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Careers in Financial Management

Financial Management Career and Job Highlights

  • A bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or a similar area is the basic academic preparation, but a master’s degree is becoming increasingly more important.
  • Employment will increase as the economy expands and increases the need for workers with financial expertise.

Financial Management Career Overview and Description

Nearly all firms, government agencies, and organizations have at least one financial manager to supervise the preparation of financial reports, guide investment activities, and execute cash-management strategies. Since computers can very efficiently record and organize data, financial managers spend much time developing strategies to help the organization realize its long-term goals.

Financial managers’ responsibilities vary according to position. Specific titles include controller, treasurer or finance officer, credit manager, cash manager, and risk and insurance manager. Controllers prepare special reports as required by regulatory authorities and oversee the preparation of financial reports, such as income statements, balance sheets, and analyses of future earnings or expenses, which describe and predict the organization’s financial position. In many firms, controllers supervise the accounting, audit, and budget departments.

Treasurers and finance officers direct an organization’s budgets and financial objectives by overseeing the investment of funds and managing associated risks, supervising cash management activities, addressing mergers and acquisitions, and implementing capital-raising strategies to sustain a firm as it expands. Credit managers supervise a firm’s issuance of credit by establishing credit-rating criteria, determining credit ceilings, and monitoring collection of unsettled accounts. Financial and accounting systems for the banking transactions of multinational organizations are developed by managers who specialize in international finance.

Cash managers help firms meet their business and investment needs by monitoring and controlling the flow of cash receipts and disbursements. Cashflow projections are essential to determining whether a firm needs loans to meet cash requirements and deciding how a firm should invest surplus cash. Risk and insurance managers, in addition to managing a firm’s insurance budget, direct programs to minimize potential risks and losses from a firm’s financial and business operations.

Financial institutions—commercial banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, mortgage and finance companies, and the like—also employ financial managers. Depending on their area of specialty, these employees’ duties include lending, trusts, mortgages, investments, and various programs, including sales, operations, or electronic financial services. In some firms, these managers might also solicit business, authorize loans, and direct the investment of funds, making sure always to follow Federal and State laws and regulations.

Branch managers of financial institutions oversee all operations of a branch office. Their duties might include hiring personnel, approving loans and lines of credit, attracting business by establishing good relationships in the community, and helping customers with concerns about their account. Financial managers employed in financial institutions need to stay current with the rapidly growing range of financial products and services.

On top of these general responsibilities, financial managers have unique duties in each organization and industry. Government financial managers, for instance, must be intimately familiar with the government appropriations and budgeting processes. Healthcare financial managers, on the other hand, need specialized understanding of healthcare financing issues. In nearly all cases, financial managers must know any special tax laws or regulations that concern their industry.

To reduce risks and maximize profits, firms rely more and more on the guidance of experienced and knowledgeable financial managers in mergers and consolidations, and in international expansion and related financing. Firms increasingly hire financial managers as temporary consultants to advise senior managers on these types of business operations. In fact, some small firms hire contracting companies to handle all of their accounting and financial needs.
Technological advances that continue to reduce the time it takes to create financial reports have forced the financial manager’s role to evolve, especially in business. These managers often work on teams and spend more time analyzing data. From these analyses, they create strategies for more efficient business procedures, which they in turn us to advise top management. Because of this increasing reliance on computers, financial managers need to keep up with the latest technological advances in order to maximize their firm’s efficiency.

Financial Manager Training Requirements and Job Qualifications

To break into financial management, candidates need to prepare themselves academically with at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, economics, or business administration. In an increasingly competitive market, a master’s degree—especially in business administration, economics, or risk management—is increasingly important. Employers value the analytical skills and the training in the latest financial methods and technology that these degrees provide their employees.

For some financial management positions, formal education can be secondary to work experience. This is especially true for banks, where branch managers have generally worked their way up from other positions. Banks often promote successful, experienced loan officers and other professionals. Some financial managers enroll in their company’s management training programs in order to move into the field.

To stay abreast of the complex and dynamic profession of financial management, these managers must upgrade their training throughout their careers. Firms have a vested interest in keeping their employees’ skills sharp, and many firms encourage employees to take graduate courses at colleges and universities or participate in professional training conferences. Banking, credit union, and financial management associations regularly collaborate with colleges and universities to sponsor local and national training programs. Firms frequently cover all or some of the costs of these programs for workers who successfully complete them. Workers enrolled in such programs prepare thoroughly before attending various sessions on subjects like financial analysis; international banking; information systems; and accounting, budget, and corporate cash management. Such specialized courses may accelerate one’s professional advancement, even though the usually criteria for promotion are ability, experience, and leadership.

