What’s the Real Difference: Finance vs. Accounting Degrees

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Accountant reviews a financial statement on a laptop

Are you interested in transforming your problem-solving skills into a full-time career? Wondering what the differences are between a finance vs. accounting degree? If so, you’re not alone. While companies of all sizes rely on finance and accounting professionals to remain productive and profitable, these two areas of study are quite different. Before pursuing a graduate degree, it’s important to assess your long-term goals, core skills and professional interests to choose the right career path. To help you decide, we’ve put together a comprehensive overview of finance and accounting degrees that every aspiring business student should consider.

Finance and accounting degrees offer an in-depth look at financial information, economic events and capital management strategies that help organizations and individuals maximize their investments. While both fields require a strong attention to detail and an affinity for critical thinking, they often have very different roles and responsibilities. Here’s a quick breakdown of accounting vs. finance:

Accounting

This area of study is focused on the detailed preparation of financial statements that help organizations manage their cash flows, expenditures, revenues, assets and liabilities. These statements must also be filed with the Professionals in this field are mainly responsible for documenting, maintaining and reporting on financial transactions. They must also ensure that all financial records are accurate and kept up to date with the latest transactional information. As noted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, accounting provides key decision-makers with the insight and hard data needed to optimize business performance and forecast future events.

The accounting career field is broken up into several different job titles based on the type of work being performed. For example, working as a corporate accountant usually involves recording transactions and preparing financials, whereas auditors focus on conducting audits and establishing internal controls to track key cash flows. As their careers progress, many accountants end up specializing their area of study based on their personal and professional interests. For example, working as a forensic accountant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation involves highly sophisticated financial investigations into possible white-collar crimes. One of the most common career paths for accountants is to obtain CPA certification, which can help expand both your job opportunities and financial knowledge.

Finance

Finance professionals use the financial statements audited by corporate and public accountants respectively to manage investments and create value through economic forecasting. They are responsible for turning financial statements into actionable insights and offering evidence-based recommendations that can help clients increase their revenue and optimize their expenditures. Finance experts must carefully weigh the risks and expected returns on all investments, often through the use of predictive modeling and market research. Using this information, they help companies and individuals control costs, manage liquidity and secure long-term cash flows.

According to the Corporate Finance Institute, finance can be broken down into three main categories: personal, corporate, and public. Personal finance experts often work with individuals looking to invest in stocks and bonds by researching expected ROI, conducting risk assessments and balancing their portfolios. Professionals in corporate finance are more concerned with managing funding sources, coordinating capital structuring and maximizing business investments. Public finance refers to the management of an entire country’s revenue, expenditures and debt by government institutions and associated organizations. Working in this field typically involves forecasting government spending, calculating tax revenues and setting budgets for specific agencies.

Choosing the right career path: Finance vs accounting degrees

Regardless of your long-term career plans, it’s important to choose a degree program that offers a rigorous, hands-on curriculum focused on financial management and general accounting principles. While a degree in finance may provide a more in-depth look at financial planning, it’s crucial for students to understand the basics of accounting before taking on any advisory roles.

Most aspiring professionals start by earning a bachelor’s degree in their chosen field to build a foundation in financial analysis and reporting. After obtaining an undergraduate degree, the next step is to gain experience in an entry-level position or apply to a graduate program. Earning a Master of Accountancy can help prepare students for CPA certification and provide a detailed look at the legal, regulatory and ethical standards of practice. Ultimately, the degree program you select should offer the broad coursework and specialized learning opportunities you need to advance your finance or accounting career.

Master of Finance coursework

Pursuing a graduate degree in finance can allow students to develop the technical and analytical skills needed to solve complex financial issues and make sound investment decisions. This includes an understanding of how markets work, how financial assets are valued and strategies for evaluating capital budgets. Here are a few essential finance course areas every graduate student should consider:

  • Financial management: This course covers the fundamentals of financial accounting, investments and corporate finance to help students understand how capital markets work in real-world business settings. The coursework is focused on integrated frameworks for strategic management and decision-making, from creating financial statements to analyzing cash flows. Students may also learn how to incorporate risk assessments and valuation techniques into investment decisions.
  • Advanced microeconomics: Building on students’ previous knowledge of microeconomics, this course offers a more in-depth look at how individual behaviors impact decision-making at the smallest scales. Finance majors can learn how experts use game theory, general equilibrium and other microeconomic principles to incorporate supply and demand in their investment strategies.
  • Security analysis and portfolio management: This course provides a quantitative examination of how finance professionals evaluate and value assets in investment portfolios. Through the coursework, students can develop a strong foundation in risk assessment, the operation of financial markets, the selection of securities and portfolio management.

 

Master of Accountancy coursework

While every graduate program offers different specialization opportunities, most focus on similar accounting principles and reporting techniques. The online Master of Accountancy at the University of Nevada, Reno is designed to provide students with an advanced understanding of corporate accounting, tax laws and financial analysis through hands-on coursework. Here are a few of the core accounting courses offered through the online MAcc program:

  • Business analysis methods: This course provides students with an advanced understanding of business strategy, operational processes and performance measurement. Through the coursework, you can learn how businesses adapt to new investment opportunities, optimize their financial transactions and conduct return on investment (ROI) analysis.
  • Accounting research: Focusing on applied research skills in accounting, auditing and taxation, this course is essential for any student looking to pursue a high-level accounting career. The coursework provides a detailed overview of how accounting professionals use authoritative literature during their research, from the Financial Accounting Standards Board to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • Taxation of corporations: For students interested in becoming a tax accountant in for-profit settings, this course offers a technical breakdown of U.S. federal tax law. The coursework incorporates the standards laid out by the Internal Revenue Code, Treasury Regulations and other government-backed resources.

 

Finance vs accounting: Salary and job outlook

The career outlook for both accounting and finance professionals is optimistic, as each role fills a crucial need for businesses and individuals across the world. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of business and financial occupations is expected to grow 7% between 2018 to 2028, which is faster than the national average for all occupations. More specifically, both accountants and financial analysts have a projected job growth of around 6% over the forecasted period, according to BLS data.

In terms of compensation, the median annual wage for accountants was $70,500 as of May 2018, with the highest 10% of earners making more than $122,840 per year. Financial analysts have a slightly higher median annual salary at $85,660. Of course, an applicant’s level of education, experience and certification has a major impact on their earning potential.

Build a successful accounting career with an MAcc from the University of Nevada, Reno

Whether you’re interested in pursuing a career in public accounting, corporate accounting or not-for-profit accounting, the online Master of Accountancy degree at the University of Nevada, Reno can help you assemble the knowledge, skills and expertise you need to excel. The MAcc program offers two learning paths that are designed to match your level of experience and accounting knowledge, ensuring every student can expand their job opportunities and make valuable contributions to the accounting field.

To learn more, read through the MAcc degree page or contact an enrollment advisor today.

 

Recommended Readings:

Professional Path to Becoming an Accounting Analyst

How to Become an Accountant

Masters in Accounting Salary and Career Outlook

 

Sources:

Online Master of Accountancy (MAcc)

Frequently Asked Questions FAQs – Become a CPA by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants

FBI Forensic Accountants by the Federal Bureau of Investigations

What is Finance? By the Corporate Finance Institute

Finance Graduate Program Handbook by the University of Nevada, Reno

Business and Financial Occupations by the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Accountants and Auditors by the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Financial Analysts by the Bureau of Labor Statistics