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Careers in Finance vs. Accounting

Oct 26, 2022
Comparing and contrasting career options in finance and accounting

By Arial Starks

Whether you earn a Master of Science in Finance or a Master of Accountancy degree, it is important to consider your career trajectory and how the skill sets you will build in each program will help you achieve your goals. We spoke with Emily O’dell, Director, Vanderbilt MAcc Programs and Brook Meissner, Director, Vanderbilt Specialized Masters Coaching, to  compare and contrast careers in finance vs. accounting. 

Brook Meissner

What to expect from a career in Finance

Finance spans a wide range of job functions and industries. While aspiring finance professionals don’t necessarily have linear career paths defined for them, they can narrow down their preferred job functions by considering their areas of interest and  their appetite for client-facing responsibilities.

“When it comes to areas like consulting and private wealth management, your income is going to be based directly on how you are interacting with your clients, and if you are not doing that well, then you are out of a job,” Meissner said. “Roles in corporate finance can be suitable for someone who is more introverted and doesn’t want to interact with clients as much.”

MS Finance graduates typically launch their careers as entry-level financial advisors in the fields of Investment Banking, Corporate Finance, or Consulting. Once these professionals gain experience in the industry, they can branch off into other areas such as  Private Wealth,Venture Capital, and real estate.

“Private equity and venture capital firms usually really want people with investment banking skills,” he added. 

What to expect from a career in Accounting

Emily O'Dell, Director of Admissions of the MAcc Program

Emily O’Dell

Many business professionals will use accounting, also known as “the language of business,” as a launching pad to a successful career in any industry. Accounting professionals usually earn a MAcc degree and jump-start their careers with an accounting firm, preferably one of the Big 4 accounting firms, as assurance or valuation associates. After advancing as an associate, they earn a manager designation and may continue moving up the ladder in pursuit of making partner; alternatively, they may branch off into other industries. 

“These professionals will typically still work in a business role in some aspect, but that accounting background is giving them the opportunity to find something they will want to do long-term,” said O’Dell. “The CPA exam is a valuable business credential to have and that, combined with the MAcc degree gives them those strong exit opportunities.”

How do finance and accounting overlap?

Both accounting and finance professionals will have opportunities to work in a variety of different industries. While the functions may differ – finance professionals help clients fund business operations, while accounting professionals helping clients  determine the value of their business –. they also share similarities.

The Certified Public Accounting Exam (CPA) is valued in both fields. Meissner said that  business professionals who are licensed CPAs have the tools to work in most roles dealing with financial services, “knowing the fundamentals of accounting is certainly going to help finance professionals in their career paths.” 

Having an accounting background also allows finance professionals to work in some of the same job functions as accounting professionals.

“The MS Finance (degree) provides professionals with a little more breadth of career options, and valuation is one of them,” Meissner shared. “You can earn a MAcc degree and jump-start your career in valuation that way, or you can break into the industry via an MS Finance program. Finance really offers business professionals that flexibility.” 

You can learn more about a career in accounting here, or click here to learn more about finance career options.

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