Finance is a broad field that offers individuals with a degree in the subject a wide variety of potential career options. A person with a degree in finance might pursue employment opportunities in the private or public sector in almost any business. There are many different directions a person with a masters degree in finance can explore. Here are few careers that might be of interest to a finance professional.
Actuaries help executives make intelligent and informed financial decisions. In the insurance industry, actuaries help insurers mitigate the chances of losses. They weigh the chances of any given eventuality, and come up with solutions to take advantage of the good possibilities and minimize the fallout from the bad. An actuarial career is one of the most creative options a statistician, economist or mathematician can have. A strong mathematics background is necessary, and applying those skills to real life situations is a creative challenge. Actuaries are required to think beyond the narrow constraints of numbers or business plans to ferret out unforeseen risk and plan for it. The combination of out-of-the-box thinking and scientific analysis make actuarial careers some of the most challenging in the business world.
Actuaries that work for pension funds manage the investment risk of the fund, evaluating pension plans’ financial conditions and reporting on them to participants, sponsors and regulators. Pension funds typically do not pay their actuaries as much as insurance companies do but on the other hand, the hours and stresses are far less. The job requires a deep knowledge of finance and mathematics, and the certification process is strenuous.
Analysts in the finance industry study the financial soundness of an individual, corporation, government entity, security (stock or bond, for example) or piece of real estate. They might recommend an action upon the particular thing they are studying (say, to buy or sell a stock, bond or company), or simply report on the particular thing’s financial soundness. Analysts commonly have undergraduate degrees in business, accounting, statistics or finance, as well as a quantitative background. There are specializations within the occupational category of financial analysts including; corporate analyst, investment analyst, private equity analyst,and venture capital analyst to name a few
The asset management industry (used used interchangeably with the investment industry) deals with preserving and growing capital, and generating income for individuals and institutional investors. This is often called managing assets. Traditional asset managers (such as mutual funds) are highly regulated entities that are governed by strict laws and regulations. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the principal governing body and regulates these funds under the Investment Company Act of 1940. The rules governing traditional asset managers are primarily instilled to protect the investors and limit the amount of unnecessary risk-taking. Traditional asset managers have defined investment mandates, which determine what types of securities and strategies they can pursue in a given portfolio.
Alternative asset managers include assets classes such as hedge funds, private equity and venture capital. Their investment strategies and regulation differ from traditional asset managers as they are lightly regulated investment vehicles that do not always have defined investment strategies or risk tolerances (though, regulation of these vehicles has been a hot topic lately, and regulation could be just around the corner). These asset classes are often designed to be uncorrelated with the broad stock and bond markets, and seek to provide positive returns in a variety of economic situations. Since alternative investments are very risky, investors need to be deemed “accredited” (which is determined by net worth) in order to invest in these products. Increasingly, asset management companies are focusing on more than just investing. Business decisions such as marketing and distribution, global growth and technology integration are becoming increasingly important factors in the success of investment management firms.
Much like analysts, associates hit the grindstone hard. Sometimes working 80- to 100 hour weeks, usually fresh out of top-tier MBA programs, associates stress over pitch books and models all night, become experts with financial modeling on Excel, and sometimes shake their heads wondering what the point is. Unlike analysts, however, associates more quickly become involved with clients and, most importantly, are not at the bottom of the totem pole. Associates quickly learn to play quarterback and hand-off menial modeling work and research projects to analysts. However, treatment from vice presidents and managing directors doesn’t necessarily improve for associates versus analysts, as bankers sometimes care more about the work getting done, and not about the guy or gal working away all night to complete it. Usually hailing directly from top business schools (sometimes law schools or other grad schools), associates often possess only a summer’s worth of experience in corporate finance, so they must start almost from the beginning. Associates who worked as analysts before grad school have a little more experience under their belts. The overall level of business awareness and knowledge a bright MBA has, however, makes a tremendous difference, and associates quickly earn the luxury of more complicated work, client contact, and potentially bigger bonuses. Investment associates might pursue potential career opportunities in firms specializing in investment management, banking, private equity, or venture capitalism.
