Introduction to Our Career in Finance Guide

Finance covers a lot of ground and includes not only how money is managed but also the process of how funds are acquired.

It is commonly broken into three subcategories:

  • Personal finance
  • Corporate finance
  • Public finance

Each of these categories requires a different skillset and mindset; however, the principles remain similar, and each role requires a familiarity and comfort with certain aspects of accounting.

The management of money requires sourcing money, which can be done personally or through a bank or through corporate funds, depending on the financing being handled. So, a career in finance requires not only understanding accounting principles, but also a clear understanding of the best tactics for raising and investing capital.

This finance guide is meant to provide you with a quick overview of:

  • Potential careers in finance,
  • Why you should choose a career in finance,
  • Top career paths in finance, and
  • How you can best position yourself to land a great job.

This guide also includes background information on educational programs, scholarships, and professional certifications.

Want to start your career in finance by becoming a CFA? Get key tips on how to pass Level I of the CFA Program exam in our free guide.

Why Choose a Career in Finance?

A career in finance offers high pay and fast career placement after graduation. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of financial analyst jobs will grow by more than 12% through 2024, well above most categories

finance as a career pathfinance as a career pathfinance as a career path

For personal finance advisors, the growth rate over the same period is nearly 30%, so there is no shortage of opportunity for people interested in finance as a career, especially in the United States. Finance jobs are growing at equal or faster rates in parts of Europe and Asia, outpacing most industries.

And for those with a solid background and/or professional credentials, job opportunities are especially good. Finance related positions are viewed as crucial organizational functions and are a profit center within corporations, not just for Wall Street investment houses.

List of Careers in Finance

Most people have heard about investment banking due to its renowned competitiveness and high pay, but not everyone realizes there is a wide range of finance careers that extend beyond supporting banks—and which still offer similarly impressive pay packages.

Some financial career paths require skills similar to accountants, but, even though accounting is certainly part of the job, there is clearly a focus on managing and investing as compared to auditing how money is used.

Common Investment Banking Careers in Finance Include:

  • Financial Analyst
  • Financial Consultant
  • Portfolio Manager
  • Investment Banker
  • Financial Advisor
  • Risk Manager
  • Credit Analyst
  • And Many Others

Each has its own career path in finance; however, in general it takes two years or more to move to a higher-level position, so substantial career progression requires long-term commitment.

Financial Analyst

All financial analysts analyze financial information; however, this position differs greatly by organization and industry.

A financial analyst within a corporation will:

  • Analyze the financials of your company and its investments.
  • Be looking for financial issues.
  • Run the numbers for new projects.
  • Do ad hoc reporting and analysis.

A financial analyst within an investment organization will:

  • Likely be tasked with examining the financials of outside companies you’re looking to invest in, buy and sell. This requires a broad base of knowledge about different kinds of companies within industries as well as understanding how and why investments are made.
Source: Financial Analyst
Quick Facts: Financial Analysts
2020 Median Pay$83,660 per year
$40.22 per hour
Typical Entry-Level EducationBachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNone
On-the-job TrainingNone
Number of Jobs, 2020492,100
Job Outlook, 2020-306% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2020-3031,300

Global Median Salaries:

Source: Economic Research Institute, June 2017
Hong Kong: $65,320 ($509,065 Hong Kong Dollars)
Singapore: $67,107 ($92,908 Singapore Dollars)
Sydney: $103,069 ($136,878 Australia Dollars)
New Delhi: $10,600 (682,544 Indian Rupees)
Frankfurt: $72,917 (65,130 Euro)
London: $78,939 (61,913 British Pound)

Ready to start your journey to becoming a Financial Analyst?

Download our 15-page eBook with key tips on how to pass Level I of the CFA Program exam.

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Financial Consultant or Financial Advisor

A financial consultant or advisor generally works with companies or individuals concerning their financial situation. Most consultants or advisors focus on specific offerings to differentiate themselves from others. Potential consulting can be on topics that include taxes, investments, and insurance decisions.

Personal financial consultants or advisors work closely with clients to offer personalized financial advice and may direct the buying and selling of stocks and bonds on behalf of clients. Some financial advisors work for large banks but many work in smaller organizations.

If a financial consultant works within a consulting firm, he/she often focuses on the financial needs of a specific business or industry, such as hospitals.

Job Outlook (U.S. Only): Financial Advisor

Source: Personal Financial Advisors
Quick Facts: Personal Financial Advisors
2020 Median Pay$89,330 per year
$42.95 per hour
Typical Entry-Level EducationBachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNone
On-the-job TrainingLong-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2020275,200
Job Outlook, 2020-305% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2020-3012,600

Global Median Salaries:

Source: Economic Research Institute, June 2017
Hong Kong: $53,443 ($416,508 Hong Kong Dollars)
Singapore: $54,905 ($76,015 Singapore Dollars)
Sydney: $84,329 ($111,991 Australia Dollars)
New Delhi: $8672.85 (558,445 Indian Rupees)
Frankfurt: $59,592 (53,228 Euro)
London: $64,586 (50,656 British Pound)

Is Major Banks a Good Career Path?

