People decide to pursue higher education for a variety of reasons. One of the more common ones is to give themselves more options when it comes to finding a job upon graduation.
Choosing finance as your major affords you an incredible number of opportunities in the working world. From work in government agencies as a budget analyst to positions on Wall Street as an investment banker, the potential careers in finance are innumerable.
With an online Bachelor of Science in Finance from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business, you’re well on your way to a rewarding career in the financial services sector. Whether you’re switching professions or are freshly out of high school, the 100% online degree program at UAB will supply you with the competencies that can give you a competitive edge once you start submitting your resume to potential employers in the finance industry.
Do you have an idea of the careers in finance you’d like to pursue? If not, here are a few you may want to consider, several of which are high paying.
The role of accountant is often what first comes to mind regarding careers in finance. Accountants perform a wide variety of functions and are found in sectors beyond the finance industry specifically. Their primary responsibilities involve examining and analyzing financial statements, tax records, and other financial data. They also must be keenly aware of compliance protocols to ensure that documents are filled in correctly and businesses adhere to certain regulations.
Tara Goodfellow, a former finance professional and founder of Athena Consultants, told The Muse that accountants are ubiquitous; every industry needs one. This is part of what makes accounting an alluring occupation — they’re almost always in demand.
Accounting can also be high paying. In 2020, for example, the median salary for accountants was $73,560 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s considerably more than the median wage in the U.S. overall, which is $51,168.
While no industry may be 100% recession-proof, real estate is certainly close; people will always need homes. And because they do, they’ll also need money to buy them. Loan officers help turn homeownership aspirations into reality. Among other functionalities, loan officers authorize, evaluate, and recommend approval or denial of loan applications. They do this by evaluating mortgage applicants’ financial information, such as their credit report and income taxes. Loan officers’ principal responsibility is assuring that prospective borrowers have the money to pay back the loan, assuming they’re approved.
While buyers can pay for their house all in cash, homeowners usually take out a mortgage. According to the most recent figures available from the Urban Institute, nearly 63% of homeowners used a loan to purchase their property. This fact speaks to the value of loan officers, the overwhelming majority of whom are employed by banks and mortgage origination companies. According to BLS data, 83% of loan officers work for credit intermediation entities. These include commercial banks, savings institutions, and mortgage companies.
As for how much they earn, the median pay for loan officers in 2020 was $63,960, based on figures compiled by the BLS. Similar to other professions — both inside and outside of the finance industry — salary ranges can vary widely depending on years of experience. For example, an entry-level loan officer will typically make less than someone who has worked in this capacity for several years.
Similar to accountants, actuaries are found in numerous industries, including corporate finance, health care, investment banking, and insurance. Many of the decisions that business owners make involve some level of risk. Actuaries’ job is to analyze those risks by leveraging mathematics, statistics, and financial theory. They also assist with risk management through the formulation of policies designed to minimize risk.
An industry that regularly leverages actuaries is insurance, be it health, auto, or property insurers. Using historical data and other financial information, an actuary might help an insurer determine the expected number of claims in a given year so the proper resources can be allocated. They may do this through a combination of tools and technologies, such as predictive analytics and predictive modeling.
The finance and insurance sectors represent the vast majority of where actuaries work, according to BLS data. Over 70% are employed in these environments. They’re also in high demand. The BLS anticipates the profession is poised to grow by 18% between 2019 and 2029. It’s a high-paying occupation as well, with the median annual pay in 2020 averaging around $111,000.
Financial analysts are similarly found in many different sectors. The goal of any business is to make money: Financial analysts assist in this endeavor by lending their expertise to help decision-makers make smarter decisions.
There are several types of financial analysts, often dealing with corporate finance. These include securities analysts, ratings analysts, portfolio managers, fund managers, and financial risk specialists. Similar to what an actuary does, a financial risk specialist may offer solutions as to how a client or organization can reduce risk.
Since financial analysis is not unique to any specific line of work, financial analysts are fairly evenly spread out. For example, 18% work in securities and financial investments, 15% in credit intermediation, and 12% are employed by technical service entities.
The analytical skills these professionals provide are highly valuable, and they’re well compensated as a result. In 2020, the median annual wage for financial analysts was $83,660. The top 10% earned nearly double this amount ($159,560).
Financial experts stress to their clients the importance of maintaining a budget. This is done through a combination of planning, saving, and cost control. A budget analyst specializes in these activities by providing organizations with the tools and recommendations they need to plan their finances. From estimating future financial needs to monitoring organizational spending in a given month or year, budget analysts largely provide advisory services.
While any business can hire a budget analyst, they’re typically found in industries that have a lot of costs. This may explain why approximately 1 in 5 budget analysts are employed by the federal government, according to BLS data. An additional 22% work for state and local governments.