Commercial banks provide loans for the full spectrum of borrowers, from private individuals, through small businesses, to major “corporates”—large private companies, governments at the municipal, regional and national levels and other public entities. Commercial banks make loans to borrowers from the funds provided by the other side of their business—taking deposits from individuals and firms. A commercial bank is licensed to take deposits—the funds that are paid into current (checking) and deposit (savings) accounts by its customers.
The typical commercial banking process is fairly straightforward. You deposit money into your bank, and the bank loans that money to consumers and companies in need of capital (cash). You borrow to buy a house, finance a car or finance an addition to your home. Companies borrow to finance the growth of their company or meet immediate cash needs. Companies that borrow from commercial banks can range in size from the dry cleaner on the corner to a multinational conglomerate. The commercial bank generates a profit by paying depositors a lower interest rate than the bank charges on loans. As opposed to investment bankers, commercial bankers are considered to be more conservative and more risk averse. Commercial banking is also known for its lesser workload versus investment banking. Typically, commercial banks offer good pay (lower than investment banks, though) and keep a 9-to-5 work day.Commodities trader
Commodities traders perform a vital function in the investment bank: they facilitate the buying and selling of raw products such as gold, silver, gold, corn, oats, wheat and livestock. Traders typically have an undergraduate degree. Love for fast-paced environments and the ability to withstand high stress situations are a must.
The stereotype of the corporate finance department is stuffy, arrogant (white and male) MBAs who frequent golf courses and talk on cell-phones nonstop. While this is increasingly less true, corporate finance remains the most white-shoe department in the typical investment bank. The atmosphere in corporate finance is, unlike that in sales and trading, often quiet and reserved. Junior bankers sit separated by cubicles, quietly crunching numbers. Depending on the firm, corporate finance can also be a tough place to work, with unforgiving bankers and expectations through the roof. Although decreasing, stories of analyst abuse run rampant and some bankers come down hard on new analysts simply to scare and intimidate them.
The lifestyle for corporate finance professionals can be a killer. In fact, many corporate finance workers find that they literally dedicate their lives to the job. Social life suffers, free time disappears, and stress multiplies. It is not uncommon to find analysts and associates wearing rumpled pants and wrinkled shirts, exhibiting the wear and tear of all-nighters. Fortunately, these long hours pay remarkable dividends in the form of six-figure salaries and large year-end bonuses. Personality-wise, bankers tend to be highly intelligent, motivated, and not lacking in confidence. Money is very much a driving motivation for bankers, and many anticipate working for just a few years to earn as much as possible, before finding less demanding work. Analysts and associates tend also to be ambitious, intelligent and pedigreed. If you happen to be going into an analyst or associate position, make sure to check your ego at the door but don’t be afraid to ask penetrating questions about deals and what is required of you.
Credit managers commonly work for commercial banks, where they’re responsible for doling out credit, creating credit-rating criteria and collecting overdue accounts. A background in finance, accounting or economics is not required but is recommended. An undergraduate degree is required. Typically, credit managers are detail-oriented and have superior quantitative skills.
Debt analysts follow various types of fixed income (debt) instruments such as corporate bonds, high-yield bonds, government bonds and securities backed by mortgage loans. Based on financial modeling and other assessment tests, debt analysts recommend fixed income instruments to buy and sell, and convince salespeople why they or their clients should or should not buy them. The road to becoming an analyst is either paved with solid industry experience, or through the research assistant/associate path. Debt analysts commonly work for investment banks and other types of investment firms, including hedge funds. An undergraduate degree and a background in finance or accounting is typically required, as are strong quantitative skills.
Derivative traders facilitate the buying and selling of securities that derive their value from something else such as a stock, bond, loan or commodity. The major derivatives are options, futures, forwards and swaps. Mathematically-minded, derivatives traders typically have an undergraduate degree and, often, an MBA as well. Love for fast-paced environments and the ability to withstand high stress situations are a must.
Econometrics applies mathematics and statistics to study economic data. Jobs in the field are typically research-oriented and involve extensive quantitative modeling. A PhD in econometrics or economics and a background in statistical or finance research experience are typically required.
Economics deals with the study of the distribution of resources (including land, labor, raw materials and machinery) and how that affects the production of goods and services. Economists, either for private forms or for government entities, will perform research, analyze and chart data, follow trends and find trends. Economists often work independently, but can work as part of a team. They write reports and create statistical charts. A master’s degree or a PhD in economics is commonly required for private sector positions. For government jobs, a bachelor’s degree in economics or a related field is typically a requisite.
