Careers in Finance
Finance professionals can be found working in all segments of the economy, from public corporations to private nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and services to individuals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has estimated that there are nearly 1.5 million professionals employed in the US across the major finance job categories of actuaries; budget analysts; financial and investment analysts, financial risk specialists, and financial specialists; financial managers; insurance underwriters; and personal financial advisors.1-6
While some entry-level finance careers such as loan officer and investment advisor do not always require a college degree, having at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in finance is a smart career move that can make you a more competitive applicant and better position you for advancement. Some careers in finance, particularly advanced careers such as financial analyst or controller, generally require a master’s degree. Learn more about the various career tracks in finance along with job and salary outlooks below.
Table of Contents
- Types of Finance Careers
- Job Outlook for Financial Professionals
- Licensure and Certifications in Finance
- Finance Salary and Outlook by State
- Additional Resources
- Frequently Asked Questions
Types of Finance Careers
A degree in finance can open many doors and differentiate you from other candidates in a competitive job market. Graduates of finance degree programs work in various areas of the industry, including asset management, investment banking, portfolio analysis, commercial banking, corporate finance, venture capital, private equity, hedge funds, and commercial real estate. Organizations that hire finance grads include government agencies, banks, investment brokers, mortgage companies, and corporations.
Financial professionals most commonly work in corporate or commercial finance, public/government finance, investments, and insurance. There is significant overlap between these categories: an asset manager or financial analyst, for example, might find work in any of these industries. As another example, an asset manager who is working for a publicly-traded insurance company is working in insurance, investments, and corporate finance at the same time. In addition, due to the Great Recession, ongoing mergers and acquisitions, and changes in securities laws, the divisions between commercial, investment, and retail banking and finance services have gradually blurred in recent years. As a result, large companies may offer opportunities in multiple lateral and/or vertical areas. Keeping this in mind, while this page generally groups careers under certain umbrellas, these should not be taken as hard and fast rules as to where a given job fits in the constellation of finance careers.
The following table highlights some of the major types of finance careers, along with the typical education recommended, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment information, and the average annual salary for each.
|Occupation||Typical Education Recommended1-18||US Number Employed1-18||Avg.|
Annual Job Openings19
|Budget Analyst||Bachelor’s (64%)||55,400||1,900||$78,970||Bank, CorpFin, Insur, Invest|
|Chief Financial Officer||Master’s||N.Av.||N.Av.||$211,250||Bank, CorpFin, Insur, Invest|
|Claims Adjuster, Appraiser, Examiner, or Investigator||Bachelor’s||348,800||-22,000||$68,270||Insurance|
|Credit Analyst||Bachelor’s (95%)||72,090||N.Av.||$74,970||Corporate Finance|
|Financial Analyst||Bachelor’s to Master’s||487,800||26,800||$83,660||Bank, CorpFin, Insur, Invest|
|Financial Examiner||Bachelor’s (87%)||66,900||4,900||$81,430||Bank, CorpFin, Insur, Invest|
|Financial Manager||Bachelor’s||697,900||108,100||$134,180||Corporate Finance|
|Insurance Underwriter||Bachelor’s (70%)||114,700||-7,100||$71,790||Insurance|
|Loan Officer||Bachelor’s (69%)||316,900||10,100||$63,960||Banking|
|Personal Financial Advisor||Bachelor’s (52%)||263,000||11,600||$89,330||Investments|
- N.Av. indicates no data available.
- Key: Bank = Banking; CorpFin = Corporate Finance; Insur = Insurance; Invest = Investments
Actuaries, sometimes called risk analysts, analyze risk using math and financial theory to help a company make pricing or financial decisions. While it is common to find actuaries in the insurance field, it is also becoming common to find them working as risk analysts in other corporate and public finance settings. Within insurance, actuaries ensure prices for policies are set to a level that will cover all claims and still return a profit, taking into account individual policies, policies grouped as investment vehicles, and regional and national exposure to hazards. At least an undergraduate degree is typically required to become an actuary or risk analyst, usually in mathematics, statistics, or actuarial science, but advancement in this career can be dependent on passing a series of actuarial exams that require a significant amount of preparation. A master’s degree is also becoming a more common requirement.
Budget analysts work in government, private companies, or schools to advise officials or top executives of organizations about the state of their finances and help them develop budgets to meet future goals. They may review budget proposals from managers, ensure compliance with laws and regulations, and monitor spending compared to the budget. Budget analysts also act as consultants for organizations by communicating recommendations based on their technical expertise and analyses.