Professional certification is another option for those looking to expand their skills and emphasize their competence, and many associations offer professional certification programs. Investment professionals with a bachelor’s degree, passing marks on three sequential examinations, and requisite experience can earn the designation of Chartered Financial Analyst from the Association for Investment Management and Research. The Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) awards an accreditation of Certified Cash Manager to financial workers with at least 2 years of relevant experience who pass a computer-based exam. Members of the Institute of Management Accountants can receive the designation of Certified in Financial Management if they have a bachelor’s degree, have at least 2 years of work experience, pass the institute’s four-part examination, and complete ongoing education requirements. Financial managers concentrating in accounting may also become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or a Certified Management Accountant (CMA).
Financial managers must possess various skills. Because they constantly interact with and manage people, working on teams and explaining complex financial information, financial managers need excellent interpersonal and communication skills. Financial managers should think creatively and be problem-solvers, and they must be able to apply their analytical skills to all types of business situations.

They also need a broad understanding of business practices, as they work extensively with many of the firm’s departments. They must be able to work on the latest computer technology. Furthermore, the increasingly global nature of finance means that financial managers must be familiar with international finance and they may benefit from being proficient in a foreign language.

Successful financial managers have various options available to them, since efficient business operations rely on effective financial management. Within an organization, financial managers with training, experience, and a solid understanding of various departmental operations are prime candidates for advancement to positions of upper management. Other financial managers choose to move laterally to similar positions in other industries, and those with extensive experience and access to sufficient capital may even found consulting firms of their own.

Financial Managment Job and Employment Opportunities

Through 2012, employment of financial managers should grow about as fast as the average for all occupations. Despite expected steady growth that should match growth of the general economy, competition will be keen for positions in financial management because there will probably be more applicants than job openings. Employers will look for candidates with expertise in accounting and finance, and will be especially interested in those with a master’s degree. Beyond these basic qualifications, competitive candidates will have strong computer skills, will be familiar with international finance, and will have excellent communication skills, since financial managers work on strategic planning teams.

Job growth for financial managers will be directly related to the economy as a whole. Overall, the next decade will see continued job growth for financial managers, because the need for financial expertise will grow as the economy expands. This growth will come from the creation of new businesses as well as from the expansion of established ones. Growth for financial managers does face several obstacles. Mergers, acquisitions, and short term economic downturns reduce employment in this occupation because companies are likely to close departments, downsize, or even go out of business—diminishing the need for financial managers.

Despite continued, albeit slower, consolidations by the banking industry (which employs over 10 percent of all financial managers), there will be a continued need for bank branch managers. In fact, as they refocus on existing branches and create new branches to serve a growing population, banks are expected to employ an increasing number of branch managers. Moreover, banks that extend their products and services to include insurance and investment products will need branch managers who are familiar with these areas. In consequence, candidates authorized to sell insurance or securities will be more appealing to employers.

The present slump in the securities and commodities industry should not damage long-term prospects for financial managers in that industry because more managers will be needed to handle progressively more complex financial transactions and manage an increasing number of investments. Specifically, firms will need financial managers to raise capital, conduct mergers and acquisitions, and assess global financial transactions. Risk managers, who gauge risks for insurance and investment purposes, will also be needed in the industry.

In some cases, financial managers may be hired temporarily, to steer a firm through a short-term crisis or to suggest ways to increase profits. Even in organizations where all accounting and financial operations are contracted out, financial managers may be necessary to oversee the contracts.
Computer technology will have significant implications for financial managers. Because computers can generate financial reports in less time and with fewer people than in the past, the next decade will see some changes in the ways financial managers perform. For example, corporations will need financial managers to forecast earnings, profits, and costs, and to think of original ways to improve profits.

Historic Earnings Information for Financial Management Professionals

In 2002, financial managers had median annual earnings of $73,340. The range of earnings for the middle 50 percent was from $52,490 to $100,660. The earnings of the lowest 10 percent were under $39,120, while the earnings of the highest 10 percent exceeded $142,260. In 2002, financial managers in the industries employing the most of these managers reported the following median annual earnings:

  • Securities and commodity contracts intermediation and brokerage – $125,220
  • Management of companies and enterprises – $88,310
  • Nondepository credit intermediation – $78,400
  • Local government – $63,090
  • Depository credit intermediation – $58,790

A 2002 survey, performed by Robert Half International, a staffing services firm specializing in accounting and finance professionals, showed that directors of finance were paid from $75,000 to $204,500, and corporate controllers were paid from $54,000 to $138,750.

The Association for Financial Professionals’ 14th annual compensation survey found that financial officers’ average total compensation in 2002, including bonuses and deferred compensation, was $130,900. Average total compensation for selected financial manager positions was as follows:

  • Vice president of finance – $183,500
  • Treasurer – $150,600
  • Assistant vice president-finance – $141,300
  • Controller/comptroller – $134,300
  • Director – $113,600
  • Assistant treasurer – $111,900
  • Assistant controller/comptroller – $115,500
  • Manager – $84,500
  • Cash manager – $64,700

Salary varies by industry, location, and size of an organization (financial managers in large organizations generally earn more than those in small ones). Earnings are not strictly limited to salary: deferred compensation in the form of stock options is gaining popularity, particularly for senior level executives, and many financial managers in both public and private industry receive bonuses, which vary considerably by an organization’s size.