Economics deals with the study of the distribution of resources (including land, labor, raw materials and machinery) and how that affects the production of goods and services. Economic research involves performing analysis and charting data, often following trends, for private firms or for government entities. Economic researchers can often work independently, but can also work as part of a team. They write reports and create statistical charts. A master’s degree or a PhD in economics is commonly required for private sector positions. For government jobs, a bachelor’s degree in economics or a related field is typically a requisite.
Economics - other
Economics deals with the study of the distribution of resources (including land, labor, raw materials and machinery) and how that affects the production of goods and services. Economists not performing research or analysis might work as a teacher or professor, or at an economics consulting firm. For teaching positions a PhD in economics is commonly required. Quantitative skills are, of course, important for any position in economics. Teachers should also have excellent communication and written skills.
An equity partner is a member of a partnership, often a venture capital or private equity firm, and is thus sanctioned to receive a portion of the partnership’s disttributable profits. Equity partners do not necessarily help to manage the entities which they partially own, but they can play an integral role in managing day-to-day operations. In addition, at venture capital and private equity firms, for example, equity partners can be responsible for sourcing deals and helping to manage their firm’s portfolio companies (which could also mean sitting on a portfolio company’s board of directors).
Equity research / equity analysis
Equity research analysts follow particular industries, recommend stocks to buy and sell, and convince salespeople why they or their clients should or should not invest in Company XYZ. The road to becoming an analyst is either paved with solid industry experience, or through the research assistant/associate path. Full-fledged analyst positions are difficult to come by. The skills required to succeed as an analyst include a firm grasp of: 1) the industry and dynamics of stock picking, and 2) the sales skills required to convince investors and insiders alike why a stock is such an excellent buy. An analyst lacking in either area will simply not become the next II-rated star (that is, an analyst highly rated by the annual Institutional Investor poll).
Research analysts spend considerable time talking on the phone to investors, salespeople and traders, pitching buy and sell ideas or simply discussing industry or company trends. Everyone tries to get the research analyst’s ear, to ask for advice or (as we will discuss in-depth later) to pressure him or her to change a rating or initiate coverage of a particular stock. Analysts also travel regularly, visiting buy-siders or big money managers and companies in their field. Indirectly, they are trying to generate trading business with money managers, research ideas from companies or trying to build a reputation in the industry.
All in all, analysts must be able to convincingly and quickly pitch an idea, and defend it thoroughly when the time comes. In this atmosphere, research analysts must scrutinize every company that they maintain under coverage. Any news or company announcements will prompt a deluge of phone calls to the analyst, with questions ranging from the big picture to the tiniest of details. They also must maintain a handle on an extremely important aspect of any company -the numbers. Inaccurate earnings estimates, especially when they are far from the mark, reflect poorly on the analyst. Why didn’t an analyst know the company stock was going to come out with such low earnings? Or why didn’t the research analyst know that industry growth was slowing down? The analyst is responsible for staying on top of these things.
Equity sales and trading
Equity sales and trading encompasses the buying and selling of equity-based financial instruments such as common stock. In general, sales departments deal directly with clients (often large institutions), advising them on which equities to buy or sell. Traders facilitate the sell or buy orders in the marketplace (the stock market). Salespeople and traders typically have an undergraduate degree and work for divisions of investment banks. Salespeople must have good communication and interpersonal skills, while traders should have good quantitative skills and the ability to withstand high stress situations.
Finance - general / other
The finance industry encompasses a wide range of companies, from banks and hedge funds to insurance companies and credit card firms. Jobs in finance also range widely, from financial advising and financial analyzing to trading securities and managing risk. Those who work in finance usually have good quantitative and organizational skills. Although college degrees are not required to work in all areas of finance, most who work in finance have received at least an associate’s degree, and, more often, a bachelor’s degree.
Financial advisor / broker
Financial advisors, often called retail brokers, develop relationships with individual investors, selling stocks and stock advice to individuals. Financial advisors could work for very large banks such as Bank of America or Morgan Stanley, or for much smaller firms. An undergraduate degree is not required, but many financial advisors and brokers have college degrees. The position is a sales one, so timid folks need not apply. Good communication skills, a love for the financial markets and good quantitative skills are commonly thought to be necessary for success.