Chief Financial Officer
Chief financial officers (CFOs) oversee the overall financial health of organizations and have primary responsibility for managing, planning, and reporting on an organization’s finances. CFOs are senior executives who typically have significant experience in accounting and finance (10 or more years in the workforce plus a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is common for this position). CFOs take an active role in business planning, particularly in relation to financial forecasting, budgeting, and company strategy. According to Robert Half, the median salary for CFOs in corporate accounting as of 2020 was $211,250 per year.20 The top 5% of CFOs in this sector made $517,750 or more, while the lowest quartile of CFOs made $174,750 or less.20
Claims Adjuster, Appraiser, Examiner, or Investigator
Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators review liability or insurance claims to determine if they are eligible for reimbursement. They collect information on submitted claims and review the policy to determine eligibility. Claims adjusters also negotiate claim payments and ensure payment accuracy. A bachelor’s degree is normally the minimum requirement for this position, but master’s degree holders may command higher salaries. Claims adjusters earned a median of $68,270 per year in 2020, but claims adjusters in the federal government may expect more competitive salaries, as the median for these professionals was reported at $79,830 per year in the same time period.20
The credit analyst is responsible for managing the credit that is extended from a business to its customers, which can involve setting credit limits and examining past credit history to determine creditworthiness. Credit analysts may also be responsible for setting policies for when to extend or decline credit and writing profit and loss statements based on loan activity. They may be employed by commercial or investment banks as well as investment or credit card companies.
“Financial analyst” is a broad term that includes several finance careers focused on providing investment recommendations, including fund manager, rating analyst, junior investment banker, and portfolio manager. Financial analysts use a variety of tactics to provide investment advice, including forecasting trends, evaluating financial data, and assessing a company or investment vehicle’s competitiveness, tasks that fall under the larger umbrella of “equity research.” Financial analysts, especially economic financial analysts, can often be found working in public finance for local, state, and national government entities. A bachelor’s degree is typically the minimum requirement to become a financial analyst, but advancement commonly requires a master’s in finance.10,18 Financial analysts commonly work in a specific area of finance, and may have different job titles reflecting a specialist role. These include:
- Investment Banking Analyst: Assists with high-level financial activities like taking companies public, running private auctions, issuing bonds, recapitalizing, and corporate mergers. They create complex financial models in support of deals on client teams under the guidance of an associate, manager, or vice president.
- Private Banker: Manages the client portfolios of high-net-worth professionals, working with other analysts and managers to develop complex and profitable investment strategies.
- Venture Capital (VC) or Private Equity (PE) Analyst: An entry-level position that provides analytical and deal support to project teams, evaluating investment opportunities or portfolio companies. VC focuses on early-stage companies, while PE is focused on more established companies (funds range from mid-stage startups to large cap turnarounds).
Financial examiners evaluate the condition of banks or other financial institutions by reviewing their financial documents and reports. They ensure that the institutions for which they work comply with applicable laws, especially those related to financial reporting and record-keeping. They may participate in financial “stress tests,” such as those that are commonly required for major banks and other financial institutions, as well as perform other auditing and reporting functions. Most financial examiners either work in risk assessment or consumer compliance.
Financial managers can be found across a variety of industries since every organization needs to meet its financial goals. Financial managers analyze data and advise senior managers and executives on how to maximize the company’s profits. The category of financial manager is quite broad and is used as an umbrella term that includes the following types of managers:
- Asset Manager: Provides wealth management services to high net worth individuals, corporations, and organizations based on financial planning and analysis.
- Cash Manager: Tracks the cash flow for an enterprise and determines when and where capital is needed for business operations or investments.
- Controller: Prepares financial reports for an organization to evaluate and forecast its financial position.
- Credit Manager: Manages the credit business of an organization by setting credit limits and monitoring past-due accounts.
- Finance Officer or Treasurer: Oversees the budgets for an organization to ensure it is meeting its financial goals.
- Investment Banking Manager: Manages a team of i-bankers while overseeing new business development and managing existing client relationships. Position requires strong analytical, project management, and personnel management skills. Long hours and travel are usually expected.
- Investment Manager: Oversees a portfolio of securities and assets with the goal of meeting investment goals.
- Investor Relations Manager: Enables effective communication between their company and the stockholders or investors that the company serves.
- Insurance Manager: Manages insurance claims for a company by attempting to cut losses and protecting against risk.
