Finance Careers | Career Paths and Advancement


The best things in life may be free, but money powers the world. How do you choose what to invest in? How can you gauge your financial decisions when conditions are constantly changing? These are the essential questions of the finance industry. The three main categories of finance are public, corporate and personal finance. Because most businesses realize the value in mindfully managing their assets, there will always be work for financial planners, analysts, managers, and executives. Their expertise and guidance can pave the way for a company’s or an individual’s fruitful future. Read all about these different finance careers.

What education and certification will I need to work in finance?

Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step in pursuing any finance career. Programs will typically focus on giving you a comprehensive understanding of financial management, technological expertise, interpersonal skills and professional insight. Learn more about finance curriculum on What You’ll Study.

There are two popular types of advanced degrees: a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a focus in finance, and a master’s degree in finance. While they each provide students with the skills needed for managerial positions in the field, they do differ. The MBA degree gives students a broader knowledge base of business skills that are transferable to other positions. The master’s in finance is highly specialized, focusing almost exclusively on finance-related issues.

Featured MBA and Master’s Programs

Several types of certification exist for financial workers, depending on their area of study and expertise.

For example, becoming a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is possible through the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. They uphold a standard of excellence in personal financial planning. You can also become recognized as a Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) through the CFA Institute.

Various certifications exist for stock brokers and securities traders, through organizations including the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).

While not necessary to begin your finance career, it’s a good idea to join professional organizations in order to network and continue learning. The American Bankers Association and the Association for Financial Professionals are two of these.

What does a finance worker do?

Let’s look at the job descriptions of the three main finance careers areas, to learn about the daily concerns and tasks of each.

In personal finance, decisions are made about paying for education, financing goods such as real estate and vehicles, buying health and property insurance, and investing and saving for retirement. According to the Financial Planning Standards Board, the six key areas of personal financial planning are:

  • Financial position: understanding what resources are available by looking at the net worth and cash flow of a household
  • Adequate protection: the analysis of how to protect a household from unforeseen risks
  • Tax planning
  • Investment and accumulation goals
  • Retirement planning
  • Estate planning

Corporate finance is all about providing the funds for a business’ activities. Finance managers:

  • Balance risk and profitability
  • Study and forecast economic trends
  • Review company reports and suggest efficiencies
  • Work to maximize stock value
  • Manage funds, including choosing a portfolio of investments
  • Apply principles of financial risk management

Public finance is concerned with the financial dealings of states, as well as related public entities such as school districts or government agencies.

Some typical arenas for working in finance include in actuary (insurance), corporate finance or real estate, financial planning, investment banking and money management. Many of the skills and abilities needed for each area overlap and can benefit you as you move further in your field, or decide to change your focus.

What career paths can I take in finance?

It’s important to choose your focus in finance—although many of the principles, skills and abilities you learn will be useful across the board. Most people who earn a bachelor’s in finance work in areas including commercial banking, financial planning, investment banking, money managing, insurance and real estate. Other areas of interest are finance include private equity, commercial lending and sales and trading.

There’s great opportunity for upward mobility when you work in finance. Starting off as an assistant or junior executive, it’s possible to work up to more senior positions in your sector. If you enter the field with an MBA, you’re primed to succeed. Financial analysts, planners and bankers can move up their respective ladders to positions of significant power, such as chief financial officer.

If you’d like to enter academia, doctorate programs in finance are available. By imparting a deeper understanding of financial methods, technologies and trends through applied research and studies, these programs prepare students for careers in academic assisting, research and publishing.

Learn about Pay & Job Projections for financial analysts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Outlook Handbook states that employment of financial analysts should grow by 11 percent through 2026, faster than average for all occupations. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Do money and business matter to you, but you’re not sure finance is your field? Check out similar careers involving economics and operations like business administration, accounting and human resources.

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