Insider Report: What It’s Really Like Working in Finance and Accounting
Picking your future career is never easy and finding the right pick can be hard when you can’t know what to expect.
But you are definitely doomed to pick the wrong career if you base your decision on industry hearsay and things you see in the movies.
So, to ensure you know what it’s really like working in finance and accounting, check out this insider report into what jobs are on offer, what public perceptions get wrong about the job, how to get in the industry and the realities of working in finance and accounting.
VARIETY OF ROLES IN THE FIELD
It’s first important to understand that working in finance and accounting doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing if you are an investment banker or a small business accountant.
The sector of finance includes a number of different roles, with varying responsibilities and functions.
In addition, the sector’s most popular jobs, accounting, is itself a field with plenty of employment opportunities.
So, your experience of the sector will be different depending on the actual job title you have.
The variety in the finance and accounting sector can often depend on whether you work in the public or the private sector.
Responsibilities, along with salary prospects, can be hugely different when you’re working for the government rather than a private business.
In addition, finance and more specifically accounting jobs can differ when a different sector is involved. You could be an accountant for a fashion business or work as a financial adviser for a multi-national in the furniture industry.
You’re not necessarily just working with numbers or dealing with the financial industry – you might find plenty of career opportunities that combine your passion for finance and another sector.
To give you a better understanding of the roles available in the sector, here are a few example job titles in finance and accounting:
- Banker or a specialized investment banker
- Financial adviser
- Accounting technician or chartered accountant
- Tax adviser or tax inspector
- Stock broker or investment analyst
The roles come in all sorts of specifications, but central to them is the focus on numbers.
Most roles include the analysis and understanding of financial data and the use of financial theories in order to further a specific objective, for example.
Furthermore, certain professions within the industry are more popular than others – chartered accountants are more in demand than forensic accountants, for example.
THE GLAMOROUS IMAGE OF FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING JOBS
When it comes to the industry, quite a few misconceptions and common beliefs exist that don’t always hold true.
The public perception of the finance sector is that of excessiveness and greed.
When we think about investment bankers and stockbrokers, we think these people are just drinking champagne all day and making money at the expense of other people.
The industry is associated with fast money and fast cars – you spend a bit of time making deals and even more time on having fun.
The negative image is not helped by the recent publicity. News of rogue traders and bankers who only looked after themselves were everywhere during the aftermath of the financial crash in 2008.
On the other hand, our image of accounting professions isn’t much more flattering, although it is rather different.
Instead of fast cars and women, we view accountants as bit of nerds – the job is thought to be highly boring and suitable for people who are obsessively interested in details and figures.
Part of the public perception is down to how the industry is portrayed by popular culture. You can find plenty of accountants, bankers and the like in movies and books and the image is quite often similar to the above descriptions.
If you want to know how popular culture perceives what it’s like working in finance and accounting, then you might want to check out the following films:
- Wolf of Wall Street – Based on a true story, the movie details the fast money attitude and its dangers rather well.
- Wall Street – Perhaps the most iconic finance film of all time, featuring Gorden Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) who makes his money through insider trading.
- Trading Places – A movie about two brothers who work as commodity future brokers who make a bet on whether a hustler on the street could work as a commodities broker.
- The Accountant – A Ben Affleck film in which the math genius suddenly ventures into the criminal underworld.
- Ghostbusters – Rick Moranis plays a geeky accountant that occasionally ends up locking himself out of the apartment.
While the above movies are definitely entertaining and they do offer some interesting insights into the industry, the majority of finance and accounting roles don’t naturally offer such lifestyles.
For more myth-busting, check out the short clip below:
WHAT DOES IT ACTUALLY TAKE TO WORK IN THE INDUSTRY?
So, what then is the industry like? To understand what it’s like working in finance and accounting, it’s a good idea to consider how you can find yourself in the industry.
The qualifications and the characteristics that excel in the field can tell a story of the real industry – if you know what it takes to get into the industry, you’ll know what to expect from the work as well.
Finding a job in the financial sector is not that easy, even though there are plenty of job titles out there.
Because of the earning potential, the industry is crowded with applicants and you often need to obtain good qualifications in order to be considered for positions.
To improve your chances of landing a job in finance and accounting, you should consider a degree in mathematical sciences.
This includes degrees in either Maths or Economics. An undergraduate degree is enough for most graduate roles, but you can improve your chances of high-earning jobs with a master’s degree.
Furthermore, you could also enter the finance sector with a business degree, such as a degree in business administration.
Overall, you do often need a university degree of some sort in order to get your foot in the door.
However, most titles might also require you to opt for a more narrower and field-specific degrees or qualifications.
This is especially the case in accounting where a degree in accounting is usually required. Furthermore, if you want to work as a business accountant, you must have the right qualifications to practice the profession. These can be country-specific.
For example, in the US, chartered accountants need to be officially certified by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
These sorts of qualifications are not just for accountants. Financial advisers in the UK can obtain the Certified Financial Planning certification (CFP), which allows them to work in the field.
Aside from the official qualifications, the industry does call for a certain kind of character. Just as you probably aren’t going to be a professional athlete if you’re not at all interested in athletics, there are certain personalities that thrive in the finance and accounting sector.
If the daily requirements were to call for four key characteristics, these would be the following for finance and accounting:
Attention to detail
You need a good attention to detail if you want to work in the sector.
Since you are often dealing with large datasets and numbers, you need to be able to notice the differences or the important figures without a problem.
For example, as an accountant, you must make sure the numbers add up and that every detail is aligned with the information and the legal requirements.