- Risk Manager: Uses investment strategies to minimize the chances of financial loss, especially due to currency and commodity price fluctuations.
- Trust Manager: Oversees corporate, municipal, or individual trusts.
- Venture Capital (VC) or Private Equity (PE) Manager: Monitors market trends, assesses and evaluates portfolio companies and investment opportunities, and oversees outreach to prospects and investors. Titles can include associate, investor, partner, general manager, director, and vice president.
Insurance underwriters review insurance applications to determine whether or not to offer insurance to an applicant, along with the price to charge for coverage. They may analyze data such as the value of the property, vehicle, or person to be insured and evaluate the associated risk. They try to strike a balance between risk and caution in order to protect the insurance company for whom they work, but also to earn money for the company through insurance premiums.
Loan officers work for large and small commercial banks, mortgage companies, and savings institutions. Their job is to evaluate applications for personal and business loans and decide whether or not to recommend approval for the loan. The evaluation process they use to make their recommendations is called underwriting. They verify financial documents accompanying the applications, research the applicants’ financial status, and use underwriting software to complete the approval process. They also help to guide customers through the application process by answering questions and asking for additional information if needed to recommend the loan. They also try to sell loans to new businesses and clients by marketing their institution’s products. The three main types of loan officers are commercial loan officers, who specialize in business loans; consumer loan officers, who specialize in personal loans such as car loans; and mortgage loan officers, who specialize in real estate loans. A closely-related career is that of commercial banker, sometimes called retail banker. These professionals provide common banking services, from opening accounts and issuing loans to establishing lines of credit and working in new business development.
Personal Financial Advisor
Personal financial advisors (PFAs), also known as financial planners, advise clients on financial decisions including how to effectively invest their money, how to save for retirement and college funds, and estate planning. Financial advisors meet with clients, analyze investment goals, and help them plan for the future. They specialize in risk management, planning for life changes and unforeseen costs like emergencies or illnesses, and should understand the unique goals of each of their clients so that they can advise accordingly. According to the BLS, people who are interested in becoming personal financial planners should have a bachelor’s degree, though a master’s degree and/or certification may improve prospects. In addition to a degree, many financial advisors seek certification and licensure; licensure with the state and/or the SEC is required in order to execute trades for others on the stock markets.
Job Outlook for Finance Professionals
The job outlook for finance professionals is largely positive. Job growth of 7% is expected for financial advisors through 2028, equating to 19,100 new jobs added to the workforce during this time period.19 Including replacements as financial advisors move to other opportunities, there are expected to be 23,200 average annual openings in this field in the decade ending in 2028.19 Financial analysts are another bright spot; 20,300 new financial analyst jobs are expected through 2028, bringing the total number of analysts in the US from 329,500 to 349,800.19 When including replacements, 30,900 average annual openings are anticipated.19 Jobs for financial managers are expected to exceed even this growth, with a growth rate of 16%–much faster than national averages–projected through 2028, equating to 104,700 jobs added to the workforce.19 With replacements, it is expected that there will be 64,900 average annual openings for financial managers.19 These statistics indicate that the national job market will value finance grads in the coming years.
Licensure and Certifications in Finance
In addition to earning a bachelor’s in finance or master’s in finance, many finance professionals earn one or more industry certifications or licenses. Whereas certifications in finance are for the most part voluntary, in certain areas, licenses may be required by state or federal bodies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The web of licenses and certifications is quite complex; while we provide an overview here, it is not exhaustive and you should contact the appropriate state or federal board for financial professionals with any additional questions.
Overview of Licensure in Finance
The most common types of licensure in finance are for financial advisors and planners; however, other types of financial professionals may need authorization from their state or a federal governing body. As noted above, you should always verify requirements for your specific situation with the appropriate licensing agency. Many exams for financial advisors also require the sponsorship of a broker-dealer, meaning you must be employed by a broker-dealer in order to take such an exam. With that in mind, the following are some commonly-encountered licenses in finance.
- Insurance Producer’s License: All states require that sellers of insurance products be licensed at the state level; the type of license will vary by state and the of insurance products to be sold, though many states use the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR). Some related careers in insurance will also require licensure.
- Mortgage Loan Originator (MLO): In the wake of the Great Recession, all 50 states and Washington DC passed laws requiring mortgage underwriters to become licensed. The licensing system is both state and national and is overseen by the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System & Registry (NMLS); your employer should guide you through the registration process, as it requires an institutional affiliation with a bank or other finance company.
