Financial Manager: What is this career like?

A master’s degree in accounting provides you with a wide range of career opportunities well beyond accounting. One of the most prestigious and highly sought after is financial manager.

While both accountants and financial managers deal with similar tasks in their respective positions — such as data analysis and producing financial reports and statements related to business activity — financial managers are more involved in decision-making processes that can have repercussions for the entire company. These include establishing long-term financial goals, cash management, and monitoring financial details to ensure certain legal requirements are met, as noted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With the number of financial managers actively employed expected to swell substantially over the next 10 years — the BLS predicts 16% growth between 2018 and 2028, far faster than the national average among all professions — you may wonder how to become a financial manager. An online Master of Accounting aid you along your career-improvement journey. The rigorous curriculum and practical tools available through the Collat School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham provide the skills and competence employers seek in financial manager candidates.

How to become a financial manager

From directing investment activities to analyzing real estate market trends, the duties and responsibilities of financial managers can be both broad and specific. Some are so specialized that they usually are part of a specific role. For example, a cash manager primarily deals with the ongoing flow of money into (and out of) an organization, while a risk manager deals with more analytic tasks, helping their employer make smart decisions related to investments so they can develop strategies and plans for the future.

As a result, there may be some variation in terms of the qualifications needed to specialize in a specific aspect of financial management. Generally speaking, however, employers require at a minimum a bachelor’s degree in accounting, economics, or business administration, according to the BLS. Organizations seeking a financial manager typically also prefer that candidates come from experience, ideally five years or more in a work environment. Candidates with a master’s degree, preferably in business administration, economics, or accounting, may be given priority because the credential corroborates their capabilities, competency, and overall aptitude. Between a bachelor’s degree, master’s, and relevant work experience, it can take 10 years or more to become a financial manager.

Businessmen and women in office huddled around desk looking at a computer monitor

What may further set aspiring financial managers apart from their competitors is special licensing or certification. For example, if you’re looking to become a Chartered Financial Analyst, the CFA Institute offers programs that can give you CFA status. Similarly, the Association for Financial Professionals offers its own licensing. Whereas a Certified Treasury Professional requires two years of work experience — among other qualifications — you must have at least four years of experience to earn a CFA designation.

Investments by their very nature carry risk; the job of a financial risk manager is to minimize it to the best of their ability by reducing exposure. Because they must have a mastery of complicated concepts and industries, employers typically prefer that they have a master’s degree in business administration, accounting, finance, or economics, reported. While a bachelor’s degree in finance-related matters may be sufficient, the competitive nature of this position makes a master’s degree worthwhile.

In addition to the book smarts that are attainable with a degree from a college or university, financial managers should also have certain non-academic skills that can help them do their jobs more effectively. Here are a few qualities that business like to see from financial managers, as detailed by the BLS:

  1. Communication skills In certain ways, finances can be a language all its own, filled with complicated jargon and details that can be difficult to understand and digest. Financial managers must be able to simplify concepts so they’re easier to comprehend and grasp. This may be done verbally or by using straightforward analysis methods and software.
  2. Detail oriented Balance sheets. Profit and loss summaries. Invoices. Statements of changes in equity. All of these documents are very specific and must be accurate, as executives often make far-reaching decisions based on what the numbers tell them. Financial managers need to be precise and meticulous when gathering data so errors are avoided.
  3. Highly organized The paperless era ushered in by cloud computing and state-of-the-art software has helped to reduce clutter, but data is as prevalent as ever. As a result, financial managers must use smart processes and tools that can help them keep track of reports, invoices, receivables, and payables.
  4. Technological proficiency Because so much of what financial managers use to keep track of data involves technology, they should ideally be proficient in accounting software and how it works. As noted by Robert Half, more than 85% of chief financial officers consider business analytics to be a mandatory skill set for staff in finance-related positions.

“The volume of information and available analytics tools are resulting in new insights and better processes for organizations,” explained Steve Saah, finance and accounting executive director for Robert Half. “With access to new data and technologies, teams are able to spend less time on manual tasks and focus on higher-value work.”

How much do you stand to earn as a financial manager?

Financial managers frequently work long hours, but they’re typically well paid for their efforts. Based on the most recent figures available from the BLS, the median annual wage for financial managers in May 2019 was $129,890. The lowest 10% made an annual salary above the national median among all professions at $68,370, while the highest percentage earned north of $208,000.

If you want to elevate your career as a financial manager, a master’s in accounting from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business can give you a big boost. Take the first step and apply to UAB’s online program today.


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Robert Half

Bureau of Labor Statistics