The same helps in professions such as being a financial adviser – you must be able to spot the little things that can make a difference in the person’s finances.
Good numerical and logic skills
Of course, since you are dealing with numbers all day long in almost every finance and accounting job, you must have good numerical skills.
You definitely don’t want calculations to cause you too much trouble. Above all, you need to be able to think logically.
Numbers don’t lie – you need to be able to approach then rationally and with a good sense of how they work. You need to make decisions based on logic not feelings.
Finance and accounting jobs are also not as lonely as you might think.
You aren’t going to just sit in the office by yourself crunching numbers – you often need to talk to clients and therefore, communication skills are an important part of making it in the industry.
You need listening skills to learn more about what your customer wants, as well as to get the real picture of the business’ finances, for example.
Furthermore, since you might be communicating complex issues to the client (who might not have the same understanding of finances), you need to have the ability to do this in a professional and easy-to-understand manner.
Ability to adapt quickly
If there’s one thing to know about working in finance and accounting it’s that things change.
The industry is full of rules and regulations and these are not static – you will need to be able to adapt to things quickly.
Not only does this mean you must be interested in developing your skills further, but you also have to be able to adapt to new ways of doing things quickly.
The industry doesn’t allow a lot of second-guessing – you are either in or you’re out.
FIVE CORE REALITIES OF WORKING IN FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING
Now that you know what to expect in terms of getting into the industry, it’s time to turn your attention to what it’s like working in finance and accounting.
Here are the five core realities you should keep in mind before entering the industry.
A lot of work
The most important thing to understand about working in finance and accounting is that it isn’t plain sailing.
Yes, the financial rewards might be rather lucrative, but the workload is definitely not small. You will have to work a lot in order to progress in the career and your workdays can run a lot longer than in your average nine-to-five job.
Consider, for example, Sarah Knight and her workday, which on a typical day starts at 4 am. Knight, who works as a managing director of taxation in a large accounting firm, told Business Insider she starts her day by dealing with the toughest tasks at 4 am in the morning (when most are still tucked tightly in bed!).
And the end of her typical day?
She usually stops working at 6 pm.
Another essential feature of the industry is the competitive nature of the job.
Since you have high graduate rates, you first need to compete with other qualified graduates for the roles.
Even though there’s plenty of demand out there, you simply can’t expect to walk into your ideal role without proving your capabilities.
More importantly, the competition doesn’t stop once you get the job. Accounting firms, financial firms and others are in tough competition with each other.
Clients want the best for their money, which means you need to be the best at what you do to stay on top. The cutthroat image the industry sometimes has on popular culture is not completely made-up.
As I mentioned above, the industry is going through many changes all the time.
Accounting procedures might change every year and the financial sector has to adapt to new regulations.
For example, the European Union has proposed over 40 legislative and non-legislative changes to the financial sector since the global financial crisis in 2008.
Keeping up with all of these is an important part of the job – you can’t just focus on the project at hand or dealing with your clients, you also need to keep an eye on the industry as a whole.
Flexible work environment
You can also expect a relatively flexible work environment when you work in the industry.
This is especially the case for self-employed accountants or financial advisers – you can build your working hours according to you and your clients’ demands.
Furthermore, you can structure your day rather freely, prioritizing the tasks according to the day’s specific agenda.
Some days you might spend more time talking with customers, while other days your work might be more focused on the administrative side of things.
Michael Solari, a certified financial planner, told Business Insider that he values the opportunity to work with a flexible schedule having been tied to a strict office schedule in his previous role. “Now, I stop when I’m done. I work when I’m up for it.
Sometimes that can be late at night or on weekends, but it’s on my own terms,” he said.
A good earning potential
What about the money?
While you should never pick a profession solely based on its earning potential, you also shouldn’t venture into a sector blindfolded in terms of what you can expect to earn.
In the finance and accounting sector, the popular image of healthy earnings is definitely not a total misrepresentation, even though it is a bit of overstated at times.
Finance and accounting jobs are among the best-earning jobs in the world – both in terms of starting salaries and the top-end roles.
Perhaps more importantly, data points to a healthy salary growth in the sector in the future.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics outlined in their 2016-2017 Occupational Outlook Handbook how the job outlook through 2024 in many finance and accounting jobs is expected to grow faster than the average salary growth for all industries.
According to the data, the salary for the following roles would grow as follows:
- Financial manager, 7%
- Personal financial adviser, 30%
- Financial analyst, 12%
Furthermore, in a separate study by the Association for Financial Professionals, accountants were found to have almost half smaller rate of unemployment to the national average, meaning the industry has good hiring rate.
Let’s look at some of the earning figures in the sector. The average salaries in the following finance and accounting roles are:
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the US – $62,000
- Financial Manager in the US – $115,000
- Personal Financial Adviser in the US – $81,000
In terms of starting salaries, you can expect to earn the following:
- Accounting graduate in the US – $54,000
- Finance graduate in the US – $57,000
Both figures are above the average graduate starting salary, which in 2016 – according to the National Association of Colleges and Employees – stood at $50,556.
THE BOTTOM LINE OF WORKING IN FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING
The answer to the question “what it’s really like working in finance and accounting” is two-fold.
First, it’s not really anything like you see on TV and the movies. Finance is not just about fast money and champagne, but hard work and long days.
Accounting, on the other hand, is definitely not as boring or geeky as you might think.
You can specialize in different fields and the changing financial environment means you constantly need to keep up with new developments.
However, the industry does also offer plenty of financial rewards to those who are willing to put in the effort and survive in the competitive world of finance and accounting.
Human resource department – perhaps the one department in the workplace you don’t want to hear from …