Financial analyst is one of the highest-paying jobs in the business and finance occupations. If you want to work in this highly analytical, data- and numbers-driven career, you need at least a bachelor’s degree in a quantitative field like finance, accounting, math or economics, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The Career Field of Financial Analysis
A financial analyst is a professional in the business and finance world who investigates investment opportunities and recommends them to individuals or organizations that are interested in investing their money and assets. Having a lucky hunch may bring you some good fortune when it comes to your own investments, but real financial analysts base their professional investment recommendations on thorough assessments of hard data. They consider all kinds of quantitative data, from historical financial data to current business and economic trends, the BLS reported.
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Financial analysts go by different titles, including investment analyst and securities analyst. Those who help companies make investment decisions are known as buy-side financial analysts, while those who sell investments themselves are called sell-side analysts, the BLS reported. With experience, financial analysts can move up into roles like portfolio manager and fund manager, which involve taking on greater job responsibilities in investment management.
The median wage for all financial analysts is $84,300, but the 24 percent who work in the industry of securities, commodity contracts and financial investments activities enjoy a six-figure median salary, the BLS reported.
It makes sense that finance, the field that focuses on managing money, would be a great choice for aspiring financial analysts. Finance is the major that explores investments and portfolios in the greatest depth, helping students to grasp the differences between these sometimes tricky types of assets and investments. In an undergraduate degree program in finance, you will also take classes in financial markets and structures, international finance, corporate finance and restructuring, financial institution management, financial reporting and analysis and financial modeling. Security valuation and the finance of real estate are a couple of the types of investments you may study as a finance major. Most undergraduate finance programs also include core coursework in general business.
The primary reason general business is not a recommended major for aspiring financial analysts is because the major usually doesn’t include enough of an emphasis on math and quantitative skills, while finance is a math-heavy business subject.
Like finance, accounting is a major that involves plenty of working with numbers. Accountants and auditors are considered financial specialists in their own right, according to the BLS. Given their primary focus on financial reporting, it’s not such a stretch for accounting majors to transfer their skills to the financial analyst career. In fact, one of the biggest differences between finance and accounting is the goal of these two fields. The purpose of accounting is to produce documents that report on an organization’s or individual’s finances, while the purpose of the finance field is to use those reports and other data to grow assets through investing. Accounting majors usually take classes in accounting principles and practices, managerial accounting, financial accounting, cost accounting, government accounting, auditing and taxation.
Transitioning from accounting to financial analysis can be as a lucrative career shift, since the BLS reports that accountants and auditors earn a median salary of $69,350 – almost $15,000 per year less than that of financial analysts.
Mathematics and Statistics Degrees
Math skills are some of the most important abilities you can have as an aspiring financial analyst, according to the BLS. You need these skills to track and interpret the performance of investments and to calculate the value of financial securities and of companies. Regardless of your declared major, if you want to be a financial analyst, you should expect to take significant college coursework in linear algebra, calculus and statistics, according to The Houston Chronicle. You will need to apply your math knowledge, such as linear regression and statistical analysis techniques, to evaluate and understand the data used to make investment recommendations.
You might be surprised at the overlap between mathematics and finance degree programs. Like finance majors, math majors develop their quantitative analysis skills and learn to use mathematical modeling and statistical analysis software.
Another field of study that can prepare you for a financial analyst career is economics. Economics, the study of resources and scarcity, is partly a study of human behavior, with a focus on why humans use money and other resources in certain ways, and partly a field of business. Studies in mathematics and statistics also play a role in economics degree programs, so students should plan to take at least one course in both of these disciplines – and potentially, many more math and statistics classes.
How much math you would need as an economics major varies considerably from one program to another. If you’re interested in financial analysis, a more math-heavy economics program might be a better fit, since it will help you develop your math skills.