- Series 7: Required by the SEC and overseen by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Series 7 allows financial advisors, stockbrokers, and traders to trade most types of securities. A Series 7 is required for certain corporate officers, even if they do not directly trade. This license is often called the “gold standard” because of the breadth of investment vehicles it allows the holder to trade.
- Series 63/State Financial Advisor Registration: Financial advisors typically must pass the Series 63 and other appropriate exam(s) for their desired activities and will register with either the state or the SEC in the Investment Adviser Registration Depository (IARD). State authorization is usually superseded by SEC authorization; these circumstances are based on activities, assets under management, and other qualifiers.
- Series 65/66: Required in certain circumstances by the SEC, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) Series 65 (66 if the holder has a Series 7) is required for financial advisors who are compensated based on fees rather than commission. This can be waived for holders who have certain voluntary certifications, such as the Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) or Certified Financial Planner (CFP) (see Certifications, below).
Overview of Certifications in Finance
There are numerous certifications that finance professionals may be interested in pursuing. While not required by law, many employers require certain certifications in order to consider applicants for select positions. Certification can also be helpful in promoting career advancement; many of the below organizations also offer professional membership options that can assist professional development. Certifications in finance include:
- Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement (CIPM): Run by the CFA Institute, the CIPM demonstrates holders’ skills in portfolio evaluation and management.
- Certified Corporate Financial Planning & Analysis Professional (FP&A): Specifically for individuals working in corporate financial planning and analysis, this credential is based on work experience and education as well as passing two exams.
- Certified Financial Analyst (CFA): Run by the CFA Institute and one of the most competitive certifications in finance, the CFA is widely held to prove holders’ skills in investment analysis and portfolio management. While many register for the exam, only about 15% of test-takers complete the rigorous three-test series; as a result, there are only about 167,000 CFA charterholders worldwide.15
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP): CFP certification, which is overseen by the CFP Board, covers technical and analytical knowledge as well as ethics; to take the CFP exam, candidates must have thousands of hours of financial work experience and meet strict qualifications.
- Certified Treasury Professional (CTP): Globally-recognized industry certification for professionals working in corporate treasury roles, with an emphasis on risk management.
- Chartered Market Technician (CMT): The CMT is offered at three levels and is targeted at those working in technical analytical roles in investments and financial services.
- International Public Financial Management (IPFM): Offered by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA), the globally-recognized IPFM is designed specifically for public finance professionals.
- Series 86/87: While not required, many firms will sponsor research analysts for the FINRA Series 86/87 exams. These exams are held as being roughly equivalent to a Level II CFA charter.
Finance Salary and Outlook by State
The sortable table below includes data on finance salaries by state, using financial analysts as a proxy. Earnings potential may be higher or lower depending on the specific financial occupation. The table also considers the job growth rate for financial analysts as well as the cost of living as measured by the average salary for financial analysts and the median home list price within a state. The national average is set to a benchmark of 1.0, meaning that a score above 1.0 may indicate a relatively positive outlook and buying power for finance professionals in a given state.
|Rank||StateUS Average||Financial Analyst Avg. Salary (2019)7$94,160||Zillow Home Value Index (2020)21$263,351||% of Zillow Home Value Avg. Salary Buys36%||2018 Financial Analysts Employed19329,500||2028 Financial Analysts Projected 19349,800||10-Year Growth Rate (2018-|
|Best States for|
Financial Analysts (Avg=1)1.00
- American Finance Association (AFA): Promotes the academic study of financial economics.
- American Financial Services Association (ASFA): The premiere association for professionals in the consumer credit industry, advocates for rational credit policies in loans, vehicle financing, mortgages, and other lines of credit.
- Association for Finance Professionals (AFP): National association providing ongoing professional development, career planning, research, and finance tools to its membership.
- FinanceDegreePrograms Job Board: Our jobs board provides new openings every day for finance professionals across the US.
- Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board): Maintains the CFP certification program and offers continuing education.
- Chartered Financial Analyst Institute (CFA Institute): Provides education guidelines and testing for the CFA credential, as well as other professional development opportunities.
- Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA): Represents the interests of public finance professionals across the US and Canada.
- Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA): A member-driven association focused on the needs and development of finance professionals working in healthcare settings.
- Financial Management Association (FMA): Seeks to promote sound financial practices, finance research, and cooperation between academics and professionals in finance.
