Working in finance takes brains, people skills, talent, and ambition. There are plenty of roles in the industry that are suited to people of various skill sets, but the big commonalities in every role are an aptitude for mathematics and good communications skills—a not-so-frequent combination. Careers in finance range from slow and static roles to fast-paced and dynamic.
They often involve calculating risk and using complex mathematical models. If you want to get into finance, the sensible place to start is with a bachelor’s degree in statistics, math, business, or economics. These are the skills that employers will be looking for, and while there are ways to work your way up to higher-level positions without a degree, like being a bank teller, you’ll fast-track your way up with a bachelor’s.
An MBA further expands your options and potential salary, although the prestige of the institution is a big and sometimes prohibitive factor here if you want to claw your way to the top.
MBA programs go further in-depth with the concepts you’ll find taught at the undergraduate level, but they also take an approach that makes it easier to apply what you learn to a career. They cover things like microeconomics, business analysis, advanced financial instruments, and financial computing.
These days, it doesn’t hurt to have at least a passing knowledge of computer science, since much of the financial industry has taken advantage of innovations that have come from Silicon Valley. Any major city in the world has a financial district with job opportunities aplenty. Everyone knows that New York is the financial center of the US and possibly the world, but Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington DC deserve a mention as financial giants.
Frankly, the only place you need to be to have a career in finance is an urban environment. There are careers in finance, like accounting, that one can start in any city or town because they’re necessary for doing all kinds of business. Want to learn all there is to know about finance jobs and how to land one that fits your skillset, sounds fun and interesting, and meets your salary expectations?
Read on for an overview of the finance career landscape!
An actuary is someone who tries to predict the future using math—statistics, to be exact. Companies often need to know the likelihood of a certain event, like injury, death, theft, or lightning strikes, and actuaries are there to provide as sound as possible an estimate of how likely these things are to happen. For example, an insurance company might adjust the cost of an individual’s coverage based on their risk profile.
Actuaries are there to judge, using statistics and probability, just how risky it is to insure someone with their particular characteristics, like age, family history, etc. There are tons of other cases where financial companies need to know how risky something is, like investing, and actuaries can specialize in any area.
The average entry-level salary for an actuary is $83,550 annually, the median is $111,030, and the highest-paid actuaries make $151,606 and up.
To become an actuary, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree in either mathematics, actuarial sciences, statistics, business, or a business-related field. Getting a degree is only the first step to becoming a full-fledged actuary: to start putting your knowledge to use, you have to pass a series of exams from the Society of Actuaries or the Casualty Actuarial Society. These are high-level math tests in probability and statistics that often take years of study and experience to pass.
2. Securities Trader
The life of a securities trader is fast-paced and hectic. The job takes a knack for making decisions under pressure and the shrewdness to see a good trade for what it is. This work can involve huge amounts of money and risk, and the value of the securities that securities traders buy and sell is constantly changing.
They need to have strong analytical skills because a good deal of their work is trying to create the most profitable strategies for trading. Securities traders have to be comfortable as salesmen because they sell their services as traders to clients on behalf of their firms. To oversimplify, securities traders make living finding security they believe will increase in value and reselling them.
Security, in financial jargon, means any asset that can be traded and sold, but in practice, it usually means stocks or bonds. Securities traders typically work for firms, though some work independently and make a commission on their sales profits.
Gone are the olden days of traders working their way up the company ladder without a degree. Now, a four-year degree in accounting, banking, economics, or some finance-related field is necessary, and an MBA certainly won’t hurt. Traders must also pass the Securities Trader Representative Exam before they can begin working for a company.
The median annual income for securities traders is $101,510 annually, and the top 25% of earners make $118,570 or more. The bottom 25% make $74,560 annually or less.
The classic image of the Wall Street trading floor full of people barking offers and struggling to be heard doesn’t match how things are done anymore—it’s all computerized—but the fast pace, thrill, and stress are still there. Brokers do their trading over the phone or online nowadays and work as efficiently as possible between 9:30 pm and 4:00 pm EST while the stock markets are open. Brokers, like traders, deal in securities, but there are some key differences in how being a broker works.
They’re closer to clients than traders, and being a broker requires more salesmanship. They let traders handle more of the actual trading and the role they play at their firm is to find as many clients as possible through advertising and cold-calling.
Brokers must obtain a bachelor’s degree in a finance-related field and pass whatever licensing exams the state they want to work in requires.
If you’re a detail-oriented person who doesn’t understand the word “monotony,” accounting is for you. Jokes aside, accounting is often more interesting than its reputation suggests because the principles that make it up are key to any financial career and are the core of all financial know-how. Accountants are there to keep track of all the inputs and outputs, expenditures and acquisitions, profits and losses, and any piece of financial information is for them to keep track of.
Any business with some financial footprint needs them if it’s going to be viable.
Accounting is a fast-growing field among bachelor’s degree holders in mathematics, statistics, or any finance-related field. It’s not a super-exclusive or competitive career track, and most BA holders should be able to find accounting jobs.
Accountants have a median annual salary of $73,560. The bottom 25% of accountants make $57,110 per year, and the top 25% make $97,530 annually.
5. Financial Planner
Financial planners are there to provide financial wisdom to average people who don’t have a high level of financial expertise. They often have a specific area of expertise like estate law or retirement planning, and they can work for insurance companies, other institutions, or as freelancers. This work requires good people skills and a certain degree of empathy.
Financial planners develop personal relationships with clients, providing sage advice on how to conduct one’s financial life and hopefully take advantage of the opportunities that a sound bank account can bring, like owning property and sending kids to college.
Financial planners are almost like financial social workers, and this is reflected in their qualifications. You can become a financial planner with a BA in a finance-related field or a field like psychology that deals with personal relationships. There are also corporate certifications available for financial planners that give them an edge in the job market.
The median annual income for a financial planner is $84,014. The highest earners make up to $154,000 annually and the lowest make $48,000 annually.
6. Investment Banker
Investment banking is a high-powered career that’s notoriously hard to break into. If you want to be one, you’ve got to have steely resolve and work ethic, smooth persuasion skills, and a sharp analytical mind. The sharp competition in this field means you’ll have to go to the best schools, get the highest grades, and have the richest and most well-connected parents (just kidding).
This job has a well-deserved reputation for being stressful and requiring extreme competence. Institutions hire investment bankers to help them with things like mergers, acquisitions, initial public offerings, raising capital, and all financial concerns that a business might have. They’re essentially financial advisors for large companies.
If you want to be an investment banker, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a finance-related field like math or business and an MBA (master’s of business administration). The MBA will likely have to be from a top school, and you’ll need to distinguish yourself at every step of your career and academic journey if you want to get into, say, NYU Stern School of Business.
While investment banking is one of the highest-paid careers in the world at the top of the field, at the entry-level it starts to seem like a double-edged sword if you consider it from the point of view of hourly pay. Entry-level investment bankers can expect to make up to $100,000 annually, but they work so many hours per week that they often make only $25 to $35 per hour when starting out. In other words, being a workaholic helps in this career.