An Overview

There are plenty of jobs in the business world for those who love analytics and numbers—two of the most common being financial analyst and accountant. While there is some overlap between these two disciplines, they focus on different areas of money management.

A financial analyst looks to past and current trends to help achieve a future reality, while an accountant may review a company's financial data on a day-to-day basis. Many financial analysts use reports generated by accountants to make recommendations about how best to use company resources.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial analysts tend to work with the overall picture of economic trends and market movements in order to forecast future financial situations.
  • A career in accounting is great for people who enjoy and excel at examining data, and auditing and reviewing financial statements.
  • Financial analysts may make more money on average than accountants.

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts tend to work with the overall picture. They review financial decisions based on current market trends, stated business objectives, and possible investment options. These professionals' evaluations help determine whether a project or venture is worthy enough for investment.

Analysts may focus on corporate or investment financial analysis. In corporate financial analysis, analysts work with accounting departments internally to help make decisions about which projects are worthy of investment. Analysts who work in investment financial analysis, however, work externally to make top-down or bottom-up analysis using macroeconomic or microeconomic approaches to find investment opportunities.

There are two main types of financial analysis—fundamental analysis and technical analysis. An analyst who uses fundamental analysis reviews and evaluates data from a company's financial statements in order to determine its value. Technical analysis, on the other hand, involves the use of statistical trends derived from trading activity to determine value.

Education and Credentials

A degree in finance is probably most beneficial for aspiring financial analysts, although mathematics or economics could also suffice. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) may help for a financial analyst, but it is not always required.

Many financial analysts are certified public accountants (CPAs) but most analysts generally choose the chartered financial analyst (CFA) designation. Unlike the CPA, which is focused on a professional understanding of public accounting standards in the United States, the CFA is focused on those who actively make investment decisions on behalf of clients or an employer. Having both titles is considered a major advantage for nearly any career in the business world and requires a significant mastery of business accounting and investment knowledge.

Job Market

Financial analysts earned a median annual salary of $85,660 in 2018, the most recent figures as of April 2020. Top earners brought home nearly $167,420 and the lower rung made approximately $52,540, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Financial analysts tend to earn the most in large financial hubs, such as New York City or San Francisco. Bridgeport, Connecticut, is also a lucrative destination for analysts. Increased regulations and market complexity are driving the growth for financial analysts, particularly among larger firms with a lot of assets to manage.

Individuals with a mind for economics generally prefer financial analyst roles since economic trends and market movements don't make a huge impact on an accountant's daily activities.

Accountant

Accountants are much more interested in specific and exact details, day-to-day operations, financial accuracy, and taxes of an entity. An accountant describes the present reality of a company or an individual's finances and performs duties like auditing or financial statement analysis.

Education and Credentials

In order to become an accountant, many professionals first pursue a bachelor's degree in accounting or another related discipline such as math or business. Some firms may prefer someone who has a graduate degree.

Credentials are extremely important to accountants and financial analysts. Entry-level accounting jobs may require a recognized professional title, but advancement certainly depends on it. Pursuing a degree in accounting is the most obvious undergraduate course of action for a future accountant.

Each career choice has one dominant professional certification. For accountants, it is the title of CPA which is bestowed by the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination and established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). This is probably the most widely known and recognized professional designation in the financial industry.

Job Market

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for an accountant in 2019 was $71,550. The top 10% of U.S. accountants earned over $124,450, while those in the bottom 10% of the industry earned less than $44,480.

The need for accountants is likely to grow by about 6% between 2018 and 2028, according to the BLS. This is largely due to an uptick in demand for those in the field, increased globalization, more stringent regulations, and a stronger economy.

Special Considerations

Both careers likely appeal to a similar subset of data-crunching, detail-oriented, and analytical individuals. The major differences boil down to whether you enjoy gathering data to make recommendations or whether you prefer gathering data to ensure accuracy. If it's the former, then you may want to consider becoming a financial analyst. But if you're attracted to the latter, then accounting may be your forte.

Accounting is a better field for the investigative mindset, where auditing and the review of financial statements comprise a large portion of the job. It is a little bit easier to break into the accounting field for two reasons. The first and biggest reason is there are many times more accounting jobs than financial analyst jobs. The second reason is accounting requires less real-world experience, meaning students who understand accounting rules can more easily step into an entry-level accounting position.

Many accountants and financial analysts work typical 40- to 50-hour weeks, get paid time off, and normally don't work on weekends. Some financial analysts remain available after normal office hours via email or phone, but the job is not as demanding as many other professions in the industry.

Travel may be a recurring part of either job. Financial analysts travel to meet with clients, while accountants travel to perform audits or attend seminars and conventions. For financial analysts who work for major investment banks, travel could be a significant characteristic of the job.