Career Guides

Career Guide for Financial Analysts

Financial analysts help businesses and organizations make investment decisions based on a review of data. A financial analyst studies complex financial information in order to draw a conclusion as to whether or not a particular investment would make a good purchase. Learn more about a career as a financial analyst in this free tutorial.

Financial Analyst Summary

  • Financial analyst positions require a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
  • Positions may also require professional licenses and certifications.
  • Keen competition is anticipated for these highly paid positions.
  • Financial analysts earn high wages.

Working as a Financial Analyst

Financial analysts provide guidance to businesses and individuals making investment decisions. Financial analysts assess the performance of stocks, bonds, commodities, and other types of investments. Also called securities analysts and investment analysts, they work for banks, insurance companies, mutual and pension funds, securities firms, the business media, and other businesses, making investment decisions or recommendations. Financial analysts study company financial statements and analyze commodity prices, sales, costs, expenses, and tax rates to determine a company’s value by projecting its future earnings. They often meet with company officials to gain a better insight into the firms’ prospects and management.

Financial analysts can be divided into two categories: buy side analysts and sell side analysts. Analysts on the buy side work for companies that have a great deal of money to invest. These companies, called institutional investors, include mutual funds, hedge funds, insurance companies, independent money managers, and nonprofit organizations with large endowments. Buy side financial analysts devise investment strategies. Conversely, sell side analysts help securities dealers, such as banks and other firms, sell stocks, bonds, and other investments. The business media hire financial advisors that are supposed to be impartial, and occupy a role somewhere in the middle.

Financial analysts generally focus on trends impacting a specific industry, region, or type of product. For example, an analyst will focus on a subject area such as the utilities industry, an area such as Latin America, or the options market. Firms with larger research departments assign analysts even narrower subject areas. They must understand how new regulations, policies, and political and economic trends may impact the investments they are watching. Risk analysts evaluate the risk in portfolio decisions, project potential losses, and determine how to limit potential losses and volatility using diversification, currency futures, derivatives, short selling, and other investment decisions.

Some experienced analysts called portfolio managers supervise a team of analysts and select the mix of products, industries, and regions for their company’s investment portfolio. Hedge fund and mutual fund managers are called fund managers. Fund and portfolio managers frequently make split-second buy or sell decisions in reaction to quickly changing market conditions. These managers are not only responsible for the overall portfolio, but are also expected to explain investment decisions and strategies in meetings with investors.

Ratings analysts evaluate the ability of companies or governments to pay their debts, including bonds. On the basis of their evaluation, a management team rates the risk of a company or government defaulting on its bonds. Other financial analysts perform budget, cost, and credit analysis as part of their responsibilities.

Financial analysts use spreadsheet and statistical software packages to analyze financial data, spot trends, create portfolios, and develop forecasts. Analysts also use the data they find to measure the financial risks associated with making a particular investment decision. On the basis of their results, they recommend whether to buy, hold, or sell particular investments.

Work environment. Financial analysts usually work in offices. They may work long hours, travel frequently to visit companies or potential investors, and face the pressure of deadlines. Much of their research must be done after office hours because their days are filled with telephone calls and meetings.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Financial analysts must have a bachelor’s degree. Many positions require a master’s degree in finance or a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Positions may also require professional licenses and certifications. However, licenses and certifications are generally only earned after someone is hired.

Education and training. A bachelor’s or graduate degree is required for financial analysts. Most companies require a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as finance, business, accounting, statistics, or economics. An understanding of statistics, economics, and business is essential, and knowledge of accounting policies and procedures, corporate budgeting, and financial analysis methods is recommended. An MBA or a master’s degree in finance is often required. Advanced courses or knowledge of options pricing, bond valuation, and risk management are important.

Licensure. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is the main licensing organization for the securities industry. Depending on an individual’s work, different licenses may be required, although buy side analysts are less likely to need licenses. The majority of these licenses require sponsorship by an employer, so companies do not expect individuals to have these licenses before starting a job. Experienced workers who change jobs will need to have their licenses renewed with the new company.

Other qualifications. Strong math, analytical, and problem-solving skills are essential qualifications for financial analysts. Good communication skills are necessary because these workers must present complex financial concepts and strategies. Self-confidence, maturity, and the ability to work independently are important. Financial analysts must be detail-oriented, motivated to seek out obscure information, and familiar with the workings of the economy, tax laws, and money markets. Although much of the software they use is proprietary, financial analysts must be comfortable working with spreadsheets and statistical packages.

With the increasing global diversification of investments, companies are assigning more financial analysts to cover foreign markets. These analysts normally specialize in one country, such as Brazil, or one region, such as Latin America. Companies prefer financial analysts to have the international experience necessary to understand the language, culture, business environment, and political conditions in the country or region that they cover.

Certification and advancement. Although not always required, certifications enhance professional standing and are recommended by employers. Certifications are becoming increasingly common. Financial analysts can earn the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, sponsored by the CFA Institute. To qualify for this designation, applicants need a bachelor’s degree, four years of related work experience, and must pass three exams. Applicants can take the exams while they are obtaining the required work experience. Passing the exams requires several hundred hours of self-study. These exams cover subjects such as accounting, economics, securities analysis, financial markets and instruments, corporate finance, asset valuation, and portfolio management. Additional certifications are helpful for financial analysts who specialize in specific areas, such as risk management.

Financial analysts advance by moving into positions where they are responsible for larger or more important products. They may supervise teams of financial analysts. They may become portfolio managers or fund managers, directing the investment portfolios of their companies or funds.

Employment as a Financial Analyst

Financial analysts held 250,600 jobs in 2008. Many financial analysts work at large financial institutions based in New York City or other major financial centers. About 47 percent of financial analysts worked in the finance and insurance industries, including securities and commodity brokers, banks and credit institutions, and insurance carriers. Others worked throughout private industry and government.

Job Outlook for Financial Analysts

Employment of financial analysts is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. However, keen competition will continue for these well-paid jobs, especially for new entrants.

Employment change. As the level of investment increases, overall employment of financial analysts is expected to increase by 20 percent during the 2008–18 decade, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Primary factors for this growth are increasing complexity and global diversification of investments and growth in the overall amount of assets under management. As the number and type of mutual and hedge funds and the amount of assets invested in these funds increase, companies will need more financial analysts to research and recommend investments. As the international investment increases, companies will need more analysts to cover the global range of investment options.

Job prospects. Despite employment growth, keen competition is expected for these high-paying jobs. Growth in financial services will create new positions, but there are still far more people who would like to enter the occupation. For those aspiring to financial analyst jobs, a strong academic background, including courses such as finance, accounting, and economics, is essential. Certifications and graduate degrees, such as a CFA certification or a master’s degree in business or finance, significantly improve an applicant’s prospects.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Number Percent
Financial analysts 13-2051 250,600 300,300 49,600 20
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Financial Analysts

Median annual wages, excluding bonuses, of wage and salary financial analysts were $73,150 in May 2008, which is more than double the national median wage. The middle 50 percent earned between $54,930 and $99,100. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $141,070. Annual performance bonuses are quite common and can be a significant part of their total earnings.

Financial Analysts help firms and organizations understand complex financial situations and numbers. If you are detail oriented, good with numbers, and have a keen ability to analyze large amounts of data, a career as a financial analyst may be a good choice for you.