Finance Career List

Top Careers in Banking & Finance – 2022 Edition

In Getting Started, Introduction by Gaurav SharmaUpdated On:

The financial services sector accounts for about $16 trillion of economic output worldwide and provides employment to hundreds of millions of people. If you are interested in finance, it’s highly likely you will find more than one role that matches your personality, skills and goals.

The roles listed below are just a small fraction of the hundreds of career opportunities in the world of finance. These are what I would consider to be the most important ones. I will try to link to more detailed guides for each of them wherever I can.


Investment and Corporate Banking

1. Corporate and Institutional Banking

Corporate and Institutional Banking is usually the biggest money maker for all the large international banks. They provide banking services to large corporate clients like GE, Apple, Walmart, Microsoft and everyone else that you can think of. There are dozens of specific roles within corporate banking like coverage managers, credit analyststrade finance specialists, or supply chain professionals and so on. Everything you need to make a modern corporation tick.

Corporate Banking jobs provide a healthy mix of good compensation, decent hours and some flexibility in terms of career path and prospects. They are not as sensitive to economic shocks as mainstream investment banking, so that is also a definite plus.

  • Salary Potential: Medium to High depending on what size clients you are handling
  • Stress Level: Medium
  • Academic Requirements: High
Compensation
75%
Work-Life Balance
80%
Career Prospects
80%

2. Capital Markets

These guys help companies raise capital by issuing equity or debt products. IPOs, FPOs, investment grade and high-yield bonds etc all get covered here. Some banks categorize these teams under “corporate finance” but it’s just clearer to use specific terms like Debt Capital Market or Equity Capital Market.

Capital markets are unmatched when it comes to how much money you make versus the hours you put in. You make a bit less than the M&A guys, but your hours are so much better that it is totally worth it. This combination makes DCM/ ECM my top pick within investment banking.

  • Salary Potential: High
  • Stress Level: Medium to High
  • Academic Requirements: Very High
Compensation
90%
Work-Life Balance
65%
Career Prospects
90%

3. Mergers & Acquisitions

M&A gets a lot of media hype and Hollywood attention and for good reason. They not only make top dollar, but they also do big headline deals like mega-mergers and action-packed-acquisitions. Pick this option if you don’t mind working 80+ hours a week, are really good at math and are willing to slog it out for the first 3-6 years for the opportunities that open up later in your life.

M&A has the highest compensation but it also has the most brutal hours. There is no such thing as a free lunch. The upside is that M&A has a lot of great exit ops after the first 3-4 years, but the downside is that the burnout rate is extreme and most don’t make it that far. This is not for the faint of heart.

  • Salary Potential: Medium initially but Very High later on in your career
  • Stress Level: Off the charts initially but eventually it gets better
  • Academic Requirements: Very High
Compensation
95%
Work-Life Balance
40%
Career Prospects
85%

4. Project Finance

Project Finance teams are involved in the analysis and funding of large infra projects like roads, ports, airports, and other developments. These projects usually have a very long duration and time to break-even so Project Finance bankers have to deal with a lot more uncertainty and long term risks. However, they deal with real projects rather than abstract instruments like derivatives which is something I have always found personally appealing about this role.

These roles are not as high paying as other IB roles, but still at the top of the pile.

5. Leveraged Finance

Leverage is the use of debt for financing strategic corporate activities like takeovers, expansions, share repurchases, recapitalizations, etc. LevFin is more specialized than plain vanilla lending and requires a deeper knowledge of properly dealing with very large amounts of debt. high leverage usually comes with high risk so extra skill is required.

6. Restructuring

Companies sometimes get into trouble and are unable to pay their creditors. that is where restructuring comes in. These teams usually come up with a solution that is agreeable to both the debtor and creditor in order to salvage a deal that has gone sour. This usually means restructuring the firm’s assets and liabilities by downsizing, asset sales, refinancing etc. in order to meet their obligations.


Investment Management

1. Portfolio/ Asset Management

These are the people who manage your retirement money! Someone has to manage all the pension funds, mutual funds, index funds, university endowments and so on. Asset Managers work within strict government guidelines to ensure they minimize any unnecessary risks while trying to grow your savings.

Asset/ portfolio management is a rewarding career for those who really like dealing with securities like debt, equity and derivatives. You don’t get to use leverage or invest in crazy ideas like hedge fund managers, but that will probably also help you sleep better at night.

