Becoming a Financial Analyst - Education, Experience & Certification
To the average person, making financial investments is no different than betting on horses. Maybe they have a hot tip or maybe they like the look of a particular pony, but the final calculation is rarely based on much more than that. To financial analysts, however, making investments is more like a meteorologist predicting the weather: a multivariable calculation that takes into consideration various data points and quantifiable trends. And while the outcome may not match the prediction identically, it’s often pretty close.
Financial analysts offer guidance to businesses or individuals who are making investment decisions. They compare historical data, current data, and emerging trends. They evaluate the financial statements of a company to determine it’s true value. And, bringing it all together, they work with management to determine the best investment opportunities for specific organizational goals.
It’s a tough profession, but a lucrative one: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), financial analysts earn an average of over $85,000 per year, with the top 10 percent making almost double that. But there’s a lot of room for variation within this job title. Financial analysts generally focus on a particular industry, geographical region, or product. They can work for banks, hedge funds, nonprofits, or corporate entities. Even if investing does resemble a horse race sometimes, then financial analysts are the ones who consistently have the hot tips.
Check out our step-by-step guide to becoming a financial analyst below.
Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Financial Analyst
Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)
After graduating from high school, aspiring financial analysts need to earn a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor of science in finance is the most direct route, but majors in statistics, accounting, or business can also provide an entry point. Admissions requirements will vary from school to school, but generally include the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.
Arizona State University offers a bachelor of science in finance program at its Tempe, Arizona campus. In addition to a broad foundational curriculum, students take finance-related classes such as advanced managerial finance; security analysis and portfolio management; mathematics for business analysis; and financial markets and institutions. Hosted through the university’s W.P. Carey School of Business, students will have access to specialized initiatives in the business community and a large professional network. The program consists of 120 credits and non-resident tuition is approximately $26,470 per year.
Southern New Hampshire University’s online bachelor of science in finance program is one of the most affordable and most flexible. The curriculum is designed to teach students how to create financial plans, support strategic goals, analyze statements, and comply with policies. Classes cover topics such as corporate finance; financial markets; the fundamentals of investments; financial regulations and ethics; and multinational corporate finance. The program consists of 120 credits and costs approximately $320 per credit.
Step Two: Gain Early Work Experience (Optional, Timeline Varies)
After graduating from high school, it’s possible to find entry-level work as a financial analyst. This early work experience can be critical in forming one’s understanding of the financial landscape and how one fits within it. Do you enjoy trading securities, or would you prefer analyzing global markets? Now’s the time to figure out your preferences, and where to train your focus. At this stage, you’re not only putting your education into practice for the first time, you’re also building a professional network that can advance your career down the line.
Step Three: Get Licensed (Optional, Timeline Varies)
While it’s not a requirement for all financial analysts, licensure may be necessary for those dealing in regulated services, such as buying and selling securities. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers a wide assortment of licensure exams that cover everything from futures and options to research analysis. Financial analysts may begin with the introductory Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam before moving on to more specialized qualifications.
Do note that licensure often requires an individual to be sponsored by a FINRA-member firm, which means these qualifications are generally pursued during employment, and not as a prerequisite to it.
Step Four: Earn a Master’s Degree (Optional, One to Two Years)
Not all financial analysts get a master’s degree, but the ones who do often get hired as senior analysts straight out of school. Master of business administration (MBA) programs can provide the managerial training necessary to take on positions of high responsibility, and further specializations allow a financial analyst to focus their expertise into a specific niche.
Admissions requirements vary from school to school, but generally include the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); GMAT and/or GRE scores; letter(s) of recommendation; work experience; and a personal statement.
Purdue Global offers an online MBA that’s taught by real-world practitioners and self-paced through the school’s ExcelTrack program. Core courses cover topics such as business analytics; economics for global decision-makers; leadership strategies for a changing world; and designing, improving, and implementing processes. Furthermore, students may add a 16-elective concentration in one of six areas, including in finance. The program consists of between 76 credits and costs approximately $485 per credit.
Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business has an online MBA program ranked in the top 15 by The Princeton Review. The core curriculum is designed around the pillars of strategy, technology, and leadership. Students may choose to add a concentration in finance. Courses include quantitative analysis; prices, profit, and the market economy; information and process systems; and accounting information and control systems.
In addition to online learning, students attend one immersion experience in Los Angeles and collaborate with one of the school’s corporate partners. The program consists of 52 credits and costs approximately $1,815 per credit.
Step Five: Get Certified (Four Years)
Many employers require their financial analysts to be certified as a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) through the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute (CFAI). Certification is a multi-step process that lasts, on average, four years, and candidates will need four years of direct experience with investment decisions either before, during, or after their participation in the CFA program.
In addition to the eligibility requirements, candidates need to pass three CFA exams, each of which requires approximately 300 hours of study. Once all three exams have been passed, and all four years of experience have been collected, candidates need to submit letters of reference regarding ability and character. If all submitted materials are accepted, a financial analyst will have earned their CFA. The standard registration fee and one-time enrollment fee come out to $1,450 in total.
Helpful Resources for Financial Analysts
Financial analysis isn’t easy. Between licensing regulations, best practices, and evolving trends, there’s a lot of information to keep tabs on. Check out some of the resources below to get an idea of what’s top of mind for leading financial analysts.
- Association of Financial Professionals (AFP)
- Chartered Financial Analyst Institute (CFAI)
- Financial Analysts Journal
- Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)