Introduction

Whether you decide to work in a bank, for an accounting firm, or for a financial planning company, you will need an education to get a job.

A low-level financial career can be obtained with a high school diploma, but eventually, if you wish to be promoted into a management position, you’ll need to get a bachelor’s or master’s degree. You’re also more likely to get a higher-level job at a higher salary if you get a bachelor’s degree when you start your career.

  • Banking Jobs

    If working in a bank is of interest to you, then plan to get a bachelor’s degree in business administration or a closely related field, and eventually a Master’s of Business Administration. There are jobs at banks that don’t require degrees, but you’ll be less likely to get promoted without one. Branch managers, personal bankers, investment bankers, and similar positions all require bachelor’s degrees in business, finance, economics, or a related field. Or you could start out as an accountant, auditor, budget analyst, credit analyst, or financial analyst and then get promoted. Each of these positions requires a four-year degree in business, accounting, or a related field of study. Investment banking and executive positions will require master’s degrees in business administration.

  • Accounting Jobs

    To get a job as an accountant, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance. You may also need to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). The U.S. government’s Security and Exchange Commission requires any accountant who files financial reports with the department to hold CPA certification. You can get your CPA certification through your state board of accountancy. You’ll need to take an exam and meet other state requirements. Some states require you to work in the industry for a certain period of time under the supervision of another CPA. For senior and executive positions, you’ll need to obtain a master’s degree in business administration.

  • Financial Planning Jobs

    Like other careers in the financial industry, you will need to get a bachelor’s degree if you want to work for a financial planning or advisory firm. A degree in accounting, finance, economics, business, mathematics, or law will lay the groundwork for a career in this field. Taking classes in investments, taxes, estate planning, and risk management are also helpful. Today, many colleges and universities are adding classes in financial planning to their curriculums. If you acquire a master’s degree in business administration, you’ll be more likely to earn promotions or land mid-level or higher positions.

  • Advantages of Jobs in the Field

    Many people working in finance find this fast-paced field both challenging and rewarding. If you’re thinking about a career in the financial services industry, you need to do your research, talk to other financial professionals, and even job shadow people in different jobs for a few days before moving forward. As with any career, the financial services industry offers many advantages and disadvantages (see the article on this site about the disadvantages). Here are some (not all) of the advantages of pursuing a career in the financial services industry.

    Salary and Benefits

    Of course, one of the primary concerns most people have with a financial career is how much money they can earn. Not everyone in the financial industry earns a huge salary. If you are a person who wants to earn a very high salary, you need to look at sectors of the industry, like investment bankers, who are able to achieve high earnings. Accountants and Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) can earn higher than average wages, but they are not the top earners in the industry. But in general, financial professionals earn good salaries, and because they usually work for large, well-established companies, they also usually receive good benefits, such as health insurance, dental insurance, long-term and short-term disability, paid vacations and holidays, and other important benefits.

    Job Stability and Security

    The demand for bankers, financial planners, and accountants continues to increase, and that trend will continue for the next several years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Working in the financial industry is a stable career choice. Government oversight and regulations may change, but there will always be the need for knowledgeable, skilled financial professionals.

    Personal Rewards

    While earning a good salary and knowing your job is somewhat secure is important, most people also feel that performing a job that is important, interesting, and challenging is much more important. Working in a finance can be all of these things. No one can deny that providing these services is important. The U.S. population is struggling more than ever to save money and invest for their retirements and future needs. As the cost of living increases, more people are looking for ways to do more with less money. Businesses are also looking for ways to save money, work more efficiently, and improve their bottom lines. The financial professional meets all of these important needs and can have a huge impact on the individual clients and businesses they serve.

    The financial services industry can also be very interesting. It is constantly changing, and there are new risks and opportunities to be explored. Understanding economics and the roles different economic factors play in shaping not only the country’s financial health but individuals’ economic health is an important and interesting aspect of being a financial professional. Financial professionals also find the people they work with and their actual job responsibilities interesting, as well.

    When it comes to a challenge, no one can deny that meeting the financial needs of individuals and businesses can be challenging. The financial markets and the economy can be volatile and unpredictable. Looking at historical trends can help, but there are no guarantees with any decision that is made. Whether the professional is helping two companies merge, advising an older American about retirement decisions, or assisting a small business with its accounting procedures, there will always be challenges to overcome. Some of these challenges include working with many different kinds of people, as well as businesses, and keeping track of ever-changing government regulations and policies. Rest assured, a financial career doesn't need to be boring.

