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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

3 Crucial Steps to Becoming a Successful Corporate Financial Analyst

If you’re a creative problem solver who also has a strong analytical and numbers-oriented mind, then the idea of becoming a corporate financial analyst should probably cross your mind. Tracking a company’s financials or forecasting a business’ future not only provides intellectual weight to your day, it’s also turned into a lucrative career, with entry-level salaries in the $60-$70K range, potential future earnings reaching six and even seven figures, and a job growth rate of 12% through 2024.

Of course, this is all well and good—but one does not simply become a high-earning financial analyst. Whether you’re sitting in college considering this career path or you’re looking for a change from your current gig, you’re probably wondering whether the role is actually for you and, if so, what you can do to put yourself on the path to success.

While we can’t give you all the answers for your particular situation, we can give you some ideas for how to start. Read on for three steps to take if you’re thinking of becoming a corporate financial analyst.

Step 1: Learn What the Role Is Really All About

There’s sometimes a gap in understanding between the role of a corporate financial analyst—also called a financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professional—compared to many other financial roles, such as stockbrokers, accountants, and more—and you’ll definitely want to know what exactly the job will entail before making the leap.

Corporate financial analysts typically work within an organization, helping to support management decisions by providing actionable financial information. They monitor financial statements, expenses, taxes, and other financial detail to cull out where the company makes money. Through these efforts, financial analysts develop projections and search for new opportunities to build profit. That’s different than accountants, who work on recording historical data rather than making predictions, and stockbrokers, who find opportunities for gains via the stock market.

“I have an accounting background but I’ve spent my time doing cost analysis, budgeting, forecasting, and metrics. Those are the things I was interested in—how I can internally drive a business forward, instead of how I invest properly,” shares Jake Bailey, FP&A, Controller and Director of Finance for Tana Exploration, of his decision to focus his career on financial analysis. “FP&A still has an investment piece—project decision making—but it’s more from the perspective of: I work for the company; what are the best investments we can make with our capital?”

There are plenty of great resources that can help you verify whether this is the path for you. Check out these “day in the life” features about a corporate financial analyst and FP&A manager, then plan to do some informational interviews to get a good sense of what the job entails on a daily or weekly basis. And to start boosting your knowledge on this subject matter, read a couple of finance books that have shaped the long-term investing world. Intelligent Investor, a book by Benjamin Graham (Warren Buffett’s mentor) that discusses value investing, and The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, which offers Buffett’s secrets into what makes a company financially secure, are definitely worth your time.

Step 2: Understand What Education You Need—and What You Don’t

If you’re still early on in your undergraduate education, consider getting a degree in a related field, such as accounting, finance, business administration, statistics, or mathematics, which are all common paths into the career.

But what if you’re beyond college and looking to move into this field? This will definitely be more of a challenge, though not impossible. The most common tactic to transition into a financial analyst role is by getting an MBA. This can be cost prohibitive, though, so carefully research entry-level roles or even internships in the field to see if a few relevant postgraduate courses or other industry courses could give you just the leg up you need to get your foot in the door. Check out Investopedia for more options for newbies in the field.

If you’re somewhere in the middle, with some financial or accounting background but not enough to seriously impress for the top roles you’re after, consider finance certifications, like the Certified Corporate Financial Planning & Analysis Professional credential offered by the Association for Financial Professionals. This can provide you with the education and credentials to help you thrive in a corporate gig, even for those without the business degree. If you have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with at least three hours of college-level finance and six hours of financial or managerial accounting, as well as three years of related work experience, this is a great option to consider.

“Until the FP&A designation came about, there truly wasn’t a certification that was really ‘right for me,’” says Travis Lockhart, FP&A, who was promoted from Financial and Business Analyst to Manager of FP&A at his company—along with a salary boost—after getting the FP&A certification.

Ultimately, the certification should help refine and focus your experience—and boost your resume.

Step 3: Prep Yourself for Career Growth

The goal for many corporate financial analyst professionals is to eventually reach the FP&A director level. This official sits directly under the CFO—not a bad spot.

But you will need to work your way up to that level. Corporate financial analysts typically start on a team of three to four people, reporting to one senior analyst. If you’re in a multi-national company, you’ll likely cover one specific product—for example, if you worked at Procter & Gamble, you might focus on the Tide brand, reporting to the senior analyst. The senior analyst typically reports to the FP&A manager, who oversees all the brands. After at least five years experience—depending on the size of the company—along with training, certifications, and on-point projections, you’ll likely be poised to step into the FP&A manager role.

When looking at roles, consider the different opportunities available at more established organizations versus startups. Larger companies have more complex financial data and multiple analysts at their disposal, so they can nurture young talent before increasing their responsibility. Up-and-coming companies, on the other hand, won’t have processes in place for financial reporting, and they probably won’t have a hierarchy of qualified people to create them. Therefore, this challenge might be given to you. Either option can set you up for long-term success in the field; it’s a matter of whether you’re excited by figuring things out on the fly at a scrappy startup, or if you prefer a more traditional route, where you could learn by working under someone.

As with any career, there are a lot of other steps along the way. But these should give you a solid foundation for deciding whether a financial planning and analysis career is right for you—and getting on the path for success.

Photo of woman in meeting courtesy of Shutterstock.