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Occupational Outlook: Financial Analysts and Advisors

Significant Points

  • A college degree and good interpersonal skills are among the most important qualifications for these workers.
  • Although both occupations will benefit from an increase in investing by individuals, personal financial advisors will benefit more.
  • Financial analysts and personal financial advisors who have earned a professional designation are expected to have the best opportunities; competition is anticipated to be keen for highly lucrative positions in investment banking.
  • About 4 out of 10 personal financial advisors are self-employed.

Nature of the Work
Financial analysts and personal financial advisors provide analysis and guidance to businesses and individuals to help them with their investment decisions. Both types of specialists gather financial information, analyze it, and make recommendations to their clients. However, their job duties differ because of the type of investment information they provide and the clients for whom they work. Financial analysts assess the economic performance of companies and industries for firms and institutions with money to invest.

Personal financial advisors generally assess the financial needs of individuals, offering them a wide range of options.

Financial analysts, also called securities analysts and investment analysts, work for banks, insurance companies, mutual and pension funds, securities firms, and other businesses, helping these companies or their clients make investment decisions. Financial analysts read company financial statements and analyze commodity prices, sales, costs, expenses, and tax rates in order to determine a company’s value and to project its future earnings. They often meet with company officials to gain a better insight into the firm’s prospects and to determine its managerial effectiveness. Usually, financial analysts study an entire industry, assessing current trends in business practices, products, and industry competition. They must keep abreast of new regulations or policies that may affect the industry, as well as monitor the economy to determine its effect on earnings.

Financial analysts use spreadsheet and statistical software packages to analyze financial data, spot trends, and develop forecasts. On the basis of their results, they write reports and make presentations, usually making recommendations to buy or sell a particular investment or security. Senior analysts may even be the ones who decide to buy or sell if they are responsible for managing the company’s or client’s assets. Other analysts use the data they find to measure the financial risks associated with making a particular investment decision.

Financial analysts in investment banking departments of securities or banking firms often work in teams, analyzing the future prospects of companies that want to sell shares to the public for the first time. They also ensure that the forms and written materials necessary for compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission regulations are accurate and complete. They may make presentations to prospective investors about the merits of investing in the new company. Financial analysts also work in mergers and acquisitions departments, preparing analyses on the costs and benefits of a proposed merger or takeover.

Some financial analysts, called ratings analysts, evaluate the ability of companies or governments that issue bonds to repay their debts. On the basis of their evaluation, a management team assigns a rating to a company’s or government’s bonds. Other financial analysts perform budget, cost, and credit analysis as part of their responsibilities.

Personal financial advisors, also called financial planners or financial consultants, use their knowledge of investments, tax laws, and insurance to recommend financial options to individuals in accordance with the individual’s short-term and long-term goals. Some of the issues that planners address are retirement and estate planning, funding for college, and general investment options. While most planners offer advice on a wide range of topics, some specialize in areas such as retirement and estate planning or risk management.

An advisor’s work begins with a consultation with the client, from whom the advisor obtains information on the client’s finances and financial goals. The advisor then develops a comprehensive financial plan that identifies problem areas, makes recommendations for improvement, and selects appropriate investments compatible with the client’s goals, attitude toward risk, and expectation or need for a return on the investment. Sometimes this plan is written, but more often it is in the form of verbal advice. Financial advisors usually meet with established clients at least once a year to update them on potential investments and to determine whether the clients have been through any life changes—such as marriage, disability, or retirement—that might affect their financial goals. Financial advisors also answer questions from clients regarding changes in benefit plans or the consequences of a change in their jobs or careers. A large part of the success of financial planners depends on their ability to educate their clients about risks and various possible scenarios so that the clients don’t harbor unrealistic expectations.

Some advisors buy and sell financial products, such as mutual funds or insurance, or refer clients to other companies for products and services—for example, the preparation of taxes or wills. A number of advisors take on the responsibility of managing the clients’ investments for them.

