Many accounting professionals, part and fully qualified, work as finance analysts at some point in their career. Whether they decide to stay within analysis and progress to a senior role or apply their skills to other areas of accounting, the career prospects for financial analysts can be excellent. In this article we’ll look at what a finance analyst does and which skills, qualities and experience you’ll need to succeed in one of these roles.
What is a finance analyst?
It is important initially to understand the difference between a finance analyst and a financial accountant. The latter looks at raw financial data and how those numbers are recorded, whereas a financial analyst considers why those financial results have occurred and suggests changes to businesses to drive improvement. So, if you’re into numbers and data you may find more satisfaction as a financial accountant, but if you’re commercially aware with an interest in business development, a financial analyst role could be more suitable.
What does a finance analyst do?
Looking at past and current financial data, finance analysts will make projections of future financial results. They’ll use these forecasts to establish cost structures and budgets for future projects and campaigns – knowing how much money they’re likely to make in a given time allows businesses to organise and prioritise their expenditure for that period.
A financial analyst will compile their findings and forecasts into weekly, monthly and annual reports, accompanied by substantial actionable commentary. They will suggest improvements for existing procedures as well as propose new processes, all with the aim of decreasing costs and increasing gains. They’ll also usually talk these suggestions and proposals through with senior figures and non-finance members of staff.
Finance analysts will, naturally, take on increasing responsibilities as they approach senior levels and will be frequently exposed to CFOs and other members of senior management. Working alongside these executives, financial analysts will create business-wide investment plans, cost structures and budgets.
How to succeed as a finance analyst
Whether you’re going for a job in industry or in practice, to secure an interview for a finance analyst role there’s a few essential skills that you need to have. Most firms and employers will accept applications from candidates with a 2:1 or higher undergraduate degree in a relevant subject such as finance, business, accounting, mathematics, statistics or economics.
It is vital for finance analysts to have excellent communications skills and the ability to influence so they can convey complex financial ideas and insights to non-finance staff. Financial analysts often liaise with colleagues and members of senior management, providing detailed explanations of their reports and proposals.
You’ll be expected to have advanced Excel skills, with knowledge of macros, pivot tables and lookups, plus commercial acumen and understanding of business strategy. Knowledge of enterprise resource planning systems and big data will give you a competitive edge over your rival applicants.
Unless you’re applying for an entry level finance analyst position you’ll be expected to have sound financial analysis and modelling skills, which you will have gained during your training, qualification or previous employment. Whilst some employers seek ACCA/ACA/CIMA qualified accountants, often finance analysts will be hired unqualified or part way through their qualifications. This makes financial analyst roles a good option for accountants wanting to gain experience while still working towards their qualification. Some employers will even provide study support to help fund your qualification.
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