Working with money can be a good way to make money. Here’s what to know about finance careers.
For a job with staying power, consider a finance career. While technology is helping people manage their money in new ways – such as through online banks and digital wallets – no app can replace the expertise of a wealth advisor, accountant or financial analyst.
“Banking might look very different in the future, but finance isn’t going away anytime soon,” says Arjun Kapur, managing director of Forecast Labs, a venture group within Comcast NBCUniversal.
That makes finance an appealing sector for those who want an in-demand career that has good income potential. And forget the stereotype of it being a man’s world. Many women find success in the field as well.
“It’s not all analytics,” says Judi Leahy, senior wealth advisor with Citi Global Wealth. Finance professionals need to be able to listen and share information in an accessible way. “I think women have a much greater advantage (when it comes to) communication with clients.”
If you’re considering a career in finance, here’s what you need to know about the pros and cons, average salaries for finance jobs and whether you need an MBA or post-grad degree to stay competitive.
Pros and Cons of Finance Careers
Great compensation is one reason finance careers can be so attractive. The median annual wage for all business and financial occupations was $76,570 in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s significantly higher than the median annual wage of $45,760 for all occupations. And many finance jobs can earn much more.
“You have the ability to make a decent income rather early on,” says Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of tax relief company Choice Tax Relief. For those who work in public accounting firms, he says it’s not unreasonable to be making a six-figure salary within four or five years.
However, that income comes at a price: public accounting jobs can be stressful. Private accounting roles – such as serving as an in-house accountant for a business – can be less stressful but may not come with the same upward mobility and salary.
For Leahy, one of the pros of working in finance is the chance to work in a dynamic field, in which no two days are the same. She adds that her work has also provided the opportunity to make connections with others, saying she has made many good friends over the years thanks to her job.
The downside may be that this isn’t a career path that lets you shut down your computer and leave your work behind at the office – at least not if you’re employed as a financial advisor, according to Leahy. “This is not 9-to-5. It’s 24/7,” she says.
Skills Needed to Work in Finance
Finance isn’t for everyone, and you’ll need the right combination of hard and soft skills to be successful.
“You’ve got to be a numbers person for anything in accounting and finance,” Kapur says.
Depending on their role, finance and accounting professionals may use math and statistics on a daily basis. Their jobs may involve creating spreadsheets, developing budgets, forecasting revenue and reconciling accounts.
Many jobs also include working directly with clients, and being able to communicate effectively is essential for these roles.
“My biggest asset with clients is listening,” Leahy says. “You have to listen.”
Attention to detail, problem solving and critical thinking are also key to success in many of the top jobs in finance.
Is Finance a Hard Career?
Whether finance is a difficult career depends on your particular skills and preferences. While there is room for innovation in some financial jobs, others do not leave much room for creativity. After all, as Kapur says, accounting is accounting.
Some people enjoy the challenging and dynamic work of many finance occupations while others may find it to be stressful.
“You have to be able to multitask. You have to have a willingness to learn,” Leahy says. Stagnation isn’t really an option, particularly for financial advisors. The stakes are too high, according to Leahy: “As a wealth advisor, you’re managing not only their money. You’re managing their lives.”
Before committing to a career in finance, it can be smart to discuss job duties with professionals in the field. They can provide a more complete picture of what an occupation entails and how you might spend your days when working in that position.
How to Get a Finance Job
Most finance jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree, typically in a business or finance-related field. However, not every successful professional took that route.
“I came in through the backdoor,” Leahy says. “My degree was in geology.” In 1984, when jobs in that field dried up, she found work as a sales assistant with a financial firm and became fully licensed in 1985.
Today, there may be more competition for jobs. “It’s gotten more difficult if you’re not the cream of the crop,” Leahy says. However, she adds that it remains possible for those with a degree in a different field to break into finance. “From an advisor perspective, it helps to work with an advisor to train,” she suggests.
Entry-level jobs may not necessarily be where you envision your career in the long run, but they can be stepping stones to better opportunities in the future. “I started my career in the start-up world as an analyst,” Kapur says. “You have to be comfortable starting from the bottom and working your way up.”
Getting an advanced degree such as a Master of Business Administration may be required for certain positions, particularly those at the managerial or executive level. However, it may be better to gain some work experience to determine how well you like the field before committing the time and energy needed to earn an MBA.
For accountants, Allec says having a Certified Public Accountant license can open doors to new jobs, but becoming a CPA isn’t required to work in the field.
What Is the Highest Paying Finance Job?
Business and finance jobs, as a whole, pay more than other occupations, and here’s a look at median salaries from some of the finance occupations that made the 100 Best Jobs rankings from U.S. News:
- Financial manager (No. 7): $134,180
- Actuary (No. 20): $111,030
- Accountant (No. 42): $73,560
- Financial analyst (No. 66): $83,660
“Within finance and accounting, the demand for qualified professionals is so high,” Allec says.
That may help drive up salaries for some professionals. Personal financial advisors, financial examiners and financial analysts are among the careers expected to have faster than average growth between 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS.
Is a Career in Finance Worth It?
If you are looking for a career with high-income potential and plenty of job opportunities, finance can be a rewarding field. Many people who excel in this sector find that it fits perfectly with their interests and skills.
“I always loved numbers,” Allec says. “I loved putting things in spreadsheets as a kid so it seemed like a natural direction to go.”
Finance probably isn’t worth it if numbers put you to sleep, but if you enjoy creating budgets, calculating investment returns or planning for your retirement income, a career in finance might be a great way to earn some money doing what you love.