- Fund Finance Association (FFA): Specialty association focusing on the needs of investors, fund managers, and bankers in fund finance markets that hosts symposia and networking conferences.
- Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): Protects investors by regulating investment vehicles and capital and trading markets in the US.
- Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA): “The voice of the nation’s security industry,” offers its members professional development opportunities while advocating for effective policies governing capital markets.
Frequently Asked Questions
What degree do I need for a career in finance?
The degree required for a finance career depends on the role you would like to pursue. Some roles, such as mortgage loan officer or financial advisor, require only a high school diploma and some form of professional certification and licensure. Other roles, such as investment manager or investment banker, more commonly require a bachelor’s degree. Still other roles commonly call for a master’s degree, such as corporate controller or treasury officer. Research jobs in your area to develop a better understanding of common requirements; you can get started with our job board.
What is the typical salary for finance professionals?
Salaries for finance professionals vary widely based on factors including education, experience, geographic area, and certification(s) or license(s) required. As you might expect, salaries typically trend with education: the higher level of degree required, the higher salaries are likely to be. For example, mortgage underwriters (who typically can find employment at the entry level with a high school diploma) earn a median of $65,250, while credit risk analysts (who typically have at least a bachelor’s and commonly have a master’s) are among the highest-paying finance careers, with a median of $101,500 per year.20 However, job market forces such as supply and demand and economic outlook can (and do) influence salaries locally and nationally. Check resources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for up-to-date statistics on salaries by occupation and geographic area.
What are some careers with a finance degree?
Roles in finance can be found in many different industries and types of companies. Whether in publicly-traded companies, private investment groups, or government agencies, finance professionals help inform the decisions that drive the economy. In financial services, you can find finance professionals working as financial advisors, tax planners, investment managers. In insurance, you will find actuaries and risk analysts, underwriters, and risk managers. In the corporate world, there are opportunities for financial analysts, credit managers, and controllers. These roles and many others become possible with a degree in finance.
What are some entry-level finance careers?
With a high school diploma, many people are successful landing finance careers such as mortgage underwriter, loan officer, loan processor, financial advisor, and claims analyst. With an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, the number of entry-level jobs in finance expands: careers at this level include investment banker, private banker, investment manager, actuary/risk analyst, and more.
What are the highest-paying finance careers?
The highest-paying finance careers are typically found in the C-Suite, with top executives reporting an average salary of $163,410 per year, and chief executives reporting an average salary of $227,680 per year.22 General and operations managers, who frequently have a finance or related degree, earn an average of $156,420 per year.22 Most of those who reach this career level have a master’s or advanced degree in finance plus significant job experience.
How much do entry-level finance jobs pay?
While many jobs in finance require at least a bachelor’s degree, there are also entry-level careers that are typically attainable with an associate’s degree or the equivalent combination of education and experience. These include credit counselors, who earn an average of $52,730 per year; billing and posting clerks, who earn an average of $40,850 per year; and financial clerks, who earn an average of $47,310 per year.22
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Actuaries: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes152011.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Budget Analysts: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132031.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Financial and Investment Analysts, Financial Risk Specialists, and Financial Specialists, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132098.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Financial Managers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes113031.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Insurance Underwriters: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/insurance-underwriters.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Personal Financial Advisors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132052.htm
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Financial Analysts: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-analysts.Htm#tab-4
8. O*NET OnLine, Actuaries, 2019: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-2011.00
9. O*NET OnLine, Budget Analysts, 2019: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2031.00
10. O*NET OnLine, Credit Analysts, 2019: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2041.00
11. O*NET OnLine, Financial Quantitative Analysts, 2019: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2099.01
12. O*NET OnLine, Financial Examiners, 2019: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2061.00
13. O*NET OnLine, Insurance Underwriters, 2019: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2053.00
14. O*NET OnLine, Loan Officers, 2019: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2072.00
15. O*NET OnLine, Personal Financial Advisors, 2019: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2052.00
16. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Financial Examiners: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132061.htm
17. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Loan Officers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132072.htm
18. O*NET OnLine, Financial Quantitative Analysts, 2019: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2099.01
19. Projections Central, Long-Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
20. Robert Half Salary Guide 2020, Accounting and Finance: https://www.roberthalf.com/salary-guide
21. Zillow Home Values, November 2020: https://www.zillow.com/home-values/
22. Bureau of Labor Statistics National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Finance and Insurance, 2019: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/naics2_52.htm