With the recent growth of business and financial markets, employers’ interest in qualified individuals to provide financial analysis for their businesses is on the rise. According to Forbes, the growing demand for financial analysts is on track to outpace the demand for professionals in many other careers by 2026. Someone who enjoys math and analytical thinking may be interested in how to become a financial analyst but unsure of what the work entails and what opportunities are available.
What Does a Financial Analyst Do?
Financial analysts — also called securities analysts and investment analysts — are professionals who collect, monitor, and evaluate information to make forecasts and recommendations relevant to their sectors. Those who become financial analysts are often employed in companies such as:
- Financial planning institutions
- Investment advisory firms
- Portfolio management providers
- Insurance companies
- Government regulatory firms
Typical Steps for Becoming a Financial Analyst
According to the National Center for O*Net Development, people who are drawn to financial services careers are natural planners. They like to evaluate and compare facts then make judgments and decisions based on what they have learned. They make charts, plot graphs, and compare the merits of different choices when making purchases. Combined, these traits make a great foundation for those who want to pursue a financial analyst career. However, there are other important and necessary steps along the path.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Earning a bachelor’s degree is often the most important step a future financial analyst takes toward achieving his or her goals. While general courses in economics, statistics, and other related fields can be relevant to the field of financial analysis, a more targeted degree may be ideal. For example, a Bachelor of Science in Financial Services can be ideal for individuals who are pursuing a career in financial analysis.
Step 2: Attain Licensing and Certifications
Many bachelor degree graduates begin their career working in accounting, investment, or banking firms. While additional certifications may not be necessary at the beginning of their work experience, many professionals obtain licenses and designations later in their career.
Any firm or company providing financial products for sale must comply with specific regulations to protect consumers from fraudulent or unfair practices. Some financial analyst positions involve the sale of financial products and based on the state, licensing is a key component of how to become a financial analyst. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) requires entities under its purview to register and comply with its regulations. These specify that financial analysts must be licensed by FINRA. As a result, many employers prefer financial analysts who are already FINRA-licensed.
Even in cases where FINRA licensing is required, however, prospective hires may not be required to be licensed prior to receiving an offer of employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most companies will consider unlicensed job applicants if their other qualifications demonstrate they are a good fit for a specific role. Since FINRA licenses require employer sponsorship, job applicants who show potential will often be hired with the understanding that their new employers will sponsor them.
In addition, employers often recommend that financial analysts pursue the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) credential from the CFA Institute. While not required by law, this additional certification often improves financial analysts’ chances for professional advancement. Even if new financial analysts do not automatically qualify for this certification, they could work toward applying for certification while getting experience in the field.
According to BLS, the requirements for the Chartered Financial Analyst credential include:
- A bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting
- A minimum of four years of qualified work experience
- Passing scores on the three CFA Institute exams
Financial analysts may also achieve certification in more specialized areas by demonstrating their expertise and passing additional exams.
Step 3: Build On-the-Job Experience
Clearly, it’s important to have both the right education and any needed licensing and certifications to become a financial analyst. Beyond these steps, it’s also important for future financial analysts to get work experience in the financial industry as early as possible and work their way up.
O*Net data show that employers do consider relevant work experience when hiring potential financial analysts. Job candidates who have hands-on experience working in finance, economics, or accounting might have big advantages over other job seekers.
Step 4: Earn a Master’s Degree in Accounting (Optional)
While on-the-job experience is necessary, financial analysts have additional options for fortifying their resumes. Many choose to improve their knowledge in order to increase interest from potential employers by obtaining a master’s degree. Many professionals pursue a general master of business administration (MBA) however, a Master of Science in Accounting degree is an optional step that may help analysts’ stand apart in the job market.
To acquire a master’s degree in accounting, students usually must earn between 30 and 60 credits in addition to a bachelor’s degree. Courses for this graduate degree program cover advanced auditing, advanced financial accounting and reporting, managerial methods, and strategic analysis, as well as other related topics.
Financial Analyst Salaries and Demand
As a range of diverse, new financial products becomes available on a global scale, every industry and market faces new challenges. In most cases, businesses will require the services of financial analysts who have up-to-date knowledge and relevant expertise.
According to Forbes, in 2017, financial analyst became the most promising job in the finance sector. This appears to be a trend, as BLS has projected an 11-percent growth in the employment of financial analysts between 2016 and 2026.
While markets and economic factors can shift over time, the strong demand and above-average growth potential for financial analysts seem to indicate good earning potential for students who choose to pursue this profession. BLS reports that the median salary of a typical financial analyst is $84,300. However, salary can vary by industry. Financial analysts who work in securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments and related activities can earn a higher median salary of $100,180 while analysts working for insurance carriers and related activities may earn a lower median salary of $76,860. Entry-level financial analysts with under five years of experience may also have an initial lower annual salary, which starts at $57,000 according to PayScale.
Skills A Financial Analyst Needs
Earning a finance degree and taking the steps to become a financial analyst requires specific abilities and the development of specialized skills. Future financial analysts may have a natural tendency toward analysis and organization, but their studies will help direct and expand these skills.
According to O*Net, finance students and future financial analysts should develop the following important skills:
- Critical thinking: making well-reasoned judgments based on logical thought processes
- Time management: the ability to use one’s time effectively and productively
- Research: the systematic investigation of information to establish facts and draw conclusions
- Analysis: the process of examining structures and systems to assess how they may be strengthened
- Interpersonal communication: the ability to exchange information and understanding with others
A financial services degree program provides opportunities for students to become proficient in these important skills. With relevant work experience and appropriate training, finance students can become equipped to pursue the path of becoming a financial analyst.
Start Your Journey To Becoming A Financial Analyst Today
As an expanding field with a projected increase in hiring demand, financial analysis has much to offer job seekers. Meanwhile, increased access to educational opportunities and information has reduced barriers to entry. Earning a bachelor’s degree and gaining on-the-job experience will help professionals decide if they would like to pursue additional certifications. Attaining FINRA licensing and earning a CFA designation are practical measures that any finance student can to accelerate their opportunities towards a promising career as a financial analyst.
For individuals considering this career path, an online bachelor’s degree in finance may fit very well into their busy work and personal schedules. Learn more about Maryville University’s online Bachelor’s in Financial Services program and start on the path to the career of your dreams today.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Financial Analysts