What is a finance career? Finance embodies a variety of different fields and areas, including commercial banking, corporate finance, financial analysis and personal financial advising, insurance, investment banking, commercial banking, loan counseling, money management, real estate, as well as securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents. In general, though, finance “studies and addresses the ways in which individuals, businesses and organizations raise, allocate and use monetary resources over time, taking into account the risks entailed in their projects.”1 Finance may incorporate the study of money and assets, the management of those assets, as well as the profiling and managing of project risks.2 Finance positions “provide opportunities for strategic financial planning, quantitative analysis, investment management, and sales.” Each position in the finance field requires different skills and provides the employee with different rewards.3
Generally, finance is considered one of the most encompassing of all business fields; it requires immense knowledge of business and the economy.4
The finance industry is known for its long work hours. In 2006, about 1 in 4 employees worked 50 hours or more per week. Financial employees do not stop working once the workday is over; when they are not working they keep abreast of market events. In return, most workers in the finance industry enjoy comfortable office environments and, depending upon the field, large salaries.5
Who They Serve:
Financial positions are available in a number of institutions, particularly corporations and financial specific institutions. Industry organizations include investment banks, securities and commodities exchanges, brokerage firms, investment advisory firms, and portfolio management firms.
- Investment banks help corporations to finance their operations by “underwriting or purchasing and reselling new stock and bond issues.” They also advise corporations.
- Securities and Commodities Exchanges “offer a central location where buyers and sellers of securities meet to trade securities and commodities.”
- Brokerage Firms “trade securities for those who cannot directly trade on exchanges.”
- Investment Advisory Firms “provide advice to their investors on how to best manage their investments.” They also provide advice on other matters such as life insurance, estate planning, and tax preparation.
- Portfolio Management Firms “such as mutual funds, hedge funds, and private banks manage a pool of money for investors in exchange for fees.”6
As mentioned above, there are numerous fields in finance. Some of the largest industries that employ college graduates interested in finance include real estate, insurance, investment banking, financial planning, commercial banking, and corporate finance.7 Below is an examination of some of the most prominent areas of specialization in the finance profession. Please see the investment banking profile for information on investment banking and corporate finance.
Commercial Banking - Banks are responsible for safeguarding money and valuables, as well as for providing loans, credit, and payment services. They may also offer investment and insurance products.8 “Banking offers a variety of positions, some more broad in scope and others more specific. A branch manager, for example, is responsible for the overall success of the branch, including personnel issues, customer relations, and loan quality. More specific positions include credit analyst, loan officer, trust officer, and mortgage banker.
Each of these jobs requires the ability to review financial statements and project future performance. Many of them also require sales and customer service skills.”9 Commercial banks tend to serve large corporations, small businesses, as well as the general public.10 These banks range in size from a large global bank to a community bank. Most commercial bankers have a Bachelor’s degree in an area related to economics or business administration, or a Master’s degree in business administration. Advancement is achieved through additional training11. Commercial banks are now looking to employ those who have accounting and written communication skills, a strong work ethic, international skills, as well as marketing expertise.12 Aside from commercial banking, those looking for a career in banking may look for jobs in savings banks and loan associations, credit unions, and Federal Reserve banks.13
Financial Analysts and Personal Financial Advisors/Financial Planners - Both of these professions include providing analysis and guidance to businesses and individuals in making investment decisions. They “gather financial information, analyze it, and make recommendations.” Their job descriptions vary in that they provide different types of investment information and serve different groups. Financial analysts “assess the economic performance of companies and industries for firms and institutions with money to invest…they work for investment banks, insurance companies, mutual and pension funds, securities firms, the business media, and other businesses, helping them make investment decisions or recommendations. Financial analysts generally focus on a specific industry, region, or type of product.”
“Personal financial advisors assess the financial needs of individuals. Advisors use their knowledge of investments, tax laws, and insurance to recommend financial options to individuals. [They] usually work with many clients, and they often must find their own customers.” Both financial analysts and personal financial advisors must have a Bachelor’s degree, preferably in accounting, finance, economics, business, mathematics or law. Many also have earned a Master’s degree. Strong math, analytical, and problem-solving skills are considered essential to the profession.14
Financial Managers - “Financial managers oversee the preparation of financial reports, direct investment activities, and implement cash management strategies. Managers also develop strategies and implement the long-term goals of their organization.” Some specific job titles in this field include controller, treasure or finance officer, credit manager, cash manager, risk and insurance manager, and manager of international banking.