Major banks is a great career path because of the wide variety of job opportunities, high salaries, bonuses, and good benefits including medical, paid time off, and retirement options. Although working as an investment banker boasts prestige, great salaries, and benefits, the job itself can be demanding. That being said, most banking firms and jobs at investment banks still tend to have an enjoyable work environment with employees who have a recognizable passion for their work.

Starting Your Finance Career Path

1. Get the right degree

You may think you don’t have to possess a degree to get a job in finance, but you’d be wrong. A bachelor’s degree is now the bare minimum requirement for almost any financial job. So, choose your degree and university carefully as some companies or banks limit their hiring to specific universities.

Make sure the college or university you choose has a solid business school and strong reputation in the finance industry. Also, if you want to move to a new location, ensure that your university has a large footprint that is recognized in the area you wish to find a job.

While science and engineering degrees are popular options, especially outside the U.S., know that you will need to supplement your undergrad degree with further finance-related education. Earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is the most common and direct route.

An MBA is also fast becoming a basic requirement to land a job on Wall Street.

2. Pursue a specialty

As you can see, finance is a wide-ranging industry and earning a degree targeted toward this area of business presents you with a lot of options. Graduates can find jobs in accounting departments, finance departments, education, sales, banking, financial advising—the list of career options is endless.

Most entities need someone with an analytical mind who can read financial data, interpret it and communicate findings and recommendations. During your education, you will have a few years to decide, but ensure you research the types of jobs you find most interesting.

You should eventually specialize in one facet of finance as specialization is the best strategy for a long and successful career. This is where earning one or more specialized credentials—such as the Charted Financial Analyst® (CFA), Charter Market Technician® (CMT) or Financial Risk Manager (FRM) designations—can truly help you to stand out and advance in your career.

Read more about these certifications in the table below.

3. Obtain a career in finance

After you’ve completed your post-secondary education, it’s now time to get a job. Remember it’s not just what you know, it’s also who you know—so put much effort into building and leveraging personal connections by going to conferences, job fairs, educational seminars and other networking events.

In order to continue to differentiate yourself, try to gain early career experience through internships. You may think it’s too early to start, but earning a professional credential can be a dramatic help in landing your first few jobs out of college.

It may seem like your learning is done when school is, but it’s only beginning. Those who succeed never stop learning.

map of usa

Source: Occupational Employment Statistics

Finance Certification and Licensure

Employers are now looking for job candidates who have additional credentials that demonstrate they have the prerequisite skills and knowledge necessary for a specialized job in finance. Every university is different in their teaching methods and the materials, so professional credentials are seen as a great way to level the playing field and ensure candidates have the basic knowledge to do the job on day one.

ProgramAdvantagesEligibility RequirementsExam Difficulty Level
CFA®Universal recognition and prestigious reputation

Broad-based foundational background in finance

Enhances opportunities for higher paying career paths

Low financial cost to attain

Level 1 Exam (one of the three):

Bachelor’s degree or equivalent

4 years of professional work experience

Cumulative 48 months of professional work experience and education

Levels 2 and 3 Exam:

Pass prior level of exam

Pass all 3 exam levels

48 months of investment-related work experience in a full-time role

Three levels of exams. Each level is considered extremely difficult.

Level 1 difficulty is primarily dependent on your educational and professional background, i.e., if you have a finance or statistics degree, you will have an easier time than someone with a philosophy degree.

Exam pass rates are around 45%.

Level 2 is considered the most difficult, as the content is discussed in much finer detail.

Level 2 pass rate is around 40%.

Level 3 is considered extremely difficult, although less so than Level 2. It includes short answer, multiple choice, and long answer questions.

Level 3 pass rate is approximately 55%.

MBAUniversal recognition

Opportunities for networking

Broad-based and transferable skill-set applicable beyond the finance industry

Enhances opportunities for higher paying career paths

Improvement of soft-skills such as self-confidence, communication, strategic thinking, and time-management

Established by the university, generally includes the following requirement types:

Education, e.g., bachelor’s degree

Undergraduate GPA, e.g., 3.6

Professional experience

Standardized tests, e.g., GMAT/GRE

Curriculum will cover broad array of subjects and the difficulty of each will depend on the candidate’s background and education.

Typically, the more difficult areas for MBA candidates are accounting, finance, economics, and practical projects / case studies.

FRMSpecialized certification that provides opportunities for advanced careers paths in financial risk management

Access to networking opportunities with other FRMs

Certification with growing interest and credibility

Parts I and II of the FRM exam

2 years of qualifying professional education

Both exams are considered extremely difficult.

Part I covers the foundations of risk management, quantitative analysis, financial markets and products, and valuation and risk models.

Part I pass rate is around 45% and requires an average of 275 hours of studying.

Part II covers market risk, operational risk and residency, credit risk, liquidity and treasury risk, and investment risk.

The pass rate for Part II is around 57% and is comparable in terms of study time requirements.

