What Can You Do with a Finance Degree? Careers for the 21st Century

A finance degree can be the first step towards a career helping businesses, nonprofits, and individuals make sound financial decisions.
Finance degree students attend a lecture and have a moment of levity

As a finance professional, you can ensure businesses and nonprofits operate smoothly and ethically or help individuals achieve their dreams. Here are seven career paths a finance degree can prepare you for.

Finance degrees: An overview

A finance degree will equip you with an understanding of accounting, statistics, and economics, and prepare you for a career in managing money in various forms. Finance is a key aspect of most any public or private sector organization, making the field versatile and steadily in-demand across many industries.

Studying finance can lead to careers with significant financial rewards, but that’s not the only draw. Finance powers the economy—banks can provide crucial loans to small business owners, financial planners can set up plans for young families to save for college, and smart investing allows people to retire without worry. Finance in the right hands can be a powerful force for innovation, prosperity, and social benefit.

Bachelor’s degrees in finance

A bachelor’s degree in finance or a related field is the first stepping stone to many finance careers. Undergraduate coursework in finance generally includes introductory courses to accounting, microeconomics, macroeconomics, and statistics. Some programs may also require calculus or other mathematics.

Master’s degree in finance 

A master’s in finance will build on your understanding of finance basics. Coursework might include financial modeling, data analytics, pricing theory, and financial ethics. A master’s in finance may not be required for entry-level positions, but can enhance your earning potential and prepare you for managerial work that requires a deeper understanding of financial principles. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) can also prepare you for finance careers.

Earning your finance degree online

The analytical and quantitative nature of finance degrees mean they can translate well to online learning. Online finance degrees have other perks. They tend to be more affordable than an on-campus experience and offer flexible scheduling. This makes them popular with students who want to work full- or part-time, or have family obligations.

Online courses on specific skills—like financial modeling or accounting—are also available if you’re looking to grow your expertise without committing to an entire degree.

Ready to start exploring? Take a look at online finance degrees and MBA programs.

Finance degree jobs

Finance doesn’t have to be all about the money—and it seems like people increasingly don’t want it to be anyways. A report by consulting company Deloitte found that members of the younger Gen Z generation are more likely to want to work for a company that aligns with their values than previous generations [1]. As social priorities and technology have evolved, so has finance.

Here are career paths in finance that are projected to have staying power well into the twenty-first century, even as new technologies and shifting values bring about change.

1. Fintech

New technologies and consumer appetite for transparent products have made financial technology—or fintech—companies see enormous growth in the twenty-first century [2]. Fintech encompasses a wide range of products, but broadly refers to technology that automates and digitizes financial services. Fintech companies can provide consumer-facing services like digital banking or business loans, or work with traditional financial institutions to modernize their technologies.

Fintech companies often look for specialists who know the financial realm well. If you’re interested in fintech, gaining some business operations or data analysis experience can give you a competitive edge.

2. Impact investing & Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)

Impact investing and the closely related SRI are growing methods of investing in which investors choose to place funds in companies or projects that align with their values. Investors in these fields might screen portfolios for companies that are seen as socially harmful by their clients, or actively seek out companies that are working to alleviate a social issue.

As an investor, you can work for companies that focus on responsible investing, or in the impact investing arm of traditional financial organizations like banks or mutual funds. The field has grown rapidly in recent years, with assets under management in impact investing nearly doubling from 52 billion USD in 2016 to 98 billion USD in 2020, according to a survey by the Global Impact Investing Network [3].

3. Financial analyst

Financial analysts parse data to help investors make sound decisions. Financial analysts can work for large investment organizations like banks, or for businesses to find new business or investment opportunities. As an analyst, you’ll study big-picture phenomena like market trends and competitor movement, and devise models to predict sales or results of business decisions.

Financial analysts play key roles in any number of sectors like media, biotech, and information technology. This makes it a versatile career option that can take you into new and growing industries. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of financial analysts is expected to grow at five percent over 2019 to 2029 [4].