“Financial managers play an increasingly important role in mergers and consolidations and in global expansion and related financing.” A Bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite in this field, and many financial managers have a Master’s degree or professional certification. To some employers, experience is more important to them than formal education for their financial manager positions. Required skills in this field depend upon the position, but interpersonal skills, the ability to work as part of a team, think creatively, and solve problem, are all very important.15
Financial Sales Agents/(Stock)Brokers - Investors seek out financial sales agents when buying or selling stocks, bonds, shares in mutual funds, insurance annuities, or other financial products. Brokers also provide many other services, such as financial counseling or “advice on the purchase or sale of specific securities, explain stock market terms and trading practices, or design an individual client’s financial portfolio including securities, corporate and municipal bonds, certificates of deposit, life insurance, annuities, mutual funds and other investments.” Some financial sales agents serve institutional investors, yet most serve individual investors. Brokers must have a college education, with a special focus on gaining familiarity with economic trends and conditions. While a degree is important, most employers focus on brokers’ personal qualities and skills rather than their academic training. Stockbrokers must meet state licensing requirements. Many college graduates are hired as sales agents in banks and other credit institutions.16
Money Management - “Money managers work on the purchasing end of Wall Street deals and act as custodians for the investments of institutional customers.” Specific jobs in this industry include portfolio manager, portfolio management marketing, investment advisory, mutual fund analyst, and hedge fund principal/trader. While it is difficult to get jobs at the leading management firms, money managers also work at insurance companies, government pension funds, and bank trust departments. Employers look to hire money managers with outstanding interpersonal, sales, analytical, and communication skills.17
What Employers Want:
The finance industry “has one of the most highly educated and skilled workforces of any industry.” Employees, including entry-level employees, are expected to have a Bachelors degree or higher. In addition, successful workers have a love of working with numbers and are usually quite analytical in nature. Many employers require their employees to be licensed by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FNRA).18 Prospects are best for graduates from a four-year degree program from a nationally recognized university or college such as Johns Hopkins. Employers value a background in accounting, finance, and economics. Students interested in this field should seek out Economics and Entrepreneurship and Management courses while at Johns Hopkins. Earning a Master’s degree is an important asset for advancement.19
Job prospects for finance careers are heavily impacted by the state of the economy. Competition for these careers is always great, and is currently on the rise. Therefore, students interested in finance careers should have at least one internship in finance. Networking, relevant coursework and extracurricular activities are very important in securing an entry-level position. Extracurricular activities with a strong finance focus, such as the Marshal Salant Student Investment Team, or that provide experience working on teams, are very beneficial. Students should begin connecting with professionals in the industry, as early as possible, by utilizing Hopkins alumni and other personal contacts so that they can learn more about the industry, its structure, and the major employers.
What They Hire Undergraduates to Do:
There are a variety of entry-level positions available in the finance industry for those with a Bachelor’s degree. College graduates whose majors have focused on economics, marketing, business administration, accounting, industrial relations, or finance usually are found in many entry-level portfolio management positions. Other college graduates from a variety of majors fill entry-level analyst positions where they start with a training period.20 As mentioned above, many college graduates are hired by banks and other credit institutions as financial sales agents. Most importantly, employers are looking to hire college graduates who have majored in a related field and have gained some sort of professional experience during their undergraduate years.
Barry Uphoff - Partner, Capricorn Investment Group, Natural Sciences, Class of 1989
- Describe what you do and how you got started in your current career. - Invest the net worth of about 10 ultra high net worth individuals in a highly diversified manner--in total approximately $6B invested and growing.
- What is most rewarding about your job and/ or industry? What is most challenging? - The landscape is always changing and those who are able to put in the extra work are rewarded over the long run.
- Is your career the same or different from what you had envisioned your career would be when you started at Hopkins as an undergraduate? How is it similar and/or different? - Very different. I was a pre-med accepted at JHU's Medical School, but deferred to study at Oxford. Ultimately, I liked the business and investing aspects in health care more than the clinical aspects.
- What advice do you have for a Hopkins student entering your career field/industry? - Learn from the best investors in the industry.
Fraser Woodford - Director, Corporate Finance and Risk Management, Barclays Capital, International Relations, Class of 1996
- Describe what you do and how you got started in your current career. - I am a Director in the Corporate Finance and Risk Management Group at Barclays Capital. Our group is tasked with providing our corporate clients with financing solutions or derivative strategies to solve their corporate finance challenges. This role combines tax, accounting, rating agency, and investment banking knowledge. Our solutions can be as complex as designing a completely new product, to as simple as finding a new application for a product that already exists.
