A career in finance can be personally and financially rewarding. It can also require long hours and high stress. So is finance a good career path? The short answer is yes. If you’re looking for a high-paying position with a certain level of job stability — and you genuinely enjoy the technical aspects of your role — finance could be a perfect fit.
Is Finance a Good Career Path?
A career in finance can be lucrative. For instance, the median pay in 2021 for a personal financial adviser was $94,170, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says. Overall, the median pay for business and financial occupations was $76,570 in 2021, which is significantly above the median annual pay for all occupations ($45,760). Moreover, top-paying finance jobs, including chief executives and financial managers, make well over six figures.
The industry is also growing, offering a certain level of job stability to people who pursue this career path. The BLS expects the number of business and financial jobs in the U.S., such as insurance underwriter and loan officer, to increase by 7% from 2021 to 2031.
Still, the finance industry is quite competitive, and entry-level employees, in particular, tend to work long hours in high-stress environments. So whether finance is a good career path for you ultimately depends on how much you enjoy the work and how much you prioritize a good work-life balance.
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Pros and Cons of Finance Careers
Before you jump into a career in finance, it’s helpful to explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of working in this field. These are some of the top pros and cons of finance jobs.
Pros of Finance Careers
- Good compensation, including benefits and bonuses
- Opportunities for growth
- Job stability
Finance careers generally pay well and include attractive benefits and bonuses. In addition, a job in finance frequently offers diversity in your day-to-day duties.
Pursuing a finance career path can also give someone a sense of accomplishment. For nearly two decades, Kimberly Foss, founder and president of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, California, has reaped personal and financial rewards as a certified financial planner. She previously worked at a large brokerage firm.
“My deepest sense of satisfaction comes when these two priorities intersect—when doing really excellent work for a client enables me to further establish and solidify my professional reputation and independence,” Foss says.
Working in finance also presents opportunities to move up the career ladder or into different segments of the sector. Foss’s experience shifting from a big brokerage firm to her own financial planning firm demonstrates this ability to switch gears.
“I moved into the independent advising part of the industry because I believed — as I still do — that this was the best way to provide the kind of client-focused service that people need,” she says.
Certified financial planner Josh Hargrove, a financial adviser with Insight Wealth Partners in Plano, Texas, emphasizes that a career in finance (depending on the type of job, of course) can make “a direct, positive impact on people’s lives.”
Another reason finance is a good career path? Many employers are looking for workers with finance experience, so people in the industry don’t have to worry as much about finding or keeping a job.
“Finance positions are considered critical organizational functions and a profit center within organizations, not simply for Wall Street investment firms,” says Lyle Solomon, principal attorney at Oak View Law Group, a Silicon Valley law firm whose primary practice areas are bankruptcy and debt settlement. “Working in a high-demand business allows you to experience something that everyone desires — stability.”
Cons of Finance Careers
- Barriers to entry
- Long working hours
- High-stress environments
Hargrove points out that it can be challenging to gain a foothold in the finance industry, particularly if you’re trying to build a base of clients.
He also notes that it can be hard to make a career move in the industry, as some employers require employees to sign non-compete agreements, Hargrove says.
Meanwhile, Solomon cites education requirements as one of the possible downsides of a career in finance. Many occupations in the finance sector require certain levels of schooling, which can be financially challenging for some students.
For Foss, one of the drawbacks of a finance career is working in a sector that can be rocked by stock market turbulence.
“Because people’s money is closely tied to their sense of security, market downturns generate a lot of anxiety and, sometimes, emotionally-driven decisions by clients that are not in their best interests,” she says. “Working with people to help them remain calm and to make informed decisions is a big part of the job, but it is also sometimes the most difficult.”
Furthermore, many people in finance work incredibly long hours and cope with tremendous stress.
“During certain times of the year, a financial career may have tight deadlines, demanding clients, and an overabundance of work,” Solomon says. “It may be difficult for you to acclimate to this industry at first, but it does get easier after you’ve learned how to deal with pressure.”
>>MORE: Explore what it’s like to work in finance for top companies with Forage’s free finance job simulations.
Types of Careers in Finance
A bachelor’s degree in finance is typically required to enter this career field. To advance in the finance sector, you might need to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
A variety of careers in finance are available. Utilizing data primarily from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, here are the key facets of popular roles:
- Category: Corporate finance
- Median annual salary: $77,250
- Projected growth rate (2021-2031): 6%
- Job description: Accountants help companies and individuals keep their financial records in order. Day-to-day duties include balancing company budgets, preparing and reviewing financial statements, filing corporate tax returns, and evaluating the risk associated with prospective company endeavors.
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Certified Management Accountant
- Category: Corporate finance
- Median annual salary: approximately $128,500
- Projected growth rate (2021-2031): N/A
- Job description: Certified management accountants, or CMAs, work for large businesses, governments, or other entities on strategic financial planning and management. They are essentially accountants but higher up a company’s organizational chart.
- Category: Corporate finance
- Median annual salary: $81,410
- Projected growth rate (2021-2031): 21%
- Job description: Financial examiners ensure that banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions are in compliance with the federal and state laws that apply to them. They perform risk assessments and recommend corrective action if they determine an institution is violating any new and existing regulations.
- Category: Insurance
- Median annual salary: $49,840
- Projected growth rate (2021-2031): 6%
- Job description: Insurance agents sell insurance policies to new and existing customers. They help applicants determine the amount of coverage they might need before the application heads to underwriting. Insurance agents might work directly for an insurance carrier, or they might work for a broker.
- Category: Investment banking
- Average annual salary: $118,769
- Project growth rate (2021-2031): N/A
- Job description: Investment bankers help their clients raise money and conduct large financial transactions, like facilitating a merger and acquisition or an Initial Public Offering (IPO). Clients include big companies, governments, and individuals.
>>MORE: Learn if investment banking is a good career path.
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- Category: Asset management
- Median annual salary: $131,710
- Projected growth rate (2021-2031): 17%
- Job description: Investment managers create, monitor, update, and optimize their clients’ financial portfolios. They work with individuals or companies to help them achieve short-term or long-term financial goals. Learn whether investment management is a good career path.
- Category: Commercial banking and real estate
- Median annual salary: $63,380
- Projected growth rate (2021-2031): 4%
- Job description: Loan officers are responsible for underwriting various types of financing (mortgages, auto loans, or personal loans) for their respective employers. They review applicants’ financial statements, credit histories, and more to determine whether and how much money a financial institution should lend them.
Personal Financial Adviser
- Category: Personal financial planning
- Median annual salary: $94,170
- Projected growth rate (2021-2031): 15%
- Job description: Personal financial advisers, or financial planners, help individuals manage their financial portfolios and achieve important financial goals. For instance, they might advise a client on how to save for retirement. Financial planners may operate their own practice or work in-house for a large company.
>>MORE: Learn more about 20 popular careers in finance.
Entry-Level Finance Jobs
Entry-level finance jobs include positions that handle administrative tasks in areas like client accounts and industry regulations, says Foss. In addition, some employers in the finance sector hire administrative assistants to organize workflows, manage calendars, and even help with client communications and relations. According to the BLS, median salaries and projected employment growth for other entry-level finance jobs are:
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Image credit: Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash
Many finance careers require a degree in finance or a related field, like accounting, economics, business, or math.
Finance jobs tend to be competitive, and it can be difficult to land an entry-level position without work experience. Completing internships, job simulations, and real-world projects can help you stand out from the crowd.