Financial managers work for companies or government entities, producing internal financial reports, helping to manage investments and creating cash management strategies. Financial managers have various titles, including controller, treasurer and finance officer, among others. A An undergraduate degree in a finance- or accounting-related field is commonly required, as is experience in finance. Of course, quantitative skills are important; strong communication skills are also important, especially to explain financial data to fellow employees.
Financial planning / advising
Financial planners, or financial advisors, provide advice to individuals or institutions on how to invest their assets. Financial planners develop relationships with investors, and might tell them which stocks, bonds, mutual funds or other financial instruments to buy. Financial advisors could work for very large banks such as Bank of America or Morgan Stanley, for small firms or for themselves. An undergraduate degree is not required, but most financial advisors do have college degrees. The position requires good communication and interpersonal skills, as well as good quantitative skills and knowledge of financial markets.
Financial planning / budgeting
Financial planners provide advice to individuals or companies on their finances. Financial planners develop relationships with clients, and give them investment ideas and advice on their financial budgets. This might entail how to reduce costs to increase profits and how best to invest profits. An undergraduate degree is not required, but most financial planners have college degrees. The position requires good quantitative skills, typically a knowledge and background in accounting, and good communication and interpersonal skills.
Financial / business analyst
Financial and business analysts work for financial services firms providing analysis and advice to individuals and corporations. They also work for product and service companies to provide analysis internally. An analyst might look at financial statements, chart trends in certain industries or compare a company’s operating ratios (sales to earnings, for example) with its competitors. A bachelor’s degree is required, as are excellent quantitative skills.
Fixed income trading
Fixed income trading deals with the facilitating of the buying and selling of debt (or fixed income) instruments, including corporate bonds, high-yield bonds, governments bonds, mortage-backed securities and asset-backed securities. Fixed income traders typically have an undergraduate degree and work for divisions of investment banks. Love for fast-paced environments, good quantitative skills and the ability to withstand high stress situations are a must.
Institutional sales deals with creating business relationships with and managing assets for large institutional investors such as pension funds, mutual funds and large corporations. Institutional salespeople make money through commissions on trades made through their firms or as a percentage of their clients’ assets with the firm. Institutional salespeople typically work for large investment banks and hold an MBA.
There are dozens of specialized functions at an investment bank, ranging from private wealth management (essentially, brokers to the rich) to risk managers (those who make sure the bank isn't taking on too much risk). At most major investment banks, the corporate finance and sales and trading functions are among the largest and most important. The corporate finance department works to raise money for companies and other large organizations looking to expand or acquire new holdings. Teams of analysts, associates, VPs and MDs work to analyze the potential profit and risk for their own bank while creating pitches to entice the client. While good math and Excel skills are essential to being a successful I-banker, those who can buttress their quantitative skills with creativity when building pitch books and PowerPoint presentations tend to catch the eye of their superiors.
Sales and trading is a different story. An investment banking trading floor is chaos. There's usually a lot of swearing, yelling and shouting going on—a pressure cooker of stress. Traders must rely on their market instincts, and salespeople yell for "bids" when the market tumbles. Deciding what to buy or sell, and at what price to buy and sell, is difficult when millions of dollars are at stake. However, salespeople and traders work much more reasonable hours than corporate finance bankers. Rarely does a salesperson or trader venture into the office on a Saturday or Sunday, leaving the trading floor completely void of life on weekends. Any corporate finance analyst who has crossed a trading floor on a Saturday will tell you that the only noises to be heard are the clocks clicking every minute and the whir of the air conditioner.
Analysts and associates in investment banking work virtually all the time, and their stress level can be high as mistakes are not as easily tolerated. Analysts are hired out of college and typically work two or three years before going back to get their MBAs. Associates, commonly hired out of graduate business school, gradually take on more and more client contact and move up to the vice president level in three to four years. After vice president comes director (or senior vice president) and then managing director. Established relationships and networking abilities determine the success of an MD who is often responsible for originating deals within his/her sector. In sales and trading, the career path is not quite as structured. For example, analysts move more easily to the associate level without an MBA than they do in corporate finance. And associates can climb quickly to the VP and director levels, depending on the firm's need and the talent of the salesperson or trader.
