Financial Analyst vs. Data Analyst: What's the Difference?

Financial Analyst vs. Data Analyst: An Overview

If you are a student or young professional who is great with numbers, analytical, and an expert problem-solver, consider a career as either a financial analyst or data analyst. Financial analysts use financial data to spot trends and extrapolate into the future, helping their employers and clients make the best investing decisions.

Data analysts perform a similar role, the primary distinction being that these professionals analyze data that may or may not relate to investing decisions. For example, a data analyst might study figures related to sales numbers, advertising efficacy, transportation costs, or wages versus productivity.

Because the required education and skills, income potential, work/life balance, and competitiveness of the job market are similar between the two fields, subtle differences in personality type and skill set determine whether someone is better suited for a career as a financial analyst or data analyst.

Key Takeaways

  • Both financial analysts and data analysts should expect to see strong growth and a respectable starting salary.
  • Financial analysts are more focused on big-picture outcomes.
  • Data analysts tend to possess a higher level of computer proficiency.
  • Data analysts can work in data centers and big tech companies, and financial analysts can work on Wall Street and with investment banks.
  • Although the job requirements are similar, financial analysts tend to come from economic backgrounds whereas data analysts come from computer science and statistics backgrounds.

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts tend to take a general perspective when undertaking their work. They review financial decisions based on current market trends, stated business objectives, and possible investment options of companies while also reviewing economic data and financial forecasts.

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 a financial analyst, but it is not always required. Financial analysts may also opt to pursue the highly selective Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) title. 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. This test is in three parts and administered and overseen by the CFA Institute.

$131,322

The average take-home salary for a Google financial analyst.

Many financial analysts are also CPAs, and many accountants have a CFA designation. 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.

Financial analysts earned a median annual salary of $83,660 in 2020, the most recent figures as of April 2022. Top earners brought home more than $159,560 and the lower rung made approximately $48,760 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 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.

Data Analyst

Ultimately, any piece of numerical data that could be used to make a business decision is potentially within the purview of a data analyst's job. While they are not as laser-focused on the financial markets as their counterparts in the financial analyst world, data analysts are still expected to maintain up-to-date knowledge on investing practices.

Often, accessing and organizing necessary data in this role requires high-level computer skills, making an information technology background, or at least a working knowledge of the field, a definite plus for an aspiring data analyst.

They collect data and examine it to spot trends and glean information that can be used to make business decisions. In the information age, companies rely on big data more than ever to make decisions such as which customers to target, which products and services to focus on, which advertising methods to use, how many people to hire and for which positions, and new markets for expansion.

For virtually any business decision, data is available to steer the company in the right direction. The role of the data analyst is to procure this data and draw conclusions the company can use to make decisions.

$101,308

The average take-home salary for a Google data analyst as of 2022.

Data analysts are in demand everywhere. This is not an industry-specific role. Any company savvy enough to understand the importance of parsing data needs skilled data analysts. While data analysts command above-average salaries, the returns on investment (ROI) for companies that employ them are even more impressive. The trends spotted and information gleaned by data analysts often make their employers millions of dollars per year.

Students and young professionals who are quantitatively inclined, logic-driven, computer-savvy, good communicators, and who want to make an above-average income while working reasonable hours, should look into data analysis as a career choice. Industry analysts have named it one of the hottest career choices for the 2010s, with projections indicating the demand for data analysts should increase rapidly as more businesses get on board with the importance of harnessing big data.

The fact that such a variety of companies in a variety of industries employ data analysts contributes to the position's wide salary range. The size of the company, the industry, the geographic location, the candidate's education, experience, and other factors combine to determine a data analyst's first-year salary.

Special Considerations

Neither career imposes across-the-board, hard-and-fast educational requirements. This means there is no exam you have to pass, such as the bar exam or medical boards before you can even legally practice the profession. Individual employers set their own requirements for new hires. Generally, the more competitive the job market for financial analysts and data analysts in your local area, the more rigid the standards.

In either profession, most new hires have obtained at least a bachelor's degree, with a master's degree becoming more standard with each passing year. The best college majors for a financial analyst are economics, finance, and statistics. Most large firms that hire financial analysts look for one of these three, and as an added bonus, these majors look great when applying for an MBA program, especially when combined with a competitive GPA and work experience.

For aspiring data analysts, a degree in statistics is a great place to start; even better, double up on your major and add information technology, computer information systems, or another up-to-date technology major offered by your school. When hiring a data analyst, employers want to see a healthy mix of quantitative acumen and computer literacy that goes beyond knowing how to input numbers into Excel. A bachelor's degree is not an official, but a de facto requirement, for data analysts, and a master's degree makes you much more competitive in the job market.

Choosing Between the Two

These are both fine careers: Income potential is strong, the work hours, at an average of 40 to 45 per week, are not oppressive, and the job market is primed for growth. Distinctions between the two jobs are mostly nebulous, but the biggest difference is a financial analyst's daily duties are much more involved with the investment markets and employers often expect many hours "off the books."

If you have a keen interest in investing and keeping up with Wall Street but want to steer clear of the powder keg environment of investment banking and trading, financial analysis is a career to consider. If, on the other hand, you like working with numbers but also enjoy computers and technology, you likely possess the skill set and interests needed to become a good data analyst.

What Skills Are Needed for Financial Analysts or Data Analysts?

Financial analysts and data analysts should be great problem-solvers, excel at the use of logic, and possess strong skills in quantitative analysis. In addition, successful financial analysts have an in-depth understanding of various financial markets and investment products. For data analysts, it is helpful to maintain up-to-date computer skills and have at least a cursory understanding of some of the more common programming languages.

Strong people skills, leadership ability, and teamwork are beneficial for either career. A lot of financial and data analysis is done in teams, and analysts are expected to report their findings to various departments within the company in a clear, concise, and persuasive manner.


What Is the Job Outlook for a Financial Analyst?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports an optimistic outlook for financial analyst jobs between 2018 and 2028, with job growth projected at 6%. However, the BLS cautions: "Despite employment growth, competition is expected for financial analyst positions. Growth in financial services is projected to create new positions, but there are still far more people who would like to enter the occupation than there are jobs in the occupation. Having certifications and a graduate degree can significantly improve an applicant’s prospects."

What Is the Job Outlook for a Data Analyst?

The BLS did not break out the data analyst position in its latest forecasts, but the broader "financial specialist" job market is expected to experience a 6% growth between 2018 and 2028. In the near future at least, strong demand should exist for quantitatively inclined professionals who can cull pertinent information from large pools of data and use it to draw inferences and make forecasts.

The Bottom Line

Both financial analysts and data analysts should expect a solid career outlook with a salary to match. There are terrific exit opportunities with both careers and once you get your foot in the door and start building a resume, there are many positions with crossover responsibilities that become available. Deciding between the two will often come down to your temperament, career goals, and education.

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. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "What Financial Analysts Do."

  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "How to Become a Financial Analyst."

  3. CFA Institute. "CFA Program."

  4. Glassdoor. "Google Financial Analyst."

  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Financial Analysts Pay."

  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "13-2098 Financial and Investment Analysts, Financial Risk Specialists, and Financial Specialists, All Other."

  7. Glassdoor. "Google Data Analyst."

  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Financial Analysts: Job Outlook."

  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail."

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