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Financial Analyst: Career Path and Qualifications

Financial analysts produce financial plans, projections, and analytical reports for use in investment decisions by companies, public and private organizations, and individuals. Depending on the type of analyst job, the duties can vary quite a bit.

Some financial analysts work in the securities industry analyzing stocks, bonds, and other securities for banks, brokerages, money management firms, and other organizations. These financial analysts typically develop expertise in a narrow category of stocks or bonds, such as Canadian corporate bonds or technology stocks, for example.

Other financial analysts work for large corporations, analyzing internal financial data and producing financial plans, revenue expense projections, and recommendations to inform budget and investment decisions by company executives. Nonprofit organizations and government bodies also employ financial analysts in this type of work.

Key Takeaways

  • A financial analyst culls data to help companies make business decisions or investors take action, such as to buy or sell a stock or other security.
  • They weigh macroeconomic and microeconomic issues, and company fundamentals to make predictions about firms, sectors, and industries.
  • A bachelor's degree in something math or finance-related is a given and moving up to the senior level means getting certifications and/or an MBA.
  • A recent college graduate can expect to start at the junior level, under the supervision of a more senior analyst.
  • Someone with a few years of experience, several key certifications, and an MBA from a prestigious university can move up to a senior role.
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Career Paths

A recent bachelor's degree graduate seeking to become a financial analyst can expect to begin in a junior position under the guidance of a senior analyst. After several years of experience, many junior financial analysts consider returning to graduate school for advanced degrees.

While junior analysts are not barred from advancement, continuing progression to positions with greater responsibility usually necessitates returning to school. A graduate with a master's degree can expect to begin work as a senior financial analyst or rise to the position very quickly.

An advanced financial analyst position generally requires an MBA degree with an appropriate subject focus or a master's degree in finance.

With greater experience and expertise, a senior financial analyst can continue into a supervisory position. A senior analyst in the securities industry often moves up to become a portfolio manager or a fund manager overseeing a team of senior analysts.

There may also be an opportunity to enter a senior management role. In the corporate world, senior analysts can become treasury managers supervising working groups within their departments. A standout performer may rise through the ranks to become a chief financial officer (CFO) or chief investment officer (CIO) responsible for all of the company's financial activities.

Education Requirements

While a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for an entry-level financial analyst position, data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that a master's degree is generally preferred for permanent and advanced positions in the field.

$83,660

The median annual income for financial analysts of all experience levels, according to May 2020 data (the latest available) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

A variety of undergraduate subjects are generally accepted by employers, including business fields such as finance, accounting, and economics. Due to the importance of advanced quantitative skills in this field, bachelor's degrees in statistics, mathematics, engineering, and physics are not uncommon among financial analysts; however, applicants with these degrees can benefit from business coursework, especially in accounting and finance.

Other Qualifications and Skills

Some financial analysts must obtain an appropriate license from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which is responsible for writing and enforcing rules for securities firms and brokers operating in the United States.

Licensure generally requires sponsorship from the employing firm, so most financial analysts only obtain a license after starting a job; however, long-term employment may be contingent on successful licensure.

Many employers expect financial analysts to pursue certification in the field. The preeminent certification in the field is the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation awarded by the CFA Institute.

It is available to financial analysts with at least three full years of qualifying work experience. Thus, it is generally considered a qualification for advancement to more senior financial analyst positions. Qualifying for the designation also requires a bachelor's degree and a passing score on a series of three exams administered by the CFA Institute.

The hiring of financial analysts is expected to grow by 6% between 2020 and 2030, approximately as fast as the average for all occupations.

Financial analysts are often expected to present and explain their work to clients and superiors, so strong communication and presentation skills are crucial. Analytical and critical thinking skills are essential in evaluating alternatives and settling on a final recommendation.

In addition to knowledge of statistics, mathematics, and finance, experience using software tools associated with these disciplines is valuable. While it's not uncommon for employers to use highly specialized technology and proprietary tools that aren't available outside the firm, learning and relying on complicated quantitative software provides skills that translate well to other systems.

What Are the Main Skills that a Financial Analyst Needs?

The main skills that a financial analyst needs include critical thinking, analytical skills, presentation skills, an understanding of financial and economic terms, financial modeling skills, understanding of financial regulations, and being personable.

How Do You Pursue a Career as a Financial Analyst?

To pursue a career as a financial analyst one needs to obtain a bachelor's degree. A degree in finance, economics, business management, statistics, or related fields is beneficial but not a requirement. An internship during college years will help secure a full-time financial analyst position. After some years of experience, further education may be required, such as an MBA or CFA qualification.

Are Financial Analysts Rich?

In general, financial analysts are well paid which can lead to them becoming rich. The average salary for a financial analyst in 2020 (the latest data available) was $83,660. Depending on the job, the firm, location, and the years of experience, the salary can be much higher and continues to grow over time.

The Bottom Line

A job as a financial analyst can be a demanding and also lucrative one. There are many career paths financial analysts can choose, from working in investment banks to working in nonprofit organizations.

The majority of financial analyst careers will require a bachelor's degree with on-the-job training to learn the complexities of the job and industry. Depending on the specific path an individual chooses, further requirements may be needed, such as securities licenses or other degrees.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "How to Become a Financial Analyst."

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Financial Analysts."

  3. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. "Security Industries Essentials (SIE) Exam."

  4. CFA Institute. "How to Become a CFA Charterholder."

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