Investment risk management
Risk managers in the investment industry work for commercial banks, investment banks, trust companies, investment advisors, hedge funds, broker-dealers, insurance companies and other financial services firms. Risk managers assess and monitor the riskiness of a firm’s investments, attempting to lessen the probability of unfavorable (financial speaking) outcomes from occurring. Risk managers have undergraduate degrees in a finance-related field, and a background in finance, mathematics or statistics.
Investor relations firms or departments act as the liaisons between a company and its investors. The company might be a large public product company like Coke, Pepsi and Google. Or it could be a small investment firm such as a hedge fund or private equity firm. Jobs in investor relations vary widely, from typical PR type of positions to having to possess intricate knowledge of financial instruments in order to describe them to potential and current investors. Ideally, investor relations personnel have a degree and background in finance or business, as well as excellent communication, written and interpersonal skills (client contact, such as dinners and outings, might be required).
Loan officers prepare, analyze and verify loan applications, make decisions regarding the extension of credit and help borrowers fill out loan applications. Loan officers are not the ogres many perceive them to be; they often help consumers with low income or a poor credit history to qualify for home mortgages, student loans and the like. Loan officers gather basic information about the loan request. They also keep abreast of new financial products and services so they can meet their customers’ needs. And the officer acts as a supportive liaison to the borrower: customers do not always understand the terms of a loan or the jargon of the information—the loan officer can clarify these matters.
There are three main areas in which loan officers specialize: commercial, consumer or mortgage loans. Commercial and business loans provide companies with capital, often to pay for expansion plans. For example, a business may take out a loan in order to open a new location, or to upgrade existing equipment. Consumer loans include college loans, automobile loans, and other personal loans. Mortgage loans are taken out to finance the purchase of property. Loan officers lower their firm’s risk by receiving collateral-security pledged for the payment of a loan. For example, a person receiving a college loan may put up his house as collateral. Loans backed by collateral are also beneficial to the customer, because they generally carry a lower interest rate. Loan officers do much of their work in offices, but mortgage loan officers can change offices frequently and must often visit the homes of clients pursuing a loan request. Travel is also common among commercial loan officers, especially those employed by large firms; commercial loan agreements are complex and can take time to process. Most loan officers work standard eight-hour days, but others work longer, as they take on as many clients as they can handle at a time. Loan officers carry heavy caseloads and often cannot take on new clients until they have completed their current cases. Schedules can really get hectic when interest rates are low and there is a surge in loan applications.
Mergers and acquisitions
Merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions can be roughly divided into either mergers or acquisitions. These terms are often used interchangeably in the press, and the actual legal difference between the two involves arcana of accounting procedures, but we can still draw a rough difference between the two. When a larger company takes over another (typically smaller firm) and clearly becomes the new owner, the purchase is commonly called an acquisition. In most cases, the target company ceases to exist post-transaction (from a legal point of view) and the acquiring corporation swallows its business. The stock of the acquiring company continues to be traded.
A merger occurs when two companies, often roughly of the same size, combine to create a new company. Such a situation is often called a “merger of equals.” Both companies’ stocks are tendered (or given up), and new company stock is issued in its place. For example, both Chrysler and Daimler-Benz ceased to exist when their firms merged, and a new combined company, DaimlerChrysler, was created. For an investment bank, M&A advising can be highly profitable, and there are possibilities for many types of transactions. Perhaps a small private company’s owner/manager wishes to sell out for cash and retire. Or perhaps a big public firm aims to buy a competitor through a stock swap. Whatever the case, M&A advisors come directly from the corporate finance departments of investment banks. Unlike public offerings, merger transactions do not directly involve salespeople, traders or research analysts, although research analysts in particular can play an important role in “blessing” the merger. In particular, M&A advisory falls onto the laps of M&A specialists and fits into one of either two buckets: seller representation or buyer representation (also called target representation and acquirer representation).
Personal bankers work for commercial banks, advising clients on investment options the bank offers such as CDs, money market funds and mortgage options. A personal banker will have an undergraduate degree in a finance-related field and/or a background in finance. Good communication skills and knowledge of financial markets are required.