4. Commercial banking

The commercial banking industry has gone through large shifts in recent years, adopting digital technologies to enhance their services while evolving to accommodate new players in fintech. But commercial bankers still play a crucial role in communities. As gatekeepers to financial products like business loans or mortgages, commercial bankers play an active role in the economic health of local areas.

As a loan officer, relationship banker, or branch manager, you’ll work with customers directly to assess their financial situation and offer them appropriate financial products. If you’re interested in how finance can touch the everyday lives around you, commercial banking remains a relevant and important piece of the finance world.

5. Grants analyst

Grants analysts help nonprofits navigate their finances by planning budgets, ensuring compliance, and identifying trends to help guide decision-making. Because nonprofits are different legal entities than businesses, you’ll need a specialized understanding of nonprofit accounting practices.

The nonprofit sector is growing. A 2020 report released by the Urban Center found that the number of registered nonprofits in the US grew five percent from 2006 to 2016—and total assets and revenue grew around 30 percent in the same time frame [5].

6. Financial advising 

A financial planner or advisor provides guidance to clients in order to achieve their short- and long-term financial goals. An advisor might counsel a client on how to structure their investments, or prepare a plan to help pay for college for a client’s children. Advisors with established clients or reputations might have the flexibility to set their own schedules later in their career.

Personal finance advising can be a rewarding career, with ample opportunity for face-to-face interactions and the chance to help people navigate what can be an opaque industry. The outlooks for the job are solid; employment for personal finance advisors in the US are expected to grow by four percent over 2019 to 2029 according to the BLS [6]. 

7. Accounting and auditing

Accountants and auditors ensure that an organization’s finances are accurate and compliant with laws and regulations. An accountant also might prepare financial statements or file taxes.

Accounting professionals are needed in virtually every industry, including health care, governance, and information technology. This versatility should make accounting a stable career choice even as factors like the economy or technological change might upend some sectors. Employment for accountants and auditors is projected to grow at four percent from 2019 to 2029 in the US, the BLS reports [7].


What salary can I expect to earn with a finance degree?

Salaries for finance degree graduates vary depending on the position, seniority, commissions, and bonuses. Here are the average base salaries for several finance jobs in 2020 in the US according to job search site Indeed:

  • Accountants: $54,905

  • Investment consultant: $62,831

  • Financial analysts: $71,418

  • Financial advisors: $70,269

  • Loan officer: $152,677

Keep in mind

Bonuses and commissions for some finance professionals can reach into the tens of thousands. These are not included in the base salary.

Finance vs accounting degrees—what’s the difference?

Broadly speaking, finance refers to the management of money, and accounting refers to keeping track of money. 

Finance degrees familiarize students with concepts such as economics, business fundamentals, or market risk in order to understand the context in which financial decisions are made. Accounting degrees might expose students to these concepts as well, but typically focus on concrete skills that prepare them to monitor financial transactions organizations make. Coursework might include statistics, tax accounting, or fraud examination.

Getting started in finance

A shifting landscape in finance has created several new career paths in the sector. 

Whether you choose a more innovative or traditional path to pursue, a career in finance can be rewarding and, yes, help you make the world a better place.

If you’re ready to get started, take a look at Coursera’s business, accounting, and finance degrees.

Related articles

Article sources

1. Deloitte. "Understanding Generation Z in the Workplace, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/understanding-generation-z-in-the-workplace.html." Accessed March 26, 2021.

2. PWC. "Financial Services Technology 2020 and Beyond: Embracing Disruption, https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/publications/financial-services-technology-2020-and-beyond-embracing-disruption.html." Accessed March 26, 2021.

3. Global Impact Investing Network. "Annual Impact Investor Survey 2020, https://thegiin.org/assets/GIIN%20Annual%20Impact%20Investor%20Survey%202020.pdf." Accessed March 26, 2021.

4. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Financial Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-analysts.htm." Accessed March 26, 2021.

5. Urban Institute. "The Nonprofit Sector in Brief 2019, https://nccs.urban.org/publication/nonprofit-sector-brief-2019." Accessed March 26, 2021.

6. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Personal Financial Advisors, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/personal-financial-advisors.htm." Accessed March 26, 2021.

7. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Accountants and Auditors, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm." Accessed March 26, 2021.


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