Disadvantages of Jobs in the Field

If you’re thinking about a career in this sector, you need to do your research, talk to other financial professionals, and even job shadow people in different jobs for a few days before moving forward. As with any career, jobs in finance have disadvantages as well as advantages. Here are some (not all) of the disadvantages of pursuing a career in the financial services industry.

Salary Disparities

Not every professional in the industry earns a high salary. Some careers in the industry tend to have higher salaries associated with them than others. For example, accountants and Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) can earn higher-than-average salaries compared with the job market, but compared to other financial professionals, they can earn the lowest salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of accountants is approximately $59,000.

Financial planners can earn salaries that are higher than accountants. That is usually because, when they work with clients, they sell them financial products. Many financial planners earn commissions on the products they sell, while other planners or consultants charge flat-rate consulting fees. Either way, clients are paying for the professional’s knowledge and advice, and the planners can earn higher incomes. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the annual average salary for personal financial planners is approximately $69,000.

Professionals in the investment banking industry can earn the highest salaries. These professionals work with companies to assist them with getting financing, merging with other companies, acquiring other companies, and becoming public companies. The average annual salary for investment bankers can be upwards of $100,000 and more.

Working Hours

While many financial professionals can work traditional hours, there are times when these professionals will need to work many extra hours. For example, accountants and CPAs who work with individuals and businesses on their taxes will work many extra hours until tax season is over. Financial planners may not have to work extra hours, but they will need to work nontraditional hours, such as evenings and weekends, in order to meet with busy working clients. The investment banker can do a lot of traveling as well as working, and professionals in this field are known to put in more than 70 to 80 hours a week. No matter what facet of the industry you choose, be prepared to work hard and, in some cases, work long or nontraditional hours.

Stress

Another primary disadvantage of working in the financial services industry is that it can be a highly stressful career. No matter which career path you choose, there will be some stress associated with it. For example, accountants and CPAs who file taxes for their clients must work hard to ensure that the taxes are correct. If mistakes are found, it could damage the accountant’s career as well as cause the client to pay tax penalties. Financial planners are responsible for increasing the worth of their clients’ investment portfolios. If instead, the clients consistently lose money or their portfolios aren’t performing as expected, it could significantly impact the clients’ lifestyles, not to mention the financial advisor’s reputation. Investment bankers’ stress stems from their clients’ reliance on them to put together business deals that are advantageous and meet all federal requirements and filings. There are many details that are important and if overlooked can prevent the deal from happening. The investment banker must perform a lot of work and pay attention to all of the details.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Almost all careers in finance require a bachelor’s degree. There are several different degree fields to choose from, and which one is right for you depends on the job you’re most interested in obtaining after graduation. Here are a few of the degree programs available today. This is not a comprehensive list. There are many other options available, so make sure you do your own research.

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Business with a Financial Planning major

    Several colleges today offer Bachelor of Arts degrees in Financial Planning or Financial Services & Planning. However, at most schools, the actual degree will typically be a Bachelor of Business Administration (or Business), with a specialization in Finance. Coursework associated with this degree includes classes in investments, insurance, income tax, retirement benefits, and estate planning. Also, after you graduate from this program, you’ll be qualified to take the comprehensive Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification exam.

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Business with a major in Financial Management

    Similar to a major in financial planning, this will typically be a Bachelor's of Business with a specialization in Financial Management. Students can take coursework in economics, marketing, accounting, finance, taxation, and other general business courses through this degree program. You’ll learn how financial markets function. Another important aspect of financial management you’ll learn is how to analyze past market trends.

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

    If you’re more interested in accounting, there are several Bachelor of Science degree programs to choose from. Examples of colleges that offer this degree include University of Phoenix and Walden University. This degree offers courses in managerial accounting, auditing, taxation, and more.

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration

    If you’re interested in working at a bank or in other industries, getting a bachelor’s degree in business administration is necessary. Some schools offer a Bachelor of Arts degree, while others offer a Bachelor of Science degree in this field. Classes offered as part of this degree program include business accounting, finance for business, business ethics, marketing research, employee management, and economics.

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Economics

    Usually, a Bachelor of Arts degree, economics is a major chosen by students planning to become financial analysts and future leaders in the banking and financial industry. One reason some students choose an economics degree is that it lays a lot of the groundwork for advanced degrees in business administration. Some of the basic classes you’ll need to take to earn this degree include accounting, business administration, information systems, math (calculus), and of course, many classes in economics.

MBA in Accounting

If you really want to succeed in the financial industry, consider earning a master’s of business administration (MBA) degree. Whether you work for a bank, financial planning company, or accounting firm, having an MBA in accounting can lead to bigger and better things. In fact, most senior-level or executive positions require an MBA.