CFPAssociated with higher incomes than financial planners without the CFP certification

Enhanced technical expertise

Improved credibility

Applicable to various career paths, e.g., financial analyst, wealth management advisor, investment manager, portfolio manager

Education: Bachelor’s degree, including specific finance coursework

Exam: 1 exam, 170 multiple choice questions over two 3-hour sessions

Experience: 6,000 hours of financial planning experience / 4,000 hours of apprenticeship experience

Ethics: Agreement to adhere to the ethical and professional standards for financial planning, i.e., to put the best interests of clients first

This is a less difficult exam with a pass rate of around 63%.
CAIAGlobal program

Provides broad knowledge and skill sets related to asset classes beyond standard equity and fixed income, including hedge funds, commodities, private equity, and structured finance products

Provides access to networking opportunities through the CAIA association

Level 1 and Level 2 examBoth levels of the exam require roughly 200 hours of study.

The pass rate for the Level 1 is around 54% while the pass rate for Level 2 is 81%.

CIMAHigher paying career opportunities than other investment management certifications, i.e., CFP, CFA®

Access to management of higher value portfolios

Higher client confidence in investment management competence and capabilities

Provides various career paths, including investment advisor, wealth advisor, retirement and pension plan consultant, and investment analyst

Educational content provided by prestigious business schools, including University of Chicago Booth School of Business, University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, Yale School of Management, and Investment Management Research Centre of University of Technology, Sydney

Experience: 3 years of financial services experience

Ethics: Background checks and disclosure of violations with the code of professional responsibility

Education: Completion of executive education course from registered education providers

Exam: Pass one exam

Difficulty arises from the wide range of subjects included in the curriculum.

Exam is considered very difficult with overall pass rates between 60-70%.

CPARequired certification for many advancement opportunities

Enhances opportunities for higher paying career paths in accounting and management

Prepares candidates for careers in public accounting and managerial accounting, as well as tax planning and preparation

Prestigious and nationally recognized certification (although state issued)

Ability to practice independently

Does not require work experience

Vary state-to-state, but generally include:

Minimum Age: 18 years old

Education: 150 credit hours, most states require a degree or credit hours to be in finance or accounting coursework

Work Experience: 0-2 years of professional work experience, depending on the state

Social Security Number and US Citizenship (only for few states)

Completion of the uniform 4-part CPA exam administered by the AICPA

Varying levels of difficulty across the 4 parts:

Auditing and Attestation

Business Environment and Concepts

Financial Accounting and Reporting


Exam is considered to be difficult, as each exam part must be completed within 18 months and each requires extensive preparation.

CMTGlobally recognized

Specialized certification in investment management focused on technical analysis

Differentiate profile as having a comprehensive technical skill set for technical financial analysis

Accepted by FINRA as an alternative to the Series 86 examination

3-level exam administered by the CMT Association

Agreement with the CMT Association Code of Ethics

Membership in the CMT Association

Levels 1 and 2 are multiple choice, and the first exam is a 4-hour essay.

It’s considered less difficult than the CFA® and CPA exams, as each level requires around 100 hours of study.

CMAProvides basis for advancement into management level, appropriate for individuals aiming for a CFO position

Covers accounting and strategy concepts beyond the CPA certification

Enhances earning potential, credibility, career advancement, and job security

Education: Bachelor’s degree in relevant field

Experience: 2 years of professional experience in financial management or management accounting

Exam: 2-part exam

Both parts of the exam are considered highly difficult and more intensive than the CPA exam.

Explore some of the differences and nuances of the CMA vs CPA.

It includes both multiple choice and essay questions.

Part 1 covers financial reporting and planning.

Pass rates for part 1 are around 35%, while part 2 is around 45%.

Part 2 covers financial decision making.

How to Choose Which Finance Certification Is Right for You

Which program or combination is right for you? Well, of course, only you can make that call.

The first step in making this decision is to clearly understand your career objectives. But keep in mind most careers take unexpected twist and turns, and your goals may change—and you will have to adapt accordingly.

With that said, we can dive into specifics. The MBA and CFA® offer the broadest and most comprehensive window into the world of finance. There is a great deal of content overlap, but the main trade off involves the cost/cost savings and flexibility of the CFA® process versus the benefits associated with obtaining a master’s degree from an accredited university.

The CPA is a very powerful and essential credential for those involved in auditing and certifying financial statements. It has other benefits as well, but the public accountancy certification is at its core.

The FRM covers risk management topics, which are as broad and diverse as the field of risk management itself. The CFP, CIMA and CMA are associated with money management and managerial techniques and analytics. Both subjects are broad in nature, so these programs offer a wide range of skills and insights.

Finally, the CMT and CAIA are more narrowly focused on technical analysis and alternative investments, respectively. These are valuable, but highly specific, credentials.

How you proceed is, of course, up to you, and it’s important that you choose carefully and wisely. But nonetheless, going down any of these paths with focus and determination will certainly expand your career and personal horizons regardless of what the future brings.