Finding clients and building a customer base is one of the most important of a financial advisor’s job, because referrals from satisfied clients are an important source of new business. Many advisors also contact potential clients by giving seminars or lectures or meet clients through business and social contacts.

Working Conditions
Financial analysts and personal financial advisors usually work indoors in safe, comfortable offices or their own homes. Many of these workers enjoy the challenge of helping firms or people make financial decisions. However, financial analysts may face long hours, frequent travel to visit companies and talk to potential investors, and the pressure of deadlines. Much of their research must be done after office hours, because their day is filled with telephone calls and meetings. Personal financial advisors usually work standard business hours, but they also schedule meetings with clients in the evenings or on weekends. Many teach evening classes or hold seminars in order to bring in more clients.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A college education is required for financial analysts and is strongly preferred for personal financial advisors. Most companies require financial analysts to have at least a bachelor’s degree in business administration, accounting, statistics, or finance. Coursework in statistics, economics, and business is required, and knowledge of accounting policies and procedures, corporate budgeting, and financial analysis methods is recommended. A master’s degree in business administration is desirable. Advanced courses in options pricing or bond valuation and knowledge of risk management also are suggested.

Employers usually do not require a specific field of study for personal financial advisors, but a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, economics, business, mathematics, or law provides good preparation for the occupation. Courses in investments, taxes, estate planning, and risk management also are helpful. Programs in financial planning are becoming more widely available in colleges and universities. Working for a broker-dealer is a good way to gain experience that can help individuals pass the security license exams needed to practice financial planning. Individuals who start out as independent financial planners may find it more difficult to build their client base, and they often start by servicing their family members and friends. However, many financial planners enter the field after working in a related occupation, such as accountant; auditor; insurance sales agent; lawyer, or securities, commodities, and financial services sales agent.

Mathematical, computer, analytical, and problem-solving skills are essential qualifications for financial analysts and personal financial advisors. Good communication skills also are necessary, because these workers must present complex financial concepts and strategies in easy-to-understand language to clients and other professionals. Self-confidence, maturity, and the ability to work independently are important as well. Financial analysts must be detail oriented, motivated to seek out obscure information, and familiar with the workings of the economy, tax laws, and money markets. Strong interpersonal skills and sales ability are crucial to the success of both financial analysts and personal financial advisors.

Although not required for financial analysts or personal financial advisors to practice, certification can enhance one’s professional standing and is strongly recommended by many employers. Financial analysts may receive the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, sponsored by the CFA Institute. To qualify for this designation, applicants need a bachelor’s degree and 3 years of work experience in a related field and must pass a series of three examinations. These essay exams, administered once a year for 3 years, cover subjects such as accounting, economics, securities analysis, financial markets and instruments, corporate finance, asset valuation, and portfolio management. Personal financial advisors may obtain the Certified Financial Planner credential, often referred to as CFP (R), demonstrating extensive training and competency in financial planning. This certification, issued by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, requires relevant experience, the completion of education requirements, passing a comprehensive examination, and adherence to an enforceable code of ethics. The CFP (R) exams test the candidate’s knowledge of the financial planning process, insurance and risk management, employee benefits planning, taxes and retirement planning, and investment and estate planning. The exam has been revised in recent years. Candidates are now required to have a working knowledge of debt management, planning liability, emergency fund reserves, and statistical modeling. It may take from 2 to 3 years of study to complete these programs.

Personal financial advisors also may obtain the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) designation, issued by the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, which requires experience and the completion of an eight-course program of study. The ChFC designation and other professional designations have continuing education requirements.
A license is not required to work as a personal financial advisor, but advisors who sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, insurance, or real estate may need licenses to perform these additional services. Also, if legal advice is provided, a license to practice law may be required. Financial advisors who do not offer these additional services often refer clients to those who are qualified to provide them.

Financial analysts may advance by becoming portfolio managers or financial managers, directing the investment portfolios of their companies or of clients. Personal financial advisors who work in firms also may move into managerial positions, but most advisors advance by accumulating clients and managing more assets.

