Earning power is often a main driving factor when it comes to choosing a career. If you’re looking to amass your wealth, earning a finance degree and embarking on a career like financial analyst, advisor or manager can help you reach your economic goals. In addition to offering median salaries that far overshadow the wages for all occupations, finance careers may offer the opportunity to earn substantial bonuses and commissions. They can also pave the way toward executive leadership roles, which can bring in the really big bucks. Of course, some of the highest-paying opportunities in the field of finance are in investment banking, particularly on Wall Street.
What to Know About the Highest-Paying Finance Jobs
If you’re aiming for the highest possible salary with a finance degree, here are a few things to keep in mind. These jobs can be financially rewarding, but they can also be stressful, especially when there is a lot of money on the line and your work is the basis for making certain investments, acquisitions and other business moves. If you’re the kind of person who will frequently lie awake at night second-guessing your decisions, finance job roles like financial analyst and personal financial advisor may not be a good fit for you. Your strengths may better fit a job role like tax examiner or financial examiner, where the main concern is legal compliance in the finance industry. Some finance roles, like junior investment banker at major firms on Wall Street, are notorious for long work weeks that, in some instances, approach nearly 100 hours, according to NPR.
Another thing to know is that finishing school doesn’t mean that you’re all done with your education and training in this field. Some finance roles require you to attain and maintain professional licenses, and professional certifications may also be part of your career path. Even if you don’t need a license and you choose not to seek certification, you can never stop learning and developing your professional skills and knowledge in this career. The job market is competitive and the regulations that govern the finance industry change frequently, so as a finance professional, you will have to be prepared to stay on top of new legal and policy changes, market trends and investment opportunities.
For the period from 2020 to 2030, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected jobs for financial specialists as a whole to increase by five percent, but some jobs in finance are seeing much faster rates of job growth than others. While the BLS anticipates jobs for tax examiners to decline by four percent, jobs for financial examiners are predicted to increase by a much faster than average rate of 18 percent.
What Is a Finance Major?
Finance is the college major that focuses on the study of investments and money management. If you’re in the finance business, you necessarily work with money and wealth in some capacity. Often, the work finance majors go on to do involves the quantitative, mathematical and statistical analysis of financial markets, assets and risks.
Generally, the goal of investing or otherwise managing money is to make it grow, amassing wealth for the individual, company or organization. Growing money means managing risks. Investments that offer the greatest potential returns in terms of money growth, such as stock market investments, also pose the risk of financial losses. Bonds, money market accounts and Certificate of Deposit (CD) accounts are among the safest investment options, but they also offer a lower rate of return, which means the money invested doesn’t grow as fast. Finance specialists in different roles have to thoroughly analyze and balance these risks, which makes the field of finance both an art and a science.
A Curriculum in Finance
Studies in finance typically build on core business studies with more specialized major coursework in the finance field. The business core coursework typically consists of lower-division classes that give students a foundation in different areas of business study. Often, these classes include financial accounting, managerial accounting, macroeconomics and microeconomics, marketing, business law and ethics, organizational behavior, strategic management and operations management.
Finance is a heavily quantitative field of study, so don’t be surprised if you are expected to take classes in calculus, statistics for business and economics and the foundations of business analytics.
The specialized classes you take as a finance major are likely to include financial statement analysis, financial modeling and analysis, corporate finance, personal finance, investments and derivatives. You might also study commercial bank management, international financial management or finance for new ventures.
The Average Salary of Finance Majors
Compared to those of other entry-level roles, starting salaries for finance majors are high. Finance graduates in 2019 reported a starting salary of $58,464, with only graduates in the disciplines of engineering, computer science and science and mathematics earning more money, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Different industries tend to pay different starting salaries to finance majors. The information industry was the highest-paying industry for new finance graduates in 2019, with a median salary of $70,000, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported. The next most lucrative industry, management consulting, paid recent finance graduates a median of $62,500.
Finance majors in the food and beverage manufacturing industry made a median salary of $60,750, while those in the finance, insurance and real estate industry earned $60,250. Finance majors starting out in the miscellaneous manufacturing industry made a median wage of $59,000 in their first year in the field, followed by those in the computer and electronics manufacturing industry, for whom the median salary was $58,000,
The three lowest-paying industries for finance majors on which the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported all had median salaries in the mid-$50,000 range. In miscellaneous professional services, recent finance graduates earned a median wage of $56,500. Finance majors working for utilities reported a median wage of $55,000, and those employed in the wholesale trade industry earned a median salary of $54,500.
For investment banking analysts who work in major investment banking firms in their first year after graduating from college, the average total compensation was nearly $200,000, CNBC News reported in 2021. However, investment banker opportunities at major firms like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs are notoriously competitive, CNBC noted.