  • Advantages of the MBA in Accounting Degree

    One of the biggest advantages to having an MBA in accounting is the large number of jobs and industries in which you can choose to work. The accounting function is necessary in just about every business or industry. With an MBA, you’ll be able to advise a company on its accounting practices and financial reporting, no matter what kind of business it is. And, right now, with recent government regulations calling for more stringent and transparent accounting practices, this is an ability that is in great demand. As already mentioned, earning an MBA in accounting is also a very good way to become a senior manager or executive within a company—perhaps even its chief executive officer.

  • How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA in Accounting Degree?

    How long it takes to earn your MBA in accounting is dependent on your own schedule. If you’re able to attend courses full time, you can earn your degree in two years. However, today most people earning their master’s degrees are doing so while they work a full-time job, so colleges and universities have developed programs to help them go to school during the evenings, weekends, or through online coursework. It can take three to four years to earn an MBA in accounting degree as a part-time student.

  • What Courses Will I Take to Get an MBA?

    Each college or university puts together its own program of coursework, but here is a list of some of the most common classes you’ll find offered through an MBA in accounting program:

    • Accounting Information Systems and Control
    • Accounting and Finance Concepts for Managers
    • Auditing and Fraud Detection
    • Business Structure and Taxes
    • Decision Points in Marketing and Operations
    • Developing Effective Organizations
    • Economics of Management
    • Enterprise Management in a Global Environment
    • Ethical and Legal Environment of Business
    • Financial Statement Preparation and Analysis Prerequisites

No specific bachelor’s degree is required to get an MBA in accounting. However, it would help if you’ve already completed some classes in business, economics, accounting, finance, and management in order to excel in most positions.

Master’s Degrees

While a bachelor’s degree is usually required for getting a job in finance, obtaining a master’s degree is quickly becoming equally important for advancing your career. It’s becoming more difficult for employees without advanced degrees to become leaders in the financial industry. There are various master’s degrees that you can choose from. Here is a description of some of the more common master’s degrees found at colleges and universities.

  • Master’s Degree in Business Administration

    One advantage to having a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) in business administration is the large number of jobs and industries in which you can choose to work. An MBA gives students an education in leading businesses, and so graduates can find work at a variety of companies and industries. The MBA program can take two to four years to complete, depending on whether you’re able to attend classes full time or part time. Courses offered include business structure and taxes, economics of management, and enterprise management in a global environment. There are no prerequisites for the MBA program, although many colleges will look to see if the student has taken basic courses in business, economics, and math.

  • Master’s Degree in Financial Economics

    This degree is geared toward students who wish to gain employment in risk analysis, a growing profession in the financial industry. The advantage to having this degree is that it isn’t as common as other master’s degree programs, and so you may find you’re competing with fewer people for the same positions. This master’s program can take two years to complete, if you’re able to attend classes full time, or three to four years, if you take classes on a part-time basis. Courses offered focus on calculus, numerical methods, and simulation techniques. To be accepted into a master’s program in financial economics, you’ll need to take a large number of advanced math classes as an undergraduate.

  • Master’s Degree in Financial Management

    This master’s degree is most suited for students who plan to launch or improve their careers in the financial planning or accounting industries. Its biggest advantage is that, in addition to providing coursework that can lead to promotions or advancement, it can also prepares you for CPA (certified public accountant), CMA (certified management accounting), or CMA (chartered financial analyst) certifications. Like the MBA, this program can take two to four years to complete, depending on whether you’re able to attend classes full time or part time. Coursework in the program includes electronic commerce, taxation, operating systems, and strategic financial planning. Similar to the MBA, there are no prerequisites for this master’s program, although many colleges will look to see if you’ve taken basic courses in business, economics, and math.

Doctoral Degrees

Earning a doctoral degree is one of the most difficult tasks a person can attempt. Not only does it require several years of study, research, and writing a thesis, but then the thesis must be defended in front of a panel of experts. It is also a costly proposition. While many schools and universities offer programs for working people to get bachelor’s or master’s degrees, it will be necessary for the PhD candidate to go to school full time, meaning he or she may have to live on a very small research assistant stipend until graduation.

For these reasons, whether you want to apply for a doctoral degree is a decision that is to be taken very seriously. For many careers, this can be a smart move, but anyone interested in doing this should conduct a lot of research and talk to many people who have earned these degrees or who are in the process of earning them.

