The Highest-Paying Corporate Finance Specializations (And the Degrees Each Job Requires)
June 22, 2021
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of business and financial operations occupations is projected to grow 7 percent by 2028, adding about 591,800 new jobs. Of them exist opportunities within the most lucrative finance specializations—and make up some of the most promising career options out there.
Careers in finance may equate with grueling days at the office from the outset, but those who stick around are often recognized for their efforts with high pay and opportunities to move up in the ranks of their field. It’s a trade-off, and not exactly a new one. The financial services industry has a history of attracting ambitious people searching for big paychecks in exchange for their ability to think quickly, act fast, and produce consistent results.
While finance can be a fiercely competitive field to break into and you may not find your dream job right away, the industry is vast—and not exclusively for college or grad school math whizzes. While different finance careers require various degrees of quantitative knowledge and experience, you may meet people in the field with backgrounds in liberal arts, the humanities, or those who hold a Ph.D. in Data Science. Others may find success through their ability to connect with clients, identify trends in the market, and put in long hours.
Despite the workforce’s diverse range of backgrounds, specialized careers in the worlds of finance, business, and accounting require specific expertise that tends to come through the completion of particular graduate programs, on-the-job training, and sometimes, credentialing exams.
If combining your specific interests and abilities sounds like the right choice and the possibility of additional schooling doesn’t sway you, you’re in luck. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of business and financial operations occupations is projected to grow 7 percent by 2028, adding about 591,800 new jobs across a range of specialties and subspecialties.
What’s more, a select few will allow you to match your strengths and passion with a place in some of the highest-paying finance specializations. If you’re willing to put time and effort into training—not to mention, sustain a fair amount of pressure to do well professionally, you just might unlock some of the most promising career options out there.
It's important to note that the following career paths are broad corporate finance specializations only and that our list does not include investment industry jobs—like portfolio managers, traders, investment bankers, or analysts—which tend to pay vastly higher compensation, often seven figures.
_Median pay: $127,990_
The field of financial management includes jobs that involve overseeing the cash flow, investments, financial reports and overall financial strategies of an organization. While financial managers tend to specialize in specific industries their responsibility in any niche is to monitor the big-picture financial operations and financial health of their company or agency. Some financial management professionals may find their niche in banking, insurance, investments, real estate, healthcare, or law. Others may choose careers with corporations, nonprofits, or government entities.
Along with their teams, financial managers coordinate accounting and produce financial reports, cash-flow statements, and profit projections to help their organization steer clear of major risks and stay on the upside of profit. They’re also tasked with keeping a constant eye on various laws and regulations and market trends to advise top executives or investors on how they can expand their organization and acquire new assets, and where to cut costs. All the while, like other managers, they hire and supervise employees.
While this career has historically required a bachelor’s degree in finance, business administration, or economics upon entry, many aspiring financial managers seek out advanced degrees to boost job prospects and create a clear path to career advancement. Completing a Master of Finance, Master of Economics, or Master of Business Administration program can play a significant role in helping candidates improve their financial analytics skills.
Certification can also help professionals with and without master’s degrees demonstrate their competency and proficiency to prospective employers. Many professional certifications exist, like the Chartered Financial Analyst designation offered by the CFA Institute. CIMA certification from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants is ideal for those who are looking for comprehensive knowledge in management accounting on an international scale.
_Median pay: $104,340_
In the realm of finance, economists analyze the use and distribution of resources in markets in which buyers and sellers to trade their financial holdings. It’s an environment where time, risk opportunity costs, and information create uncertainty, tasking financial economists to use economic theory to evaluate how certain incentives or lack thereof impact decision making and ultimately, help investors make the right calls.
The duties of this profession generally consist of collecting economic or statistical data, writing reports, developing recommendations or plans to solve identified economic issues, and providing advice to investors across businesses, public, or private agencies.
Candidates with a bachelor’s degree in finance or economics may qualify for some entry-level economist positions, including jobs with the federal government. However, most positions in the private sector require a graduate degree like an MBA with an economics concentration, an MA or MS in economics, or a Master’s in Financial Economics. Those hoping to teach at a college or university commonly pursue a Ph.D. in Economics.
_Median pay: $88,890_
Personal finance encompasses every aspect of an individual or family unit’s financial life—from managing, saving, and investing to budgeting, banking, and planning for retirement. For those looking to improve their financial wellbeing, a personal financial advisor is essentially a go-to for meeting any short- or long-term goals they may have.
At a high level, these professionals work with clients to help them understand their financial standing by forming a complete picture of their assets, liabilities, income, and expenses and synthesizing it into a comprehensive plan to meet their financial goals. Investment, in particular, is a reason many choose to work with professionals within this specialization.
Within this vein, advisors will set up an asset allocation that fits both their clients’ willingness and financial capacity to take risks within the investment market. Once an investment plan is in place, clients receive regular updates from their advisors on their portfolio. Clients may also set up regular meetings with their financial advisors to review goals and progress.
Personal financial advisors need a bachelor’s degree to enter the field, whether in finance, economics, accounting, business, mathematics, or a related subject. Those looking to advance into management positions at financial services firms or attract new clients may seek out advanced degrees like aMaster’s in Finance or an MBA with a focus on finance.
Two of the most popular financial advisory certifications include Certified Financial Planner licensure from the CFP Board and Chartered Financial Analyst designation from the CFA Institute.
_Median pay: $85,660_
Where financial advisors deal directly with individuals, financial analysts take on an advisory role for institutions like banks, pension funds, insurance companies, and other businesses, providing them with various financial advisory services and assisting with mergers and acquisitions.
They’re primarily responsible for analyzing factors like market trends and the financial status of their company (or client) to predict the outcome of certain business decisions. To do so, they aggregate large amounts of financial data while taking into account factors like market conditions and any past transactions an organization has made of a similar nature. It’s a process that allows them to make recommendations on when an organization should buy and sell investments to ultimately increase revenue.
Successful financial analysts understand the evolutionary nature of their job and seek out training to stay informed through a bachelor's degree in finance, accounting, business, or a related field. Those looking to occupy a slightly higher rung on the corporate ladder may consider advanced degrees like a Master of Science in Business Analytics, Master of Science in Financial Economics, or Master of Science in Finance.
_Median pay: $76,220_
As the name of this specialization suggests, budget analysts help public and private institutions like governments, universities, and businesses of all sizes maintain balanced budgets. They keep an organization’s finances organized by running routine financial reports, collaborating with its leaders about funding needs, analyze data to determine the costs and benefits of various programs, and recommend how to allocate funding based on their findings.
Similar to the work of financial analysts, budget analysts may also examine past budgets and research economic and financial developments that affect the organization's income and expenditures. Budget analysts may recommend program spending cuts or redistributing extra funds. Although elected officials in government and top executives at companies typically make the final call on their organization's finances, the work of budget analysts is essential to helping them come to a decision.
Most employers generally require budget analysts to hold at least a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, business, public administration, economics, statistics, or a related field. Others prefer candidates with advanced degrees like an MBA, a Master’s in Finance , or Master’s in Accounting.
Additionally, budget analysts who work in the government sector may consider earning Certified Government Financial Management certification through the Association of Government Accountants.
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