How to Become a Financial Analyst
If analyzing data trends and the performance of stocks and bonds to help businesses or individuals make investment decisions is appealing to you, a career as a financial analyst may be your calling. There are a few different directions you can take a financial analyst career, including a buy-side analyst or a sell-side analyst. Buy-side analysts work for hedge funds or insurance companies to help businesses with their investment strategies. Sell-side analysts advise financial service sales agents who sell stocks, bonds, and other investments.
Regardless of which route you want to take, here are the four big steps we recommend you take to successfully become a financial analyst:
Step 1 to Becoming a Financial Analyst: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
If you are currently enrolled in college and working toward your bachelor’s degree, you are already on your way to a financial analyst career. Most practicing financial analysts pursued a finance-related major like accounting, statistics, or economics; however, that is not necessarily a prerequisite. Other math-heavy fields like engineering and physics are not uncommon backgrounds among financial analysts. It is recommended that you take courses in business, economics, accounting, and math in your undergraduate program, as they will be necessary for this career.
Step 2 to Becoming a Financial Analyst: Complete an Internship
While this is not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged that you pursue a financial analyst internship. This will help you get a realistic picture of the career and understand the type of work you can expect on a day-to-day basis in this field. Internships also give you an opportunity to network with existing financial analysts and potentially find a mentor. Some of the relationships you form as an intern will help you throughout your career. An internship will also help you build your resume and provide experiences you can draw on for job interviews. Most employers prefer to hire people with experience, even for entry-level jobs. An internship also allows you to demonstrate your active interest in becoming a financial analyst and build experience.
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Step 3 to Becoming a Financial Analyst: Find a Job
Once you graduate with a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, you can pursue job openings for titles like junior financial analyst or entry-level financial analyst. Positions like these are often under the guidance of a senior analyst who will help show you the ropes of the industry. In these roles, you will encounter tasks like analyzing income statements, maintaining files, processing financial statements for clients, and analyzing plans and forecasts. While junior analysts could potentially advance, progression often requires either a certification or a master’s degree eventually.
A Concurrent Option: Earn a Masters of Science in Financial Analysis
Sometimes, candidates looking to pursue the CFA Charter also may pursue a Masters of Science Degree in Financial Analysis (MSFA). Certain graduate programs are aligned to the learning outcomes of the CFA Institute’s CFA Program, which allows for students to earn an MSFA while simultaneously preparing for the CFA exam. The College for Financial Planning's Masters of Science in Financial Analysis program includes Kaplan Schweser's CFA Essential Study Package to prepare for the CFA exam.
Step 4 to Becoming a Financial Analyst: Get Certified and/or an Advanced Degree
If you want to stay in the financial analyst field, many employers will require you to get the CFA charter for senior level positions. The CFA charter is the most prestigious designation a financial analyst can obtain. The charter program requires you to pass three rigorous exams (CFA Level I is offered every six months, Levels II and III are offered annually). It is recommended that you study at least 300 hours for each of the exams, so pursuing the CFA charter is not something to be taken lightly. However, it will qualify you for many advanced financial analyst roles. In addition to passing the exams, you will also need 4,000 hours of relevant experience for earning the charter. Getting experience prior to beginning the CFA Program will ensure you meet the experience requirement by the time you pass Level III. You can learn more about earning the CFA charter here.
Depending on your role, some employers may also require you to get licensing from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). This type of licensure generally requires sponsorship from your firm, so it is best to start a job first and find out what they require.
Obtaining a master’s of business administration (MBA) with a finance emphasis is another common route for financial analysts. You may find that many finance employers require a master’s degree for permanent and advanced positions. Getting your MBA will make you more attractive to employers and allow you more mobility in your career.
Demand for financial analysts is high and is expected to grow 12% over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now that you’ve got a handle on how to become a financial analyst, learn more about the career paths available to financial analysts.
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