  • Salary Potential: High
  • Stress Level: Medium to High
  • Academic Requirements: High
Compensation
70%
Work-Life Balance
90%
Career Prospects
75%

2. Fund Management

We have already discussed Hedge Funds and Private Equity, but that’s jus the tip of the iceberg. Those are not even the largest funds in the world. The largest funds in the world are Sovereign Wealth Funds, retirement funds, mutual funds, mortgage associations, university endowments etc. These funds manage trillions and trillions of dollars in assets and quite literally shape the world with their combined investment power. Hedge Funds get more media attention because of their high-risk, high-reward swagger, as these other funds generally tend to be a lot more cautious.

An army of analysts, fund managers, accountants, sales reps, and support staff work at these funds to ensure smooth operations and optimal performance. There is some risk from automation and the rise in popularity of passive investing, but you still need people to manage even passive funds.

  • Salary Potential: Medium to High depending on the size and type of the fund.
  • Stress Level: Medium
  • Academic Requirements: Very High. Only the best get to be fund managers because there is so much at stake.
Compensation
70%
Work-Life Balance
80%
Career Prospects
80%

3. Venture Capitalist/ Angel Investor

Venture Capital is all about investing in early stage start-ups. This makes this role profile quite different from all other types of investment funds. It’s not just a a financial or investment decision, this role becomes a lot about supporting your portfolio companies. Angel investors and venture capitalists provide growth advice, legal and tax expertise, marketing services, product launch assistance, access to contacts and opening doors for their portfolio companies.

Career prospects are good as the start-up business model is really gaining ground. Just look at the list of the largest companies in the world today – most of them are startups that were funded with VC capital.

  • Salary Potential: High, based on how successful you are at picking the right company.
  • Stress Level: Medium to High.
  • Academic Requirements: High.
Compensation
80%
Work-Life Balance
75%
Career Prospects
95%

4. Private Equity

Private Equity, simply put, represents investments in companies that are private and not publicly listed on stock exchanges. This is a massive industry and accounts for a staggering $500 billion in investments each year in the US alone.

Private Equity is often one of the end goals of many investment bankers. Moving to the buy side means better compensation and better hours. But its rather hard to break in because the numbers are stacked against you. For the cream of the crop though, this is a great opportunity to squeeze the most out of your finance career.

  • Salary Potential: Very high (depends on performance)
  • Stress Level: High
  • Academic Requirements: Very High (usually requires an advanced degree or experience with a good investment bank beforehand or something similar)
Compensation
100%
Work-Life Balance
70%
Career Prospects
90%

5. Hedge Funds

hedge fund is essentially a mutual/ index fund for rich people. Unlike other normal funds, hedge funds can employ high risk and high return strategies. For example, a pension fund is not legally allowed to invest in high risk areas because pensioners are relying on that money. But since hedge funds only accept money from accredited and qualified investors, they have a lot more flexibility in terms of what they can do.

Hedge funds have become a sort of mythical creatures because of the popularity of some famous hedge fund managers. But bear in mind that for each such celebrity fund manager, they are a hundred who never get to that level. Still, this is the end game for the investment career path.

  • Salary Potential: Very high (The top performers earn hundreds of millions)
  • Stress Level: High
  • Academic Requirements: Very High (There have been Nobel laureates in Economics building models for Hedge Funds. Unfortunately, even they eventually went bust. Such is life.)
Compensation
100%
Work-Life Balance
70%
Career Prospects
90%

6. Research

These teams analyze the market or a company and make predictions about how they will perform in the future. This research can then be used by the bank to make trading or lending decisions or sold to/ shared with clients. There are macroeconomics research teams, equity research teams and many others.

Another career that is perfect for intelligent people who are not too keen on front end client facing roles. Successful researchers can be exceptionally valuable and command every high pay packages. Of course, you need a proven track record and exception skills to reach that level, but research roles offer the best opportunity to make a lot of money while still being at the back end.

  • Salary Potential: Medium to Very High (If you are really good, you can make a lot of money)
  • Stress Level: Low to High
  • Academic Requirements: High to Very High
Compensation
65%
Work-Life Balance
90%
Career Prospects
75%

7. Real Estate Investing

Real estate investing is big business. The main issue with real estate has always been a lack of liquidity, long development times and so on which makes it harder to trade unlike stocks or cotton futures, for example. That is why most big funds don’t invest in real estate but there are thousands of smaller funds that do. Also, with the rise of REIT’s big firms can now indeed trade real estate in real time. Another attractive option is commercial real estate, where property developments are much bigger and more liquid so as to attract the biggest players.


Financial Markets/ Trading

1. Financial Markets (Sales & Trading)

The S&T/ Global Markets/ Financial Markets team provides corporate clients market access by executing equity, fixed income, derivatives, commodity and other such trades for them. They are also involved in market making. Sales involves pitching securities to clients including bonds of equities that the bank is underwriting. Trading can be proprietary or on behalf of clients.