One of the most important considerations to think about before going for a doctorate degree is what it will do for your career. If you are primarily interested in earning more money, or a promotion, or achieving an executive position, all of these things can be accomplished with a master’s degree—at least in the financial industry. In other more highly technical industries, a doctoral degree could be a requirement. That is not to say that a doctorate might not give you a competitive edge, but it is usually not required for a high-level position in the financial industry. If you are interested in conducting research or teaching at the college level, then earning a doctorate is definitely the right path for you.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

There are a few doctoral degree programs offered for financial professionals. Interested students can earn their doctorates in business administration. This program is similar to the master’s program in business administration, but it emphasizes more advanced decision making, leadership skills, and more in-depth knowledge.

The doctoral degree in management finance is another option. It focuses on theories, concepts, and techniques of advanced leadership as well as groundbreaking research and advancements.

More Information About Doctoral Degrees

It will take approximately five to six years to complete most doctoral programs. Coursework that can be included in doctoral programs in finance are quantitative reasoning and analysis, corporate finance, investment portfolio analysis, and financial management for international businesses. When it comes to prerequisites, most colleges and universities look for students who have already taken advanced math classes and economics. Some colleges will require the student to earn a master’s degree before applying for a doctoral degree.

History of Financial Careers

It might surprise you to learn that people have been working in finance for thousands of years. The earliest known banks started before the birth of Christ, and deposits were made in grain, cattle, and oil rather than cash. Still, they required the assistance of workers to record the deposits and withdrawals. The first bank in the United States was created in Philadelphia in 1781, and there were seventeen banks in existence by 1794. Today, there are about 1.8 million banking jobs in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that number is growing.

Accounting practices and the accounting industry itself haven’t had quite such long histories; they have been around since the Middle Ages. The first attempt to capture the accounting system in writing was undertaken by Luca Pacioli, who wrote Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita in 1494. Pacioli’s system was the first to describe bookkeeping practices and ideas that are still in use today. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.3 million accounting jobs in this country, and that number is expected to increase by 22 percent by 2018. There are a few reasons for this anticipated high demand for financial professionals. Baby boomers, who represent a large number of working Americans, are reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce. A second reason is the Enron and Worldcom accounting scandals at the beginning of this century. An investigation of these companies showed that the accounting and reporting systems in place at the time enabled them to creatively hide tremendous financial problems. Since that time, more stringent accounting and reporting practices have led to an increase in demand for competent accountants.

Today, there are three primary career paths that people interested in financial jobs can take: (1) work in a bank, (2) work for a financial planning company, or (3) work as a Certified Public Accountant or accounting firm. When it comes to jobs at banks, the biggest change that’s occurred and will continue to develop is the impact of technology. Jobs that once required hundreds of workers are now being automated through the use of computers. And, this trend is expected to continue. While the need for personal and commercial bankers will always be there, some positions, like data entry operators, data analysts, and others, will eventually be phased out. People who can combine an interest in computers and technology with banking will be in demand.

This same phenomenon holds true in the accounting industry. The advent of the computer spreadsheet, computerized general ledger processing, and other technological advances have led to a decrease in demand for accounting and general ledger clerks. In fact, studies have shown that accounting companies and employers list computer skills as one of the primary proficiencies needed by their employees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that people with an understanding of both accounting practices and computer auditing and information systems will have a competitive advantage in the future job market in this industry. There will also be a growing demand for accountants who can advise their customers on improving cash flow, debt financing, and improving overall accounting practices, transparency, and efficiencies.

The last career path open to people interested in a career in finance is that of the financial planner. Financial planners work with individuals to help them plan for their futures, whether it’s paying for their children’s college educations, retirement, starting their own businesses, or other financial goals. They work to help their clients meet these goals through investment and savings accounts. The client turns over a certain amount of money to the financial planner, who invests it according to the client’s goals and level of tolerance for the ups and downs of the investment markets. Like the banking and accounting industries, the financial planning industry has also seen its share of scandals and problems. For example, in the last decade, investment firms have had to divest themselves of companies related to financial services. Some companies offered financial planning, tax services, and accounting services and consulting, as well as their own suite of products for each. It was discovered that this led to less than desirable choices for consumers as these companies were favoring their own services and products rather than others that may have been more beneficial for the consumer. As a result, companies now must specialize in investment planning, or tax services, or accounting services and consulting. This has resulted in more jobs available for people interested in this field.

These careers have also been affected by technology, and like the banking and accounting industries, there are fewer clerical and data processing jobs and more computer programming and Internet design and programming jobs available.

Last Updated: 06/06/2014

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