Portfolio managers are responsible for establishing an investment strategy, selecting appropriate investments and allocating each investment properly. All day long, portfolio managers are presented with investment ideas from internal Buy-side analysts and Sell-side analysts from investment banks. It is their job to sift through the relevant information and use their judgment to buy and sell securities. Throughout each day, they read reports, talk to company managers, and monitor industry and economic trends looking for the right company and time to invest the portfolio’s capital. Portfolio managers also spend time meeting with their clients to review investment strategy and performance results.
While account and product management professionals lead this process, portfolio managers are often an integral part of client discussions. In the mutual fund world, portfolio managers do not spend time talking to individual customers, but they are often called on to present at sales conferences and at product road shows. However, institutional and high-net-worth portfolio managers have fewer clients, and they only meet with them one to two times a year. Portfolio managers are the most seasoned investment professionals in the firm. Typically, people with at least seven to 10 years of investment experience occupy these positions, and most have either an MBA and/or a CFA designation.
Private wealth management
The private wealth management industry deals with the varied and complex business of managing money for wealthy individuals or estates, taking into account income needs of clients, taxes, estate preservation and asset protection. Typically, private wealth management is a smaller department or division of a much larger investment firm or bank. The private wealth manager leverages the expertise of the various departments inside the firm (such as the trust department) to present clients with solutions to their wealth management issues. Though not required to be expert in one particular area of wealth management, private wealth managers must know enough about each area to expertly represent their client’s best interests and where appropriate offer advice.
Private wealth managers must typically maintain a higher degree of professional knowledge than most retail brokers, who deal with clients that have fewer assets. Private wealth managers must not only know about investment instruments but also taxation issues and estate planning. There are a number of products that are available only to accredited investors, like hedge funds, private equity and partnerships, which are little used by retail brokers because federal regulations make them available only to folks who have met certain net-worth and income thresholds. Private wealth managers must project a high degree of professional competence to their clients, who are often very sophisticated investors to begin with. Often, private wealth managers’ clients have enjoyed a high degree of success in their own profession and they expect competence that equals their own. Private wealth managers are first and foremost excellent salespeople, with great communication and interpersonal skills. A degree in a finance-related field is not required but is helpful. Most top investment banks hire private wealth managers out of only the top universities.
Public finance refers to the field of finance dealing with government entities. Most commonly, public finance concerns raising capital for government (public) entities, as opposed to corporate finance, which deals with raising money for non-government controlled (private) entities. Most major investment banks have public finance divisions, which, for example, might help a city issue bonds to raise funds to build a bridge or a highway.
Securities analysis / research
Securities analysts, or research analysts, focus on either equities (stocks and stock-related instruments) or fixed income products (corporate bonds, high-yield bonds and government bonds, for example). Securities analysts research a particular equity or fixed income instrument, and provide recommendations on whether it should be bought, sold or held. The road to becoming an analyst is either paved with solid industry experience, or through the research assistant/associate path. Securities analysts commonly work for investment banks and other types of investment firms. An undergraduate degree and a background in finance is typically required, as are strong quantitative and communication skills.
Underwriting - finance
What a syndicate does is provide a vital role in placing new equity or debt offerings with buy-siders, and truly aim to find the right offering price that satisfies the company, the salespeople, the investors, and the corporate finance bankers working the deal.Underwriters are so-called because on a deal, they are the ones assuming liability, though they usually have no shares of stock to sell in the deal. They are not necessarily the I-banks that work intimately on the deal; most underwriters do nothing other than accept any potential liability for lawsuits against the underwriting group. Generally, underwriters are the firms writing the final check to the company, before securities are sold in the market. The term “underwriter” originated from the days of shipping companies, when individuals would sign underneath a ship’s name in a ledger, assuming risk for the goods being transported. This process was a way to spread risk (and rewards) across a number of people.Underwriters are selected by the lead manager in conjunction with the company. This role is often called participating in the syndicate. In a prospectus, you can always find a section entitled “Underwriting,” which lists the underwriting group. Anywhere from three to 30 investment banks typically make up the underwriting group in any securities offering.Generally, there are ten to 30 underwriters in an equity offering.