Trading is a high-stress, high reward job with excellent hours. You don’t have to slog for long hours as the bankers do, but the hours you do work can be a bit more stressful and high-stake. You are also expected to rake in the moola quite early in your career which, in my opinion, is a definite plus.

  • Salary Potential: High
  • Stress Level: High
  • Academic Requirements: High
Compensation
90%
Work-Life Balance
70%
Career Prospects
70%

2. Retail Trading

Trading is a truly massive field in itself. You could be someone sitting at home and doing day trading or someone with a PhD in Quantum Physics building super complex trading models that move billions of dollars each day. Its one of those filed where what you get depends on what you put in.

Its rather tough to consistently outperform the market though. The quest for alpha remains an elusive ones and even Nobel laureates have failed at the altar of the mighty alpha. So know that before going and also know that trading is more about discipline than anything else. You have been warned!

Note: This is not to be confused with the Sales & Trading teams at banks which has been listed elsewhere in this list.

  • Salary Potential: Make or lose millions each day
  • Stress Level: Nonexistent to Unbearable
  • Academic Requirements: Basic literacy to PhDs
Compensation
70%
Work-Life Balance
85%
Career Prospects
60%

3. Commodity Trading

Commodity trading is a big business. From precious metals to agri products and from industrial by-products to even scrap metal – its all traded and someone has to do the trading. Most of the trading still happens using derivatives of course – options and futures.

4. Oil & Gas trading

Oil and Gas trading is usually big enough to be counted as its own separate division. Secondly, the biggest oil traders are actually not banks but oil firms themselves, along with other major users like refineries, airlines etc. This is what makes oil and gas trading a bit more unique and outside the box.


Retail/ Consumer Banking

1. Retail/ Consumer Banking

Retail Banking is all about providing basic banking products and services to individuals and small businesses. These are basically the guys at your local bank branch, so everyone from a teller to a loan officer to a salesman to the branch manager gets covered in this category. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – you also have people managing home loans, car loans, savings and checking accounts, credit cards, the people doing all the analysis at the back office, the guys checking your paperwork and just a whole an army of support staff.

This is as traditional as banking gets. If you want to be at the very center of things and deal directly with people instead of companies, then this is where you want to be. retail banking can be quite rewarding if you know what you want and if your personality suits the job.

  • Salary Potential: Low to Medium
  • Stress Level: Low
  • Academic Requirements: Low to Medium
Compensation
50%
Work-Life Balance
95%
Career Prospects
65%

2. Wealth Management/ Private Banking

Wealth Managers essentially advise people with significant assets/ income on how to handle their finances. Wealth Management covers everything from investing to taxes to estate and retirement planning and so on. Here is an in-depth article on a career in Wealth Management. Its also known as private banking in some countries.

Wealth management is actually a combination of being a financial advisors and a portfolio manager. You are advising retail clients (who have a lot of money) and then you are investing that money in securities that maximizes their returns, minimizes their risk/ taxes or whatever their goal is. Its a multi-disciplinary career.

  • Salary Potential: Medium to High (Depending on your clientele)
  • Stress Level: Medium
  • Academic Requirements: Medium (Having a good track record and reputation is more important)
Compensation
60%
Work-Life Balance
85%
Career Prospects
80%

3. Personal Finance

Personal finance is all about managing your personal income, expenses, assets and other financial matters. You can do it yourself, of you can have a professional do it. It’s sort of like wealth management but at a more basic level. These professionals are called financial planners.

The best part about financial planning is that you do this both as an employee of a financial services firm or start your own firm once you earn the designation. That gives you extra freedom and the option to really scale your business as you see fit. Successful financial planners can even pull in millions.

  • Salary Potential: Low to High (Again, this depends on your clientele)
  • Stress Level: Medium
  • Academic Requirements: Medium, although you would be required to complete some local certifications
Compensation
55%
Work-Life Balance
90%
Career Prospects
85%

4. Small Business Banking

Finance Career ListSmall Business Banking caters to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and therefore fits somewhere between large corporations and small retail customers. This division provides banking products and services to small local businesses like payment processing, account services, business loans, point-of-sale systems (credit card swiping machines) and so on.

Business bankers are essentially the life blood of the economy. SMEs account for the bulk of jobs and business banking keeps these companies running smoothly. This division is not as flashy as investment banking, but it has its own set of unique rewards and challenges.