The typical budget analyst in 2020 earned slightly less than $79,000, BLS analysis shows. Entry-level budget analysts made $51,220 last year, while more seasoned analysts made over $121,300.
Personal Financial Advisor
Businesses are hardly the only ones who need to manage their money: regular individuals do as well, perhaps even more so than corporations, given that so many life decisions involve money management (e.g. retirement, taxes, household expenses, education, etc.). As their title implies, a personal financial advisor helps individuals or families with money matters.
One way someone might try to maximize their earning potential is by investing in the stock market. But there are a plethora of factors to consider, many of which may be foreign to someone who is new to investing. A personal financial advisor may be able to offer recommendations on which stocks to get behind and how to diversify one’s portfolio.
In this way, personal financial advisors act as teachers. According to the National Financial Educators Council, most parents in the U.S. have not taught their children basic principles of money management. The expertise that personal financial advisors lend to their clients can be particularly useful to parents. They can also provide suggestions for how they can save for college tuition.
There are also specific types of personal financial advisors. Wealth managers, as an example, focus their expertise on investments; their clientele is typically those who have a lot of money or are high net worth. Others may specialize in retirement planning. While more people are remaining in the workforce longer — due in part to improved overall health — the mean age that Americans anticipate retiring is 66, according to recent Gallup polling. That’s up from 60 in 1996 and a mean of 63 in 2002.
Personal financial advisors’ salary can be as wide ranging as their duties. According to BLS data, the lowest 10% in 2020 made $44,100, but the highest 10% earned in excess of $200,000. The median annual wage was $89,330.
How Do You Start a Career in Finance?
Since there are so many different careers in finance, it’s difficult to say the proper career path you need to take at the beginning to reach your desired destination. By obtaining a bachelor’s degree in finance, however, you’re off to a great start. The UAB curriculum is custom designed to provide students with the analytical skills, communication skills, and mathematical competencies that financial professionals need to excel in their chosen line of work. Courses such as Business Foundations, Essentials of Financial Literacy, and Fundamentals of Financial Management lay the groundwork for in establishing the skills sets that you can build upon through other more tailored courses, like Quantitative Financial Analysis or Principles of Real Estate.
Many students start classes at UAB unsure of what they want to do specifically — they just know they prefer to work in finance. During your college journey, you may find certain subject matter resonates with you more than others or that you find to be more in line with your career goals. Knowing yourself and where your strengths lie will help direct you toward the career path that’s right for you and what you need to do to prepare and qualify.
What Education and Certifications Are Needed to Work in Finance?
Here as well, it largely depends on what financial arena you’d like to inhabit. Generally speaking, the vast majority of careers in finance require a bachelor’s degree at a bare minimum. That includes all the positions previously mentioned.
Certain specialties often require certification and licensing. Take financial analysis as an example. Financial analysts who launch their own private practice may be subject to licensure if they’re selling financial products. The main licensing organization for securities is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). What financial analysts are mandated to do to sell varies from state to state.
Employers may not make certification a prerequisite, but it’s highly recommended. For example, the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation may involve taking specific courses and passing a series of exams.
The same goes for loan officers. Real estate is a highly regulated industry since substantial sums of money are being borrowed and loaned at any given time. Not only must mortgage loan officers be fully licensed — usually by a local or state licensing agency — but licenses often must also be renewed every year.
Certification typically isn’t a prerequisite, but as the BLS points out, it’s highly recommended because it establishes expertise and professionalism. The American Bankers Association, Mortgage Bankers Association, and Nationwide Multistate Licensing System, among others, offer various certifications for mortgage loan officers.
Where Can You Work as a Finance Professional?
Of course, financial professionals are found in all 50 states as well as around the world in a variety of roles. More often than not, the number of jobs available are influenced by the size of the population.
For financial and investment analysts, New York has the highest employment level, according to BLS figures. For every 1,000 jobs, seven are financial and investment analysts. That’s a substantially higher rate than California (3.4), which is second on the list.
Similarly, mortgage loan officers are predominantly found in states with large populations. The top five states for number of mortgage loan officers are New York, California, Texas, Florida, and Illinois.
However, since careers in finance are so widespread, job openings are bound to be in a region, town, or state near you.
Picking finance as a career path is a great decision; you should be encouraged by the opportunities that will unfold. You’re also making a smart choice by participating in the online Bachelor of Science in Finance program at UAB. From the award-winning faculty members to the collaborative networking opportunities you’ll have throughout your experience, the Collat School of Business will get you to where you want to be. And since the degree program is 100% online, you can complete the coursework on your own timeline and pace.
For more information on curriculum, student outcomes, and to speak with an advisor, please visit the program page.