- What is most rewarding about your job and/or industry? What is most challenging? - Most rewarding: each client presents a new opportunity. Every deal is different, and I am constantly challenged to come up with something better than the last time. Most challenging: we are often "elephant hunting" - our transactions are infrequent, but typically bring in big revenue. Things can get derailed for so many reasons (or sometimes no reason at all). So there is a very low hit rate on the ideas we present, which can be frustrating at times.
- Is your career the same or different from what you had envisioned your career would be when you started at Hopkins as an undergraduate? How is it similar and/or different? - Completely different. I was going to work for the State Department, focusing on Africa. Umm. . . not exactly what I'm doing now.
- What advice do you have for a Hopkins student entering your career field/industry? - Know the "why." I see too many new hires (from both undergrad and grad school) that are so dependent on models, Excel, calculators, etc. that they have no idea why something is the way it is. You have a brain and a good education - use it! The one advantage new hires have over more experienced colleagues is that they are closer to the theoretical (academic) than the practical. Figure out why an answer is what it is (and not just what it is), and it makes taking that knowledge and transferring it to other situations (or selling it to a client) infinitely easier.
Mark Basch - Director of Product Development, Interactive Data Economics, Class of 1988
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - When I graduated from Hopkins, I went home to NYC and looked for a job in the NY Times. I found a position that was interesting and that became my field. When I was at Hopkins, I had no idea that financial information even existed as a field.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - My career path was working my way up to a management position. I then worked overseas in London and Tokyo for a while before I returned to the US. I changed divisions at the company I was working for and my division was acquired by another company. The end of these twists and turn left me where I am today.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I was a research analyst at a company called Securities Data Company. It is not in the exact same field as I am today, but a closely related one.
- What advice do you have for current students? - You don't have to know what you’re going to be doing when you graduate. You still have time to figure that out.
- What is your typical day like? - There is no typical day. One day I might be meeting with clients trying to help solve their problems and the next day I might be working with the development team to bring a new product to market.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: I enjoy the ability to solve problems. Challenging: The clients are very demanding and there is pressure each day to make sure everything is working properly
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - A typical entry level positions would be in data research or client support. The key to success is to learn what the company does and take responsibility for your own career.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? This is a growth industry. I foresee continued growth along with industry consolidation.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Knowledge of the financial markets and the ability to work under stress.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - In two years a person can expect to be in a more senior position and potentially a manager in five years. By ten years there are no limits.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Financials Services and Investment Banking
Matthew Zaft- Vice-President Investments, Merrill Lynch Sociology, Class of 1997
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Through interning as an undergraduate. No, when I started at JHU I was convinced I was headed to law school.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I interned both during intersession of my junior year and during the summer between junior and senior year. I started full-time in August after graduating.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Technically my first job was lifeguarding at Hopkins' pool which was for May, June, July, and part of August. My first "real" job after college was in my current field, and I have never looked back.
- What advice do you have for current students? - Freshmen and Sophomores--take as many different courses subject as possible; do not worry if you do not know what you want to do; have fun. Juniors--intern, intern, intern. Seniors--do not hesitate to ask alumni for help and advice even if you have never met them; JHU alums like to help other JHU alums and students
- What is your typical day like? - In the office between 7:30 and 8. Review all of my client's accounts activity from the previous day. Review what happened in all of the foreign markets overnight. Review any economic news of the day. Review any news on any of the companies in the portfolio I manage. Answer questions of clients. Work out with a personal trainer. Leave the office for home around 4:30.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: Both the relationships I form with my clients and the joy I get from making them lots of money. Challenging: Managing over $300 million of other people's money.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Even more towards money management and less towards "typical" brokers.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Strong work ethic, outgoing personality, good time management skills
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Two years--just starting to feel like they have a handle on things. Five years--just starting to "make it". Ten years--making high six figures and worth over $1,000,000
Edward Tuvin- First Vice President, Community South Small Business Lending
B.A., Economics, 1981, MBA, Class of 1993
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I started in business typing tickets in a lumber mill at the age of 14. At 16 I became a field laborer on construction sites, at 18 I was an assistant site superintendent in London. From there I moved on to working with several real estate developers and represented the interests of investors such as Prudential, Allstate, New England Life and Copley Real Estate Advisors. When the commercial real estate market crashed in the mid 1990's, I shifted to finance and have continued ever since. I am a commercial lender focusing on small business which means loans from $250,000 to $8 million.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - From working with a developer, Manekin Corporation, I became the assistant to the President. There I was involved with all areas of running a commercial development company including recruiting MBA candidates from Harvard, MIT, Wharton, etc. who had great educational experience but not necessarily a working knowledge of real estate. I discussed with my boss that while my financial contribution to the organization was high, I was being paid less than the new recruits. He agreed to adjust my salary and to pay for my Masters at Hopkins. I was later recruited to join Heller Financial as a loan officer for small business loans. We assist small businesses which represent almost 90% of all business in the United States in obtaining SBA loans. I enjoy helping people realize the dream of owning their own business, the financial rewards, and helping to boost our economy as a result of the jobs which are created thru the small business administration loan programs.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I worked with a local gourmet store where I was to be a partner in an import business with the owner. In college I had a valet parking business and had worked for him on various catering jobs. He liked me and gave me a position in the wine department while I gathered information for our planned import business. The import business never took off, but I learned a great deal about wines and today I am the Vice Charge de Missions of the Greater Washington DC chapter of the Confrerie de la Chaine de Rotisseurs, an international food and wine society.
