A career in finance? You must be crazy, you say. The news has been full of banks going bankrupt, government bailouts and Wall Street layoffs. People in finance are abandoning the field for other career options, and the brightest college students are picking other career paths. Careers in finance are out of favor. Well, not exactly. The need for some finance skills remains strong, with demand only expected to grow. (The subprime meltdown gave rise to a mouthful of financial acronyms. Learn how to sort through this alphabet soup in Bailout Acronyms 101.)
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 16% increase in job openings between 2006-2016. Companies will always need people to balance their books, figure their taxes, and audit financial performance.
Accountants must be analytical and mathematically inclined, of course. But the best ones are also people-oriented, able to work well in a team and communicate well. You typically need a four-year degree, but bookkeepers are hired with two-year associate's degrees. Salaries range between $50,000-70,000 with three-five years of experience. Senior managers at major firms earn $72,000-160,000. With a strong understanding of inner workings of companies, some accountants are well qualified to eventually become chief financial officers.
Bill collecting is one job area that thrives in downturns. Demand for bill collectors, which typically require just a high education, is robust. Employment is expected to grow by 23 percent by 2016. Hospitals and physicians are turning to collectors more as insurance payments don't keep pace with rising costs, and cash-strapped governments are trying harder to collect everything from parking tickets to property taxes. The downside is that chasing people for their money isn't fun for most. The upside is that positions open as workers quit and move on.
Financial planning is another hot field. As more baby boomers approach retirement they'll need more help picking investment options and retirement plans. Personal financial advisers will be one of the 10 fastest-growing occupations, increasing by 41% between 2006-2016, predicts the BLS. U.S. News, and World Report ranks it in the top-20 hot professions.
With successful planners earning over $145,000, competition in the field is keen. While some planners work for insurance companies and financial service companies, many run their own businesses, which can be competitive and difficult to get up and running. Like accountants, financial planners must have excellent analytical skills. They must also be good at communicating and explaining complex products. After obtaining a bachelor's degree, they seek the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designations, which require work experience and passing comprehensive exams.
Despite the Wall Street meltdown, more financial analysts will be needed down the road. The number is expected to grow 34% by 2016. Mutual funds need researchers to study increasingly complex investments. But competition for the well-paying jobs will be tough, and many analysts will earn advanced degrees to get an advantage over other job applicants.
Not all finance jobs require college degrees and advanced math skills. Look at bank tellers and bill collectors. (Wall Street continues to attract fresh hordes of ghoulish people committing the same old crimes. Learn more in Tales From Wall Street's Crypt.)
Some banks are hiring, despite the downturn. Regional and community banks, which generally avoided subprime mortgages, are expanding, filling the lending void created by the demise of larger banks. They're adding branches and hiring tellers and managers. While managers usually need a college degree, tellers need only a high school education, as well as the ability to work well with customers. Previous retail experience is a plus.
All-in-all, careers in the finance industry are still in heavy demand. In some cases, the need for personnel is a top priority. So don't let the current economy turn you off to the field - you may be just what the economy is looking for.