Is finance a good career path these days? It's a tricky question. Depending on who you ask, you'll get a variety of answers.
One of the most surprising aspects of my two-decade career in financial services at two of the largest brokerage firms was how many career paths there are in the industry.
The financial services industry is not only limited to roles like Financial Advisor, Financial Planner, Finance Analyst, Research Analyst, Investment Banker, Accountant, or other jobs in finance.
Finance is a good career path because there are so many different paths. Many don't even require a finance degree or related coursework. This article explores some lesser-known opportunities in the industry.
Is Finance A Good Career Path? Some Things That Might Surprise You
Many people would be surprised to find out how many career paths there are and how well careers in financial services pay. Most jobs do not require a finance degree or business degree of any kind.
I switched paths often over my 22-year career. I believe in pursuing what is interesting until it no longer is. So I changed directions often. Each time came with a bump in compensation.
A business degree was not necessary for any of the following roles. I do not have a bachelor's degree in finance, yet I did them all. All of this pinballing around raised my income nearly 8x in 22 years.
Financial Advisors need internal customer service. There are many areas within Service. Expertise in finance is generally not required. Positions in Service are easier ways to get your foot in the door.
In Financial Services, there are many roles behind the scenes. Many of these roles are reconciling financial data and financial records. These roles include supporting Tax Reporting, Financial Performance Reporting, Money Movement, Financial Statements, Securities Trading, Trade Corrections, Corporate Actions, Retirement Processing, and Fee Billing.
This position is responsible for developing new products and features. They can be investment products or software. For instance, a financial planning software that either clients, Financial Advisors, or Financial Planners use to develop plans.
Investment Product Risk Manager
This was a role in the Compliance department, but I worked closely with other departments like Investment Banking, Products & Advice, Legal, and Finance. The Financial Services Industry and investment firms are highly regulated. Risk and Compliance are roles I never knew existed before my career began. There are many roles in these areas, and most pay well. Examples of roles within risk management include Financial Risk Manager, Product Risk, Technology Risk, and Credit Risk. For example, a Credit Analyst might oversee whether or not a client is taking on too much debt.
For me, this role was in the Investment Risk department, but these analytical roles exist in all areas of the industry. There are many roles that revolve around analyzing data to report to management. That is common in areas that have anything to do with traditional finance.
Generally, the more entry-level roles are about data mining and reporting. As you progress, however, you will need to have analytical skills.
The basic qualifications are experience or education with data. SQL is helpful, but tools are replacing the need to master it.
There is so much financial data to analyze. I recommend this as one of the best finance career paths in finance.
Product Manager: Advice & Research
Product Managers are in many areas. Product Managers are responsible for either investment products or applications and tools that Financial Advisors and Planners leverage.
A Product Manager in an Advice & Research department partners with stakeholders to determine firm financial advice on topics like: “Maxing out a 401k?” or “asset allocation.”
Program Manager: Investment Advisory
This role focused on managing a $100M program to evolve the firm's investment advisory offerings. I managed project managers and the financial management of the program.
I was responsible for the budgeting, financial modeling, financial reporting, and overall administration of the program. I did not do the forecasting, but I did oversee it.
Would You Say That Financial Professionals Are In Demand?
As long as money exists, our world will need financial professionals to manage it. From experience as an insider at two different financial firms, I know the fastest-growing roles. Compliance, Risk Management, Product Management, Data Science, AI/Machine Learning, and Analytics are hot areas right now. Knowing what I know now about salaries and industry trends, I would focus on these areas if I were in college. Plus, until our society does a better job teaching kids about money, we will need to lean on financial professionals for guidance.
What Career Paths Are Common For Financial Professionals?
Most career paths for financial professionals are either a) finance/accounting at any company or b) positions at financial services firms that require varying degrees of financial knowledge.
There is much opportunity with both. Within option a), there is potential upward movement in the company or the ability to move between companies. Within option b), there is the opportunity to move around from division to division.
The point is that career paths can have unexpected roads to turn down. They don't need to be the path you drew up. I have always believed that if you become what you said you wanted to become career-wise, it means you didn't learn anything along the way. That's not always true, but so often, it is.
New Trends Or Movements In The Financial World
Agile-related positions are gaining momentum. I spent 22 years of my career at two larger financial services firms, and both are shifting to a more agile operating approach. This agile approach was brought from the tech ecosystem and prioritizes small yet diverse purpose-built teams that work autonomously. This is a big trend and a massive opportunity for those who are positioned for it since most people with agile management experience do not have a finance background, while most people in finance are not familiar with agile.
Skills And Traits That Make Someone A Good Fit For A Financial Career
Financial Services has so many career paths that any skills and traits make someone a good fit. The challenge is realizing which all positions even exist.
Everyone is aware of the stereotypical Finance positions such as Financial Analyst, Accounting, Research, etc. But that is just the tip of the iceberg of what exists. Portability, adaptability, and desire to learn are excellent traits for anyone in any career. Interpersonal skills are also helpful.
Finance is a good career path because there is so much opportunity. There are opportunities even if you don't know much about finance or investing.
What Factors Can Impact Your Salary In Financial Careers?
In my 22+ years in Financial Services, I noticed three core factors that impact someone's salary.
- Being strong in finance but not being in a traditional finance role.
- The closer you are to supporting “the field,” the higher the income. That becomes especially true when it comes to bonuses.
- Risk and Compliance positions. These positions aren't as desirable because they aren't glamorous. But they are necessary, so they pay well.
What Impact Can Certification Have On Your Financial Career?
In financial services, certifications are where I have seen the highest return on investment. Certified Financial Planners and Chartered Financial Analysts are significant designations to have. I am a CFA.
Each time I took it (it consisted of 3 tough exams), I received a significant pay boost. A Chartered Financial Analyst or Certified Financial Planner designation is not only credible letters to have behind your name, but studying for them legitimately increases your knowledge base. This knowledge shortens your learning curve. I am a big advocate of both.
To a lesser extent (in Financial Services), different FINRA licenses are helpful. I held several, but they are not as valuable as a CFP or CFA.
A Certified Public Accountant also opens up many doors in accounting and finance. A CPA was a common designation for senior management.
The return on investment of these designations is also considerably higher than a Finance Degree (especially a Master's Degree).
How Can Earning An Advanced Degree Impact Your Career In Finance?
It depends on what the advanced degree is. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is typical. An Advanced Degree in data-related fields is highly impactful.
Someone interested in being a generalist should pursue an MBA. Many of the people I worked with had an MBA vs. those that did not have two noticeable advantages: they were better at public speaking and had a better network.
Many finance jobs that people readily think of are also competitive. It may be because so many other positions in finance are not widely known. That may impact the work-life balance of job seekers focused on the popular roles in the finance industry like securities analyst, investment analyst, and investment banker.
During my career in finance, I earned the same salary as these more popular positions but worked fewer hours and did not have a major in finance.
Finance is a great career path if you understand how many career paths exist in finance. This article only touched on a few. There are also roles in Marketing, Communications, Legal, Financial Advisor Development, Human Resources, Recruiting, etc. None of these require expertise in finance.
This article also didn't even touch on all of the finance careers in public accounting, financial accounting, accounts payable, payroll, auditing, or sales. It is also rewarding knowing that you are helping financial advisors help clients with their money.
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Greg is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) with 22+ years of experience in Financial Services. He has held numerous FINRA Securities licenses (series 7, 63, 65, and 66) and is an investment product and financial planning expert. Greg has 22+ years of experience as a real estate investor and degrees in Psychology and Philosophy. Greg and his wife Erin own ChaChingQueen and ClothDiaperBasics.