as a finance professional – as long as you have the right mix of skills, interests, temperament and experience. In this guide, we’re going to dig a little deeper into that to discover if finance is the right field for you.
What Finance Professionals Do
Yes, finance does involve a lot of number-crunching and money-counting. More than that, though, it’s about helping others – like young professionals, wealthy individuals or large corporations – manage their quantifiable risks and resources. These risks and resources may be as tangible as debt and money, or as intangible as customer loyalty, aka goodwill.
Is Finance the Right Career for You?
Obviously, you have to be passionate about securities markets, financial institutions, money management and the like. However, it’s possible to be fanatical finance junkie if you’re also a:
- Critical Thinker. You’re able to sift through a ton of data, pick out only the most relevant ones, and translate them into usable information.
- Good Communicator. When you say “Assets have become more liquid” and your boss/client asks for more information, you should be ready to give a clear, concise answer that even someone without any financial knowledge can understand.
- People Person. In most fields, you need to be able to work with – and lead – a team. Finance is no exception.
- Independent Worker. At the same time, if you’re left to your own devices, you should be able to hold your own.
- Problem-Solver. When something goes wrong, you can come up with an on-the-spot solution in a heartbeat. After all, hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars are at stake.
- Nonstop Learner. In order to have a well-rounded understanding of financial concepts, you also need to incorporate knowledge from other fields, such as accounting, marketing, economics, statistics, management and behavioral psychology.
- Professional. You know when to say yes and when to say no. You know how to take care of your work, your bosses/clients and your colleagues, without bending over backwards for them.
- Person of Integrity. This is probably the most important quality, especially in light of the scandals that have plagued the finance industry. When you promise something, you need to see it through to the end. Also, you should avoid choosing short-term gains over long-term ones, and take responsibility for your mistakes when you make them.
Do you have most, or all, of these qualities? If so, then you’ll go far in the finance field.
Salary Outlook and Opportunities
As you can see below, finance is generally lucrative. Even if you’re not in one of the more glamorous areas like investment banking and hedge fund management, the high demand for finance specialists means you’ll always find a job no matter where you go.
Though this list is by no means exhaustive, it’s a good starting point if you’re unsure which finance specialty you want to take. All of these are entry-level positions, and salaries are based on a median figure.
- Finance Analyst
As a finance analyst, you’re expected to have a broad spectrum of skills: management reporting, budgeting, project analysis, risk management and treasury management, among others. Although you can enter the field with only a bachelor’s degree, an MBA will give you a competitive edge.
Average salary: $56,385
- Loan Officer – Commercial Banking
If you want to work for a commercial bank, try applying for a loan officer position. You’ll learn to negotiate credit terms, prepare credit analyses, review potential borrowers’ credit histories and grow loan portfolios – all of which can come in handy in your professional and personal life.
Average salary: $64,731
- Investment Banking Associate
This is one of the highest-paying finance jobs, and for good reason. Here, you’ll be responsible for the issuance and facilitation of corporate securities, as well as dishing out sound investment advice to clients. Add to that the opportunity to hobnob with the likes of mergers and acquisitions professionals and security traders, and you’ll have the perfect career for learning everything there is to know about investments.
Average salary: $75,154
- Insurance Sales Agent
If risk management is in your wheelhouse, and you have the gift of gab, consider becoming an insurance sales agent. The average pay may be on the low end of the scale, but keep in mind that the figure below excludes commissions. In other words, you have the potential to earn as much as $64,000 – almost double your base salary – if you’re good enough.
Average salary: $35,064
- Financial Planner
A career in financial planning services means you’re essentially helping clients pick the best financial products. These include investments, insurance, college plans, retirement plans and estate plans. If you like being your own boss and earning a lot of money while you’re at it, this is a good option.
Average salary: $58,668
Education and Training
To be honest, there’s no single degree that guarantees you success in the world of finance. Some of the most successful people in the industry weren’t finance majors: Both Peter Lynch and George Soros majored in philosophy, while billionaire James H. Simons was a mathematician. As these people have shown, it’s important to be passionate and persevering in this industry.
That said, if you take up a business-related degree, you’ll usually have an advantage over someone who’s had to learn on the job. Also, certain designations can make you more valuable in the eyes of employers, such as the following:
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
As a CFA, you’ll have a ton of bragging rights. For one, you’ll have one of the most respected investment designations in the world. For another, you’ll have to pass three exams, accumulate at least four years of relevant work experience and be an active member of the CFA Institute in order to qualify. It’s no cakewalk, to be sure, but what prestigious title is?
- Financial Risk Manager (FRM)
Like CFAs, FRMs are internationally recognized. With this title, you’re signaling to employers that you’re well-versed in the best practices for risk management. It’s a bit less rigorous compared to the CFA program, though, what with its requirement of passing two exams and demonstrating two years of relevant work experience.
- Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)
If you have at least three years of experience with investment consulting, you are eligible for this one. Once you pass the exams and gain the title, you have to take 40 hours of continuing education every two years in order to continue being a CIMA.
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
Compared to regular financial planners, CFPs earn slightly higher salaries at $61,631. Since this title indicates that you’ve met certain standards of competence and ethics, it’s especially handy when you choose to be self-employed.
- Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
In the insurance industry, it helps if you’re a CLU. Candidates have to complete 20 hours of exams, plus a 10-course program, to gain the title. CLUs are expected to be knowledgeable in subjects like insurance law, income taxation, financial and estate planning, and investments.
All of these are great stepping stones up the ladder of finance. If any of these interest you, don’t hesitate to read more about them, decide whether they’re jobs you’d want to have five years from now and plunge in.
Exploring careers in business? Be sure to check out the entire series of career exploration posts!
A Career in Real Estate
A Career in Marketing
A Career in Business Law
A Career in Finance
A Career in Accounting
A Career in Insurance
A Career in Supply Chain
A Career in Human Resources
A Career in Management
A Career in Sales
A Career in Consulting