Employment
Financial analysts and personal financial advisors held 355,000 jobs in 2004, of which financial analysts held 197,000. Many financial analysts work at the headquarters of large financial companies, several of which are based in New York City. More than 4 out of 10 financial analysts work for finance and insurance industries, including securities and commodity brokers, banks and credit institutions, and insurance carriers. Others worked throughout private industry and government.

Personal financial advisors held 158,000 jobs in 2004. Much like financial analysts, more than half work for finance and insurance industries, including securities and commodity brokers, banks, insurance carriers, and financial investment firms. However, 4 out of 10 personal financial advisors are self-employed, operating small investment advisory firms, usually in urban areas.

Job Outlook
Overall employment of financial analysts and personal financial advisors is expected to increase faster than average for all occupations through 2014, resulting from increased investment by businesses and individuals. Personal financial advisors will benefit even more than financial analysts as baby boomers save for retirement and as a generally better educated and wealthier population requires investment advice. In addition, people are living longer and must plan to finance more years of retirement. The globalization of the securities markets also will increase the need for analysts and advisors to help investors make financial choices. Financial analysts and personal financial advisors who have earned a professional designation are expected to have the best opportunities.

Deregulation of the financial services industry is expected to spur demand for financial analysts and personal financial advisors. In recent years, banks, insurance companies, and brokerage firms have been allowed to broaden their financial services. Many firms are adding investment advice to their list of services and are expected to increase their hiring of personal financial advisors. Many banks are entering the securities brokerage and investment banking fields and will increasingly need the skills of financial analysts.
Employment of personal financial advisors is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. The rapid expansion of self-directed retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans, is expected to continue. As the number and complexity of investments rises, more individuals will look to financial advisors to help manage their money.

Employment of financial analysts is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations. As the number of mutual funds and the amount of assets invested in the funds increase, mutual fund companies will need increased numbers of financial analysts to recommend which financial products the funds should buy or sell.

Financial analysts also will be needed in the investment banking field, where they help companies raise money and work on corporate mergers and acquisitions. However, growth in demand for financial analysts to do company research has been, and will continue to be, constrained by regulations that require investment firms to separate research from investment banking. As a result, firms have eliminated research jobs in an effort to contain the costs of implementing these regulations.

Demand for financial analysts in investment banking fluctuates because investment banking is sensitive to changes in the stock market. In addition, further consolidation in the finance industries may eliminate some financial analyst positions, dampening overall employment growth somewhat. Competition is expected to be keen for these highly lucrative positions, with many more applicants than jobs.

Earnings
Median annual earnings of financial analysts were $61,910 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $47,410 and $82,730. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $113,490. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of financial analysts in 2004 were as follows:

Other financial investment activities

$74,580

Securities and commodity contracts intermediation and brokerage

67,730

Management of companies and enterprises

62,890

Insurance carriers

58,120

Depository credit intermediation

56,860

Median annual earnings of personal financial advisors were $62,700 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $41,860 and $108,280. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest number of personal financial advisors in 2004 were as follows:


Other financial investment activities

$78,350

Securities and commodity contracts intermediation and brokerage

63,310

Depository credit intermediation

57,180

Agencies, brokerages, and other insurance related activities

56,950

Many financial analysts receive a bonus in addition to their salary, and the bonus can add substantially to their earnings. Usually, the bonus is based on how well their predictions compare to the actual performance of a benchmark investment. Personal financial advisors who work for financial services firms are generally paid a salary plus bonus. Advisors who work for financial investment or planning firms or who are self-employed either charge hourly fees for their services or charge one set fee for a comprehensive plan, based on its complexity. Advisors who manage a client’s assets may charge a percentage of those assets. Advisors generally receive commissions for financial products they sell, in addition to charging a fee.

Related Occupations
Other jobs requiring expertise in finance and investment or in the sale of financial products include accountants and auditors; financial managers; insurance sales agents; real estate brokers and sales agents; and securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics 

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