If you are interested in transforming your problem-solving skills into a full-time career, working in finance or accounting may be the right choice for you. Corporate finance and accounting divisions are evolving and interacting with other divisions like never before. In 2021, a PwC survey found that having the finance function serve as more of a business partner across the entire organization was the top goal among chief financial officers surveyed, with 47% of CFOs describing that goal as a priority.
While companies of all sizes rely on finance and accounting professionals to remain productive and profitable, the two areas of study are quite different. A close look at finance vs. accounting to identify what sets the two apart is important in determining which field is best suited to your strengths and preferences.
If you have been considering pursuing a Master of Accountancy degree, then learning more about the fields of accounting and finance could be helpful in developing your career plans.
Finance vs. Accounting Degrees
A high-level comparison of finance vs. accounting degrees can set the stage for determining which degree best aligns with your goals. Although both degrees focus extensively on financial information, they approach the subject differently. Specifically:
- Students who earn a finance degree learn how to use financial information to manage and address an array of financial issues. They learn about things such as financial markets, investment valuation, capital budgeting and portfolio analysis. Other common areas of study for a degree in finance include financial management, investment management, real estate finance, banking and treasury management, and international finance.
- Students who earn an accounting degree learn how to account for and record financial transactions and report financial information, but they also acquire expertise in areas such as control systems, taxation, cost accounting, auditing and government accounting. Accounting degree programs also offer aspiring accountants training in ethics, legal matters and business analysis.
In comparing finance with accounting, it’s helpful to look at each field’s focus. Accounting is focused on the detailed preparation of financial information and statements that help organizations manage their cash flows, expenditures, revenues, assets and liabilities.
Accounting professionals 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. 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 encompasses several different job titles based on the type of work individuals perform. For example, working as a corporate accountant usually involves recording transactions and preparing financial reports and statements, whereas auditors focus on conducting audits and reviewing internal controls.
As their careers progress, many accountants eventually specialize in a specific area based on their personal and professional interests. For example, working as a forensic accountant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation involves highly sophisticated investigations into possible financial crimes.
One of the most common steps for accountants to take in their careers is to obtain certified public accountant (CPA) certification, which can help them expand both their job opportunities and knowledge of accounting.
Master of Accountancy Coursework
While every graduate program offers different specialization opportunities, most focus on similar accounting principles and reporting techniques. Examples of courses include:
- Business Analysis Methods: This course provides students with an advanced understanding of how to formulate business questions, find the right data to answer those questions, form study designs and measures, and use data visualization.
- Accounting Research: Focusing on applied research skills in accounting, this course is essential for any student looking to pursue a high-level accounting career. It provides a detailed overview of how accounting professionals use authoritative literature during their research, such as information from the Financial Accounting Standards Board.
- Taxation of Corporations: For students interested in becoming tax accountants in for-profit settings, this course focuses on important topics in corporate taxation. Students learn about issues regarding corporate formation, liquidation and reorganization. They also become knowledgeable about transactions between corporations and the owners of corporations.
Finance and accounting can be considered interrelated, but at a high level, finance professionals use audited financial statements and other financial information to manage a range of financial matters 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 using predictive modeling and market research. With 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 divided into three main categories: personal, corporate and public:
- Personal finance experts often work with individuals looking to invest in stocks and bonds by researching the expected return on investment (ROI) of securities, conducting risk assessments and balancing their portfolios.
- Corporate finance professionals are concerned with managing funding sources, coordinating capital structuring and maximizing business investments.
- Public finance refers to the management of a government entity’s revenue, expenditures and debt. Work in this field typically involves forecasting government spending, calculating tax revenues and setting budgets for specific agencies.
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 problems and make sound investment decisions. This includes gaining an understanding of how markets work, how financial assets are valued and strategies for evaluating capital budgets. Examples of courses include:
- 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. It focuses on capital budgeting, valuation, capital structures, financial analysis, cost of capital and financial planning for corporations in a global environment.
- Advanced Microeconomics: This course looks at the economics of the individual firm, focusing on models of the firm, the concept of general equilibrium and consumer theory.
- Security Analysis and Portfolio Management: This course offers a quantitative examination of how finance professionals evaluate and value assets in investment portfolios. Through the course, students can develop a strong foundation in risk assessment, security analysis and portfolio construction.
Finance vs. Accounting: Salary and Job Outlook
The career outlook for both accounting and finance professionals is optimistic. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in all business and financial occupations is expected to grow 8% between 2020 and 2030. The BLS projects 7% job growth for both accountants and auditors between 2020 and 2030, and it projects 6% job growth for financial analysts during that time frame.
In terms of compensation, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for accountants and auditors was $73,560 as of May 2020, with the highest 10% of earners making more than $128,680 per year. Financial analysts had a higher median annual salary at $83,660 as of May 2020, with the highest 10% of earners making more than $159,560 annually. Of course, individuals’ levels of education, experience, geographic location and certifications have a major effect on their earning potential.
Choosing the Right Career Path
Regardless of your long-term career plans in finance or accounting, 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.
Building a Successful Accounting Career
Finance and accounting professionals are critical in creating sound financial information and maintaining the fiscal health of any organization. If you have an interest in pursuing a career in public, corporate or not-for-profit accounting, explore the online Master of Accountancy degree program at the University of Nevada, Reno. The program offers two learning paths designed to match your level of experience and accounting knowledge, ensuring that all students can expand their career options and make valuable contributions to the field of accounting. Take the next step on your career path today.