Finance Or Accounting - Which Career Path Should You Choose? |

Finance Or Accounting - Which Career Path Should You Choose?

By Avery Phillips

Updated April 8, 2021 Updated April 8, 2021

Once it’s been determined that you have an undeniable knack for numbers, it’s time to decide which path you want to go down: finance or accounting?

Careers in both fields are plentiful and can be lucrative. The next steps will be to explore the differences between the two, what master’s degree to pursue, which program best suits your personality, and which profession is most compatible with your abilities and career goals.

Both fields show faster than average career growth through 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here’s a breakdown of each field of study and what you can expect:

The Differences Between Finance and Accounting

In a nutshell, finance involves the management of money while accounting involves obtaining, recording, organizing and analyzing raw data and turning it into business insights. Or put another way, according to Peterson’s, “finance is about actually shifting or manipulating money, while accounting is about tracking those kinds of manipulations.”

Accounting tends to have a more narrow focus than finance. Accounting focuses on the day-to-day management of financial reports and records. Finance takes that same information to project future growth and to analyze expenditure in order to strategize company finances.

“So finance degree students will likely be more interested in financial strategy and control, while accounting degree students will be more focused on professional principles and processes, used in order to manage numbers rather than influence them,” according to TopUniversities.

Accounting requires attention to detail and self-discipline with the ability to organize, quantify and analyze. Financiers need to meet those qualifications as well, but the bottom line is what’s important in finance, so you need great communication skills and confidence to boot.

How Much Can You Expect to Earn?

Accounting and finance graduates are highly sought after by employers — with no signs of slowing down.The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reported that starting salaries for accounting majors in the U.S. averaged about $51,475 annually, while finance majors started at a higher salary of $52,788.

There’s a big jump in salary at the postgraduate level. Salaries for an accountant with a master’s degree can expect to earn $62,374, and finance postgraduates earn an average starting salary of $71,527.

The numbers appear to show that finance majors can expect to earn more than accounting majors, however, if you get a professional accounting qualification in addition to your degree, a certified public accountant (CPA) could earn up to $71,990.

What Types of Jobs Can You Get in Accounting?

Within the accounting world, most people go into auditing or accounting. Auditors are usually hired by outside consultants to ensure all financial records of an organization have been managed appropriately.

Accounting professionals work in a wide variety of settings and usually fall into one of three broad categories: public, management or government. According to Business Administration Information, these are some common accounting jobs:

  • Budget analyst: Tax professionals who help public and private organizations organize their finances properly. They may work with many types of organizations, including governments, businesses and universities.
  • Public accountant: Public accountants work with financial documents that the clients must disclose by law. As a public accountant, you could focus on tax issues and advise your clients about tax advantages as well as assist on strategic business decisions. Some public accountants focus on forensic accounting, which investigates financial crimes.
  • Internal or external auditor: Internal auditors ensure that an organization’s funds are not mismanaged. They determine ways to improve financial processes and reducing fraud, waste and abuse. External auditors do similar work, but with an outside entity instead of the one they are auditing.
  • Management accountant: This job includes overseeing finances for private companies, such as budgets and other internal financial documents, as well as conducting risk and cost analysis.
  • Government accountant: Subject to government oversight, you specialize in financial operations subject to government oversight or those conducted by the government itself.

What Types of Jobs Can You Get in Finance?

Finance professionals might work with corporations or investment firms or funds, or in government offices. A financial advisor, for example, could work with anyone from individuals with a handful of assets to major corporate executives with significant portfolios.

Some of the specialities within finance include:

  • Fund managers: The focus is on buying, selling and projecting the future value of hedge or mutual funds.
  • Portfolio managers: This job entails overseeing the investment mix of an individual or organizational investment portfolio, including stocks, bonds and real estate.
  • Ratings analysts: Specializes in assessing a business or government’s ability to repay its debts.
  • Risk analysis: Projects the return on a specific investment and the risk of a loss.
  • Buy-side analysts: Specialization in investment procurement and management strategy for the client.
  • Sell-side analysts: Offers advice to sales teams on when to disburse stocks, bonds and other financial products.

Postgraduate Work Could Yield a Higher Paying Job

As mentioned, the more education you have, the more money you will probably earn. A postgraduate degree is often necessary to gain an edge over the competition, which means an undergraduate degree is considered the minimum requirement for any job within the finance market.

It becomes more complicated when deciding which degree to pursue. Should you get a master’s in finance, accounting, or an MBA with a speciality in finance or accounting?

An MBA includes a broader study in finance, accounting, markets, entrepreneurship and management. MBA programs require educational prerequisites and professional work experience. A master’s in finance is a more focused alternative and becoming an increasingly popular choice, especially among younger people who don’t have a ton of work experience but do have an accredited degree.

“While the MBA prepares students to work in a variety of fields, the MF trains its graduates to enter fields such as trading, investment or risk management,” according to Investopedia.

But with an MBA, there’s a ton of different career paths and job opportunities you can take depending on your interests, skills and aspirations. An MBA is a very versatile and valuable option. You could get a job in marketing, management consulting, investment banking, operations or become a financial advisor, to name just a few.

If you want to become a CPA, you’d be more inclined to pursue a master’s in accounting. If you wanted to work as a business leader within an accounting department you’d probably learn more about leadership with an MBA.

Choosing an advanced degree may seem like a daunting task, especially if there isn’t a single program that is perfect in every case. It will depend on your career goals. But no matter which field of study you choose to pursue, you can expect to be challenged and rewarded for your hard work. 

This article was originally published in February 2018 . It was last updated in April 2021

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