How to Learn Finance as a Beginner: A U.S. News Guide | Education
Are you ready to learn finance? People who work in the finance field help businesses,…
Are you ready to learn finance? People who work in the finance field help businesses, nonprofits and government agencies secure funding, and that’s not all. Finance can also involve tracking, analyzing, investing or managing funds. The finance field encompasses a range of careers, including chief financial officer and finance manager.
Those who learn finance and pursue a job in this field can work at companies small and large in any industry. “A corporation or other larger organization may have a finance department, while a smaller company or organization may have an accounting department,” says Thomas Steele, chief financial officer at Bartlett Wealth Management, a wealth management firm with offices in Cincinnati and Chicago.
Both types of departments manage collecting and disbursing funds. The difference is a matter of scale and complexity.
Budgeting and Planning
When learning finance, you’ll gain the knowledge to build budgets that align with companies’ goals. This ties in with strategic planning, a process that involves establishing a mission, vision and values along with long- and short-term business goals.
Managing Funds and Cash Flows
Learning finance includes understanding how to manage funds and cash flow. Finance pros within businesses are charged with assuring that there is available cash for paying employees, suppliers, vendors and overhead expenses, like utilities and rent.
Finance professionals can identify ways for companies to use funds more efficiently or effectively. Cash flow management and cash flow projections help companies plan when and how they will pay for expenses.
Financing Purchases, Leases and Growth Opportunities
Finance also involves understanding how to finance purchases or leases of property or equipment, along with how to raise capital to finance growth through expansion or mergers or acquisitions.
Finance professionals can be responsible for a variety of tasks that include big-picture planning, like identifying a company’s competitive advantage, and raising capital for a startup.
Here are examples of the tasks finance professionals perform in three different industries:
“In the investment industry, surveys and benchmark data are available to compare your company’s results with others in the industry and highlight your company’s strengths and weaknesses compared with others,” Steele says. “In your role, you would make management aware of these differences and suggest ideas to strengthen a weakness or enhance a strength.”
“At major energy companies, finance managers may focus on such functions as credit risk management, cash management, access to working capital for inventory or equipment finance, or financial reporting and accounting,” says Alex Danielides, business development director at Iapetus Holdings, a portfolio company in Houston. “A chief financial officer may focus on ensuring sufficient working capital is available for long-term obligations, such as a large drilling program, and selecting the most efficient form of capital for such projects.”
“A startup tech company generally only has access to raising capital from equity,” Danielides says. “A CFO or finance manager should be thoughtful about the use of capital raised and the company’s ‘burn rate,’ which will govern the amount of time before they must access capital.”
Finance professionals work with businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. Finance for individuals or families is a separate field called personal finance. Each finance specialty requires a slightly different focus and expertise. Job titles in finance may include CFO, vice president of finance and finance manager. Job opportunities in the financial industry depend on your specialty.
Finance professionals generally need a bachelor’s degree to find employment in this field. Some jobs like bookkeeping, an entry-level accounting function, might not require a college degree. However, Steele says most jobs in finance require post-secondary training in accounting, business administration or economics.
Advancing your education by getting a Master of Business Administration can open up even more doors for job opportunities. Credentials including an MBA, certified public accountant or certified financial analyst can qualify you for higher-paying positions and prepare you to move up the finance career ladder, Danielides says. “Many corporations offer a material amount of on-the-job learning,” he says. “Understanding what your objectives are is the key first step to determining what further education may provide the best return.”
On-the-job training might start with an internship or include a specific program training. You may need to learn Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet program to work in finance. You should also get acquainted with accounting software programs such as QuickBooks and be willing to learn companies’ accounting systems.
“There are many off-the-shelf accounting systems,” Steele says. “You’ll be expected to adapt to whatever system your organization uses, unless you introduce a new system that provides better workflows and integration with other reporting systems in the business.”
The finance world is rich in resources to begin your education or broaden your horizons in this field. Here’s a sampling:
Online courses can help you explore finance and supplement your formal education in this field. Credit may or may not transfer to a degree program. If that’s important to you, select your courses with care and make sure your credit will be transferable before you enroll.
Online Courses in Finance
- Learn Finance. Learn the basics of finance with this free online resource from GoSkills.
- Excel for Finance. Learn to use Excel in these beginner and advanced courses from Investopedia Academy.
- Financial Modeling. Learn to build and use financial models in this course from Investopedia.
- Excel Crash Course. Learn Excel tips, tricks, shortcuts, functions and formulas in this free video tutorial from the Corporate Finance Institute.
- Certified Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst. Earn an FMVA credential with this 13-course program from CFI.
- Leading with Finance. Learn principles of finance in this course from Harvard Business School Online.
- Financial Accounting. Learn how to read financial statements in this course from Harvard Business School Online.
- Exam review courses. Prepare for your CPA, CFA, FMVA or other finance credential exam with these prep courses from Wiley Efficient Learning.
- Community colleges, public libraries and your own workplace may also offer helpful resources and courses in finance.
Pursuing a career in finance takes desire and determination. This field usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree to get started, plus additional skills and experience to advance. If you don’t know anyone in finance, start networking to connect with finance professionals, mentors, career coaches, teachers and others who can help you learn finance and get a job in this field.
“Speaking with friends and family in the finance industry can help you decide if it’s the right career for you,” Steele says.