  • Salary Potential: Medium
  • Stress Level: Low
  • Academic Requirements: Medium
Compensation
60%
Work-Life Balance
80%
Career Prospects
70%

FinTech

1. FinTech Entrepreneurship

The hot new thing in financial services and something that got me excited enough to hang up my business suit and wade in! The great thing about FinTech is that it provides great new opportunities to deliver existing products and services in a new, friction-less and cost effective way.  Learn more about careers and opportunities in FinTech in this article.

The opportunities are endless but so are the challenges. It is not for everyone and only those interested in an entrepreneurial lifestyle should consider this. That means a lot of business savvy, a lot of tech savvy, some solid personal connections and a lot passion and hard work.

  • Salary Potential: Medium as a developer, high as a product consultant
  • Stress Level: Low
  • Academic Requirements: You need tech skills
Compensation
65%
Work-Life Balance
90%
Career Prospects
100%

2. Machine Learning/ Artificial Intelligence

AI and ML is already being used heavily in the financial services industry. Everything from chatbots to business process outsourcing and from robo-advisers to advanced risk management systems utilize some form of AI to better deliver a service or improve it qualitatively. This is also one of the most promising fields within finance with excellent career prospects and extremely lucrative compensation packages for highly skilled AI experts.

3. FinTech/ Banking App Developers

App Developers are also in high demand across industries. The move digital was always coming, but it was greatly accelerated by lockdowns which further pushed a lot of business activity online. The salaries for talented app developers has gone through the roof and it represents one of the better opportunities in finance/ tech.

4. Blockchain Developers/ Experts

Blockchain is more than just cryptocurrencies. That is an important distinction to remember since blockchain can be used in mainstream finance applications as well. As a matter of fact, many major banks are currently developing blockchain tools to better deliver their mainstream services. The main bottleneck is the paucity of talent and trained blockchain developers, legal experts, consultants, project leaders, researchers, markets etc.


Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC)

1. Compliance

Compliance is all about ensuring that your company is following each and every regulatory guideline and internal processes. Its sort of like being an in-house cop for your firm and I have covered the compliance function in great detail in the linked article.

Compliance can be an interesting carer choice if you are not too keen on client facing roles but rather excel at knowing all the rules and enforcing them. You do a lot of advisory work as well and advise other business divisions on whether any specific transition or aspect of a deal is within acceptable regulatory and internal parameters.

  • Salary Potential: Medium
  • Stress Level: Low to Medium
  • Academic Requirements: Medium but you need to know all the guidelines which usually happens on the job
Compensation
55%
Work-Life Balance
90%
Career Prospects
85%

2. Financial Risk Management

Companies have market risk, credit risk, operational risk, reputational risk, interest rate risk, political risk, country risk and just a long and scary list of risks. Risk managers try and mitigate these risks and monitor them. You can learn more about risk management in the linked article.

Risk management is an ideal career choice for number crunchers who have little interest in client interactions. Risk management can be quite basic and it can be quite advanced and quanty for investment banking deals or fund management. The harder the job, the higher your compensation.

  • Salary Potential: Medium to High (managing risk for a hedge fund or large trading shop is going to pay well)
  • Stress Level: Medium
  • Academic Requirements: Medium to High
Compensation
60%
Work-Life Balance
85%
Career Prospects
95%

3. Government & Financial Regulators

Everyone from regulators to the revenue department falls in this category. This is certainly not for everyone but some people thrive in such roles. It can be a bit boring at the lower levels, but at the higher levels you essentially have the levers of the world economy in your hands!

The attraction of such roles really depends on your interests. It offers unmatched stability and job security, but at the cost of slower career advancement and below average pay. it also offers a truly unique perspective from the other side. Many people just do small stints in regulatory jobs and then move back to the private sector.

  • Salary Potential: Low to Medium
  • Stress Level: Low to Medium at most levels, but can be soul shattering at the very top!
  • Academic Requirements: Low to Very High. Key positions in the central bank or treasury roles are usually filled by extremely experienced academics or banking professionals.
Compensation
35%
Work-Life Balance
90%
Career Prospects
60%

4. Tax Advisory

Tax professionals who advise individuals and companies on how to “optimize” their taxes. Tax advisory is actually closer to being a law career than a finance career but there is an overlap so it’s on this list. There are some truly great career opportunities here, but you really need to know your tax stuff.

Think of this role as as mix between an accounting role with and what legal researchers do all day. Early on in your carer, you would probably spend all your time pouring over spreadsheets or reading tax laws. But with some experience, you can be a high flying tax consultant and really make bank.