Total earning potential for investment bankers includes both salary and bonuses. Bonuses in investment banking can easily reach well into the five-figure territory, and salaries are on the rise. CNN reported in 2021 that JPMorgan Chase had announced that it would begin paying first-year analysts a $100,000 salary.
Salaries for Finance Careers
Financial specialists fit several job descriptions and roles. As a whole, financial specialists earned a median annual wage of $73,840 in 2020, the BLS reported.
The Highest-Paying Finance Careers, Ranked
What position financial specialists hold, as well as the amount and quality of education and experience they have, can affect their salary potential. Below are the five highest-paying finance professions, as ranked by the BLS.
- Financial Managers: Financial managers, including finance officers, treasurers, controllers and other job titles, brought home a median salary of $134,180 annually as of 2020, the BLS reported.
- Personal Financial Advisors: Personal financial advisors, who help individuals manage wealth, make investment decisions and plan for the future, earned a median salary of $89,330 per year in 2020, according to the BLS.
- Financial Analysts: Financial analysts, who evaluate the performance of investment opportunities on either the buy-side or the sell-side, earned a median salary of $83,660 per year, according to the BLS.
- Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents: Sales professionals who sell financial products like securities and commodities earned a median salary of $64,770 per year in 2020, the BLS reported, but the median wage specific to the 38 percent of sales agents working in financial investment services industry was $89,740 per year.
- Financial Examiners: The BLS reported a median salary of $81,430 per year for financial examiners in 2020.
In addition to a high salary, many finance professionals receive perks such as company bonuses and commissions. Some financial specialists, like fund managers, earn compensation based on a percentage of the money they manage or the return they achieve for their investors (or both).
Wall Street Wages
Do you consider a $1 million annual salary “rich”? What about $2 million or $5 million? These sorts of salaries may sound extravagant, but they’re not unheard of on Wall Street, Business Insider reported.
Some of the highest-paying Wall Street careers include:
- CCO – Chief Compliance Officer, $1 million to $2 million
- CRO – Chief Risk Officer, $1 million to $3 million
- CTO – Chief Technology Officer, $2 million to $3 million
- Proprietary Trader, $2 million to $3 million
- Hedge Fund Research Head, $2 million to $3 million
- Top Partner, $2 million to $5 million
- Head of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A), $2 million to $6 million
- Head of Investment Banking, $3 million to $8 million
- Chief Hedge Fund Traders, $1 million to $20 million (or more)
These figures were reported based on 2012 data, but salaries have continued to grow since then, especially for those at the top income levels. In 2020, the median annual income reported for the chief executives at the biggest companies in America had climbed to $13.4 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Factors That Increase Salaries for Finance Professionals
Finance majors have a lot of control over how much they stand to make. If you really want to get rich in the field of finance, working in the right industry, earning a master’s degree and getting the relevant professional certifications can help improve your earning potential.
The Best-Paying Industries for Finance Careers
Which industry a finance professional works in can play a large role in determining earning potential. For example, financial analysts who work in securities, commodity contracts and investments earned a median wage of $98,850 annually in 2020, while financial analysts in the credit intermediation industry earned nearly $20,000 less per year, with a median salary of $79,270.
The difference between salaries of financial managers in different industries can also add up to tens of thousands of dollars per year. In professional and scientific services, financial managers made a median wage of $154,790 in 2020, compared to $117,940 among those working for the government. Among personal financial advisors, the highest pay rates existed in the securities, commodity contracts and other financial investments activities, where the BLS reported a median salary of $97,020. For those working in credit intermediation, the BLS reported a significantly lower median salary of $75,730 per year.
For financial examiners, the federal government was the top-paying industry, with a median salary of $124,070 per year as of 2020. Credit intermediation, which employed the largest share of financial examiners, paid a median wage of just $72,560.
The Impact of a Master’s in Finance Degree on Earning Potential
For candidates who currently have only an undergraduate business degree, going on to earn a Master of Business Administration or Master of Finance degree can open new doors to more lucrative job opportunities. The impact of a master’s degree is bigger in some finance careers than others. For example, earning a master’s degree resulted in a wage premium of 89 percent for securities, commodities and financial services sales agents, which translated to a pay boost of $80,000, the BLS reported in 2015. For financial managers, the wage premium that goes along with a master’s degree was 41 percent, which added up to an additional $32,000 per year.
Professional Finance Certifications’ Effects on Income
Attaining a certification like the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) from the CFA Institute can also boost a finance specialist’s career prospects. For portfolio managers with the CFA professional credential, the typical salary reported in 2019 was $126,000, with bonuses raising the total earning potential to $177,000, according to the CFA Institute. Other popular and potentially lucrative finance credentials include the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) credential and the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) designation.
Whether your idea of “rich” is $80,000 per year or $8 million, earning a finance degree can help you attain a job with a high earning potential. Choosing a prestigious school and pursuing an advanced degree can offer you even more – and better paying – job opportunities.
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