Financial Analyst vs. Investment Banker: An Overview

Both financial analysts and investment bankers evoke images of well-dressed corporate money men, and college graduates from prominent schools seek out these jobs. For all of their similarities, though, these are two very different career paths and are suited for very different kinds of individuals.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial analysts and investment bankers are both job titles held by financial professionals, but they have different duties and expectations.
  • Financial analysts may work for a financial institution or any other type of company to do capital markets research, corporate accounting, and financial analysis.
  • Investment bankers typically work for a financial company and specialize in raising capital for other firms.

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts work for a variety of businesses, including investment banks. They are normally experts in markets, economics, accounting, and compliance. These are the ultimate support members on a financial team, spending their days poring over data and preparing reports for other, less analytical departments. Before a business makes a major financial or investment decision, management often consults its financial analysts to identify trends or run projections. Think of financial analysts as future-focused accountants with sophisticated modeling techniques.

Analysts and bankers must communicate with other departments every single day, so it's also important to demonstrate the ability to handle interpersonal (and sometimes impersonal) communications in a dynamic work environment. There are going to be a lot of conference calls, meetings, emergency emails, and quick-turnaround projects for either profession.

Financial analysts should probably consider pursuing a certified public accountant (CPA) or chartered financial analyst (CFA) designation to bolster their credentials, particularly if they want to advance up the ladder.

Investment Banker

Investment bankers are the movers and shakers in the institutional world. They play a key role in underwriting new issues of stocks or developing mergers and acquisitions (M&As) strategies. It's up to the investment bankers to evaluate companies and time the market to make the biggest profits for their firms or clients. Life as an investment banker is characterized by uneven bursts of activity followed by times of calm or even boredom. Unlike financial analysts, investment bankers are directly responsible for generating revenues and pulling the trigger on investment decisions.

It takes a lot of stamina and the ability to handle stress to be a career investment banker. Firms expect their hires to hit the ground running and show a lot of initiative, but perhaps more than anything else, they expect them to put in a lot of hours. An investment banker can begin as a low-level financial analyst with just a Bachelor's degree, but investment banking associates should either have three to four years of experience or an MBA.

Special Considerations

A minimum of a bachelor's degree in a field such as economics, finance, mathematics or accounting is an absolute must for financial analysts or investment bankers. However, competition for these positions is notoriously steep; it may be a good idea to enter business school and earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to bolster your résumé.

Both careers are deeply analytical, and applicants are highly scrutinized for their ability to perform research, think critically, and problem solve. Many seek out securities licenses such as the FINRA Series 7 or Series 63 to demonstrate an understanding of financial markets and investment products. (Note: Taking a FINRA exam requires sponsorship from a FINRA member firm or a self-regulatory organization (SRO).)

These are both high-level and high-earning jobs, even at entry-level spots. According to 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the mean salary for a financial analyst was $83,660 per year. The top 10% of analysts earned more than $159,560 per year.

Financial analysts who don't work for major financial institutions, especially sell-side analysts, don't earn quite as much. Analyst in the lowest 10% make less than $48,760.

Investment bankers are among the highest-earning professionals in the business community, especially at entry- and mid-level positions. Major banks in New York City often offer $100,000 or more to first-year bankers along with a signing bonus that can add another $25,000.

The financial industry is notorious for offering an inequitable work/life balance to some financial analysts, but it is perhaps most true for investment bankers.

Put simply, work-life can be very tough for investment bankers, especially associates and other junior-level staff. It is not uncommon for investment bankers to work 80+ hours a week (roughly six 13.5-hour workdays) or to always be available via phone or email, even during early morning hours on weekends or vacations.

Except for those who truly do live for their work, the edge in work/life balance goes to financial analysts.

26,800

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. economy is expected to add this many financial analyst positions between 2019 and 2029—this represents an 5% increase over the decade, which is faster than average for all professions.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. economy is expected to add an additional 26,800 financial analyst positions between 2019 and 2029. This represents an 5% increase over the decade, which is faster than average for all professions. The BLS credits increased complexity in financial markets and a growing industry for its projected growth.

The BLS does not offer comparable statistics for investment bankers, but the same dynamics that drive growth for analysts should drive growth for investment bankers.

Key Differences

Financial analysts and investment bankers often attract similar candidates, but they are really best suited for different individuals.

Financial analysts serve more like accountants than traders, and this job is best for those who like a consistent workflow and a life away from the office. Investment banking is a career for ambitious people who thrive under pressure and don't mind the long hours. Eventually, investment bankers spend a great deal of time communicating with clients and making crucial decisions for the firm.

Analysts get to spend much more time digging through the actual data and creating models for other members of the team. This kind of work may sound perfect for some workers or very boring to others, so much depends on your temperament and work pace.