  • Salary Potential: Low to High (It basically depends on how much can you “optimize” your client’s taxes and how much money you save them)
  • Stress Level: Low but can get High around tax season
  • Academic Requirements: Low to High (the experts probably know a lot of loopholes methods to “optimize” your taxes)
Compensation
60%
Work-Life Balance
90%
Career Prospects
75%

Corporate Finance

1. Corporate Finance

This is essentially what the finance department at any large company is called. This is the division that handles all the finances of a company. The people who do the payrolls, the bookkeeping, the budgeting, making spreadsheets and pie charts, dealing with banks and so on. In short, everyone who eventually reports to the CFO falls in this category.

Corporate Finance roles are a mix between accounting and banking with some elements of both. You manage you company’s finances but you also get the opportunity to work on any mergers, IPOs, bond issuance, structured trade finance deals etc. that your company is involved in.

  • Salary Potential: Pretty Low to Decently High depending on the size of the company
  • Stress Level: Low to Medium
  • Academic Requirements: Low to Medium
Compensation
50%
Work-Life Balance
90%
Career Prospects
65%

2. Accounting and Audit Services

This is all about providing accounting services to clients like auditing their books, preparing the balance sheet, the profit and loss statement etc. This also involves things like tax preparation and looking at financial inefficiencies in the business and so on. This includes internal audit which is all about assessing the strength of internal controls and compliance.

Accounting is not as glamorous as the mainstream finance roles, but it is a fundamental business necessity. Successful accountants can also make a lot of money by offering expertise that no one else can to needy clients. Its a steady job and good if you like the stability.

  • Salary Potential: Medium (can be much higher if you are the partner of your own successful accounting firm)
  • Stress Level: Medium
  • Academic Requirements: High – you need a formal accounting qualification
Compensation
50%
Work-Life Balance
90%
Career Prospects
70%

3. Corporate Treasury

The treasury usually manages your firm’s cash. Every big corporation will have a treasury department (although it might be called something else). Banks of course have a rather large treasury department as they have a lot of cash to deploy and manage. The treasury department transfers funds to other departments which in turn allocate it to projects or their clients. The optimum usage of these funds is the responsibility of the treasury.

4. Budgeting & Planning

Budgeting is a major exercise at firms and these days, it is usually an on-going exercise. Gone are the days of one-a-year budget. Now you have to be agile and continuously adjust your spending to meet changing market and customer needs. Budget analysts are half accountants, half financial planners and manage the firm’s finances.


Support Functions

1. Economists

Most big firms have economists on board who are there to advise on general economic trends in the market. These are usually small teams as it is mostly an advisory role. They prepare periodic reports that are shared with management to aid ion decision making and planning. Although in some cases such reports are also shared with bigger clients as the firm’s performance has a high correlation with the performance of its biggest clients.

2. Tech Solution Delivery

Solution delivery in a bank is more than just IT support. Of course, there is general tech support, but there are more advanced deployment teams that are needed to structure product delivery mechanisms for the client. These teams essentially figure out how to merge the bank’s core systems with client servers so that seamless interaction can take place.

3. Stressed Asset Management

Stressed assets are essentially overdue loans or other such products that are in risk of default. These are usually handled by a specialised team which mostly consists of legal experts. The job of this team is to recover as much of the firm’s money as possible. If they are unable to do so, the asset is usually sold off at a discount to debt recovery firms.

4. Customer Service

As the name suggests, customer service is what it says on the box. Not much else to say about this. It’s not much different from customer service in other industries. The products are different and you require a bit of financial knowledge but they have training programs for that as well.


Others

1. Financial Consulting

Consulting other companies on financial matters. For example, how to better deploy capital, how to improve your budgeting and revenue and pretty much anything under the sun related to finance. Just like any consulting job on the planet, your compensation will depend on your clientele.

Financial consulting can be very rewarding if you play your cards right. The vast majority of financial consultants are in the employ of accounting or consulting firms and its no different from any other consulting practice. The most common practices include transaction advisory, tax advisory, due diligence, risk advisory etc.

  • Salary Potential: Medium to High
  • Stress Level: Medium
  • Academic Requirements: Medium to High
Compensation
65%
Work-Life Balance
70%
Career Prospects
85%

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About the Author

Gaurav Sharma

Gaurav started his finance career as an intern in Citi’s Institutional Clients Group in 2009, eventually ending up as an Associate Director at Standard Chartered Bank’s Corporate & Institutional Banking division a few years later. By 2016, he was an independent consultant helping FinTech start-ups in London with product development and launch. Gaurav also helps banks with their digital banking initiatives and advises PE & VC firms with investments in the financial services and FinTech sectors. Gaurav writes on topics ranging from EU banking regulations and tradional finance to Blockchain startups and the future of banking itself! He has an Engineering degree in Computer Science and an MBA with a double major in Finance and Marketing. He is also a Certified Financial Risk Manager.