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Focus on what is important and of interest to you. Plan - make plans in writing as to what you seek to accomplish in business and life. Buy a home early. Dress for success at all times. Read - books such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and industry related materials. For sales people read Jeff Gitomer's books. Learn to deal with various types of people and understand yourself. Network - be in front of people and work with your Hopkins alumni to seek out opportunities. At all times be honest -- you have one reputation in life and when you lose it, it is gone. Realize that life is short, have fun, and stay focused on your goals at the same time.
- What is your typical day like? -
6 a.m. check internet email and respond
7 a.m. work when it is quiet on financial projections and underwriting of loan packages.
8 a.m. breakfast with my wife
9 a.m. return phone calls
11 a.m. on the road for meetings with mortgage brokers, clients, attorneys, business brokers
4 p.m. back in the office to check email and paperwork, handling notes to follow up on items raised during the day -- on average I receive about 75 calls a day which I take mostly while driving between meetings
dinner ---- with my wife
8 p.m. plus or minus another hour or 2 of computer time
Of course it should be noted that exercise is missing and that is a critical requirement of anyone's schedule.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? -
Rewarding: Helping others to realize the dream of owning their own business.
Challenging: It is extremely competitive, (generally) borrowers have minimal loyalty and shop loans anywhere they can to save a penny, many lenders provide inaccurate information thus creating a bad reputation for the SBA programs, currently an inverse yield curve has short term rates higher than long term rates
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions - Working in a bank has often been the vehicle to gain access to non-bank lending that I am involved with. One needs to understand the commercial loan business and it is.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Alternative lending sources will replace most of what the SBA does today which programs that are more flexible and much less paperwork intensive than SBA loans require. There is a vast opportunity for supplying good loans to investors.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - An MBA, an undergraduate degree in finance. Sales training. No matter what, and even though I am a lender, we must still make the sale.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - $45,000 entry, as a salesperson $250,000 in five years, and if successful say $400,000 in a great year in ten years.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - Including but not limited to various Mortgage Banker's Associations, state banking associations, professional networking groups like BNI, and my best tip ever online networking thru LinkedIn.com
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - In addition to conventional banking and lending there are huge opportunities with finance companies such as CIT, CapitalSource, GE, and others.
Rob Deichert, Jr.- Vice President of AMN Operations, AOL, Economics, Class of 1997, MBA, 2005
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? -
Through colleagues at work. It was not my original goal.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - Started out in finance, switched to strategy consulting, and then internet startups
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Working for a hedge fund run by a fellow JHU and fraternity alum.
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Join a fraternity or sorority and take on a leadership position. It's great training to have to lead others without any real authority. Would also suggest doing a stint at the Phone-a-Thon raising money for JHU. Nothing like it to get you comfortable on the phone with people you don't know.
- What is your typical day like? - Meetings take up 75% of the day with most of them being with staff, internal customers or one-on-ones. The rest of the day is spent working on analyzing data or determining short-term and long-term strategy for the operations of AOL.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: The pace of change is amazing which means what you're doing six months from now could be completely different. We're also in a cutting edge industry where we can have drastic impacts on the future of advertising.
Challenging: Finding enough talented people. The industry has agreat many entry level jobs and we haven't done enough to market them to college students.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - There are many entry level positions. In sales you have account managers. Operations you have delivery analysts as well as launch and traffic roles. All of these roles require great communication skills as well as a firm grasp of numbers and strong computer skills.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Continued growth along with improved targeting capabilities.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Quantitative skills, computer skills, good people skills. Experience - would have at least one stint working with the general public, internships at internet startups, work on some websites.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Two years - one or two promotions maybe even leading a small team of individual contributors.
Five years - could be leading teams of people
Ten - could be director or vice president
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
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If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.