The financial sector is one of the most competitive fields to break into, and people usually start at the bottom and work their way up. But that doesn't mean you can't change careers and land a financial sector job. If you have years of experience in a different field, for example, some of that knowledge may transfer. Or you may need to strengthen your resume. Here's what you need to know to make a career move into the financial sector.
- The financial sector consists of firms that offer financial services to consumers, businesses, and governments.
- Though Wall Street represents a big part of the financial sector, there are plenty of jobs on Main Street, too.
- A large chunk of the financial sector's revenue comes from mortgages and loans.
- Entry-level jobs in the financial sector include analysts, tax associates, auditors, and financial advisors.
What Is the Financial Sector?
The financial sector is a segment of the economy that consists of firms and institutions that offer financial services to consumers, businesses, and government entities. The sector includes banks, investment firms, insurance companies, and real estate firms, among others. A sizable part of the revenue that the financial sector generates comes from mortgages and loans.
The financial sector is more than just Wall Street and the institutions that operate there. Here's a look at some of the key places to work in finance—on both Wall Street and Main Street.
- Retail and commercial banking—Banks provide deposit accounts, mortgages, loans, credit cards, and debit cards. They also handle foreign currency exchange and money transfers. Potential jobs include bank teller, mortgage officer, branch manager, credit analyst, auditor, and software engineer.
- Investment banking—Investment banks help corporate and government clients raise capital and complete mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Many jobs in investment banking follow a standard path, from analyst to associate, vice president, director, and ultimately, managing director.
- Insurance—Insurance companies help individuals and businesses assess and manage risk. They also help investment bankers evaluate and underwrite capital finance-related risks. Insurance jobs include sales representative, customer service representative, property claims adjuster, data analytics, underwriter, and actuary.
- Financial advisors and brokerage firms—Brokerage firms help clients buy and sell securities, and some firms also provide financial advisory and money management services. Careers include customer service representative, software engineer, financial consultant, risk manager, portfolio manager, and trading specialist.
- Hedge funds—Hedge funds offer investment and money management services to high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) and institutional investors. Typical hedge fund jobs include financial analyst, trader, quantitative analyst, portfolio manager, and regulatory compliance officer.
- Private equity and venture capital—Private equity (PE) and venture capital (VC) firms provide money to startups and other businesses in exchange for an equity interest or profit participation. Positions include associate, product manager, financial analyst, software engineer, and business development.
- Other financial services—Other areas of the financial industry include careers in accounting, tax preparation, payment processing, and software development.
Jobs in business and financial operations are projected to grow at 8% from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
How to Break Into the Financial Sector
If you've spent years (or decades) in another industry, it can be daunting to pursue a financial sector job. Still, a career switch can offer a much-needed change of scenery, more rewarding challenges, and a better paycheck, among other perks. Of course, the financial sector is highly competitive, so you may need to brush up your resume—and your skills.
- Higher education—An MBA or finance degree will certainly help you land a job in the financial sector, but those are not the only higher ed degrees that companies will take seriously. Financial firms may also consider applicants with degrees in computer science/information technology, physics, engineering, math, economics, accounting, international business, corporate/business law, and the like. And keep in mind that you can strengthen any background with additional coursework in a relevant field.
- Professional certifications—Earning a designation (or two) can increase your credibility, lead to better opportunities, and help your resume stand out. Professional designations that may help you land a finance job include certified financial planner (CFP), certified public accountant (CPA), chartered financial analyst (CFA), enrolled agent (EA), chartered life underwriter (CLU), chartered financial consultant (ChFC), and chartered property casualty underwriter (CPCU).
- Financial reports, and beyond—Most jobs in the financial sector demand that you know your way around not only financial reports, but also economic policies, business trends, social trends, labor issues, and political events. The more you read, study, and immerse yourself in these topics, the better equipped you'll be for a job in the financial sector. A good place to start is to read financial media, such as Investopedia, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes, and Fortune.
- Networking—Whenever possible, network with people who already work in the financial sector to find out what it's really like and to get inside information about what employers are looking for in applicants. Try looking for local networking events or connecting with someone you know in the financial sector for insight into making a career switch. You may even be able to find someone who made a career change to the financial sector.
- Soft skills—Many employers in the financial sector seek candidates who have top-notch soft skills. Depending on the job, desired soft skills might include communication, decision-making, leadership, problem-solving, flexibility, team building, time management, persuasion, collaboration, conflict resolution, and a willingness to seek feedback. You likely possess some of these skills from a past or current career—and they will transfer to a job in the financial sector.
Entry-Level Finance Jobs
Unless you have a highly transferable (and desirable) skill set, you will likely need to focus on entry-level finance jobs first. A few well-known entry-level jobs in the financial sector include:
- Credit analyst—Credit analysts analyze investments and borrowers' creditworthiness to determine the potential risk for investors and lenders. They work for banks, credit rating agencies, investment companies, and other financial institutions. Most credit analysts have four-year degrees, and many also pursue industry certifications to advance their careers.
- Tax associate—Tax associates find ways to minimize a person's or company's tax liability. Most tax associates have a four-year degree in accounting or finance. They often work for accounting firms, various types of companies, and as independent contractors.
- Auditor—Auditors ensure that a company's financial statements comply with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). They may be employed by the company itself or work as outside consultants. Most auditors have a four-year degree in accounting or finance.
- Personal financial advisor—Personal financial advisors help individuals make decisions about investing, budgeting, and savings and create strategies for short- and long-term financial goals. They typically work in financial institutions, including banks, mutual fund companies, and insurance companies. Typically, a four-year degree is required for jobs in this field, though employers usually don't require a specific course of study.
Even if you don't land your dream job right away, there are many opportunities to move around, find your niche, and move up. What's more, financial sector jobs pay much higher than the median salary—even at the bottom level—so your paycheck may not take too big a hit.
The Bottom Line
Keep in mind that, depending on your goals, you may need to go back to school or take online courses to earn a degree or professional designation, which takes time. Still, with evening classes and self-paced online programs, it's possible to start working toward your next career now—before leaving your current job. People choose to switch career paths all the time.
What Are the Highest Paying Jobs in Finance?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the top-paying finance jobs include financial advisor, management analyst, financial analyst, financial examiner, budget analyst, labor relations specialist, purchasing manager or agent, insurance underwriters, claims adjusters, appraisers, market research analysts, and of course, executive-level positions.
What Jobs Are There in the Financial Sector?
Finance jobs include positions in retail and commercial banking, investment banking, insurance, brokerage firms, hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, and other financial services, such as accounting, tax preparation, and software engineers.
Do I Need an MBA to Work in Finance?
No, you don't need an MBA to work in finance, but it helps you to stay competitive. If you decide to pursue an MBA, choose a reputable program that will get you noticed.