How To Become a Financial Manager

Financial manager sitting down with team and discussing paperwork

Every company has a lot of moving parts including employees whose primary purpose is to design new products, create marketing campaigns or provide customer service. The jobs that all these employees do share one thing in common — to maximize profits and grow the company. But how do companies stay on track toward their long-term objectives and maintain their fiscal health?

This is the job of the financial manager. What do financial managers do and what is the process for how to become a financial manager? Explore this detailed career guide to get the answers and decide for yourself if pursuing this career path may be the right choice for you.

Are There Different Types of Financial Managers?

You may find multiple financial managers, each with their own specialty, at larger corporations. Here’s a look at some of the financial manager specializations:

  • Credit managers – These financial managers specialize in the company’s credit business by establishing credit limits and overseeing collections on past-due accounts.
  • Risk managers – These managers focus on limiting a company’s risk of financial loss, such as risks pertaining to commodity price changes.
  • Insurance managers – These are similar to risk managers in that they work to reduce and mitigate a company’s risk. However, insurance managers focus on insurance-related matters, such as workers’ compensation programs and the company’s legal liabilities.
  • Controllers – These professionals specialize in the development of financial reports, including income statements and balance sheets.
  • Finance officers – Also called treasurers, finance officers oversee the organization’s budget, investments and financial plans for mergers and acquisitions.

Tips on How To Become a Financial Manager

If the job description of a financial manager appeals to you, begin working toward your career goals right away — even if you’re still in high school. Talk to your guidance counselor about your course schedule and try to add as many relevant classes as possible throughout the remainder of your high school years.

Aspiring financial managers must have strong math skills, so try to take as many math classes as possible, such as economics, business law, finances and computer applications. Business statistics may be particularly relevant for financial managers.

Plan on earning at least a bachelor’s degree after high school. There is no one universal financial manager degree. Instead, aspiring financial managers typically earn a degree in finance, economics or accounting.

After graduating with your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be ready to pursue a job in the finance field. Keep your mind open to the possibilities, as financial professionals are needed in all industries and sectors, including nonprofit organizations and government agencies. You may wish to complete a couple of internships in different industries to get a better sense of your professional preferences.

With at least a few years of experience under your belt, you may then be qualified to pursue a position as a financial manager. Earning a professional certification can help you get your foot in the door.

After you’ve been working in the field for a while, you might decide to return to school to improve your academic qualifications. Although earning a master’s degree isn’t required for financial managers, doing so can help position you to pursue a top job as an executive.

Earn an Undergraduate Financial Manager Degree

After high school, the first steppingstone in the process of how to become a financial manager involves earning an undergraduate degree. There is some flexibility regarding the specific type of financial manager degree you can earn, although you should choose a business and management-related degree that focuses on some aspect of money. For instance, you might choose to earn a degree in finance, economics or accounting.

Of these degrees, a combined Bachelor of Science in Finance and Economics is perhaps the most relevant choice. Compared to an accounting degree, a finance and economics degree takes a higher-level view of money management and the financial markets, just as being a financial manager does. The curriculum will vary from one school to the next, but in general, you can expect to study topics such as: 

  • Fundamentals of the accounting cycle, including the preparation of financial statements, interpretation of the balance sheet and process of recording transactions
  • Principles of microeconomics and macroeconomics, such as supply and demand, market structures, factor markets and cost of living
  • Managerial finance and the financial markets with a look at interest rates, asset valuation, risk assessment, capital costs and capital budgeting
  • Investment vehicles, portfolio management and portfolio theories for corporate investments
  • International monetary competencies and financial issues pertaining to companies with overseas operations

Depending on the specific program and school you choose, you may undertake a capstone course during your senior year. A capstone course involves completing a research- and writing-intensive project that allows you to apply your acquired knowledge and skills to real-world situations. For instance, you might develop a comprehensive business plan for your capstone project.

Acquire a Professional Certification

Some of the common entry-level positions for future financial managers may require a professional certification or license. For instance, if you intend to work as a certified public accountant (CPA), you will need to obtain state licensure and pass an exam from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

There is no mandatory certification or license that financial managers in the U.S. must have. However, having a professional certification may make it easier to land a job and climb the corporate ladder to your desired position. One of the most widely respected credentials for financial managers is the Certified Government Financial Manager® (CGFM®) credential, which is administered by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA).

As the name implies, the CGFM® credential is intended for financial managers who work for local, state or federal government agencies. Acquiring this credential indicates competency with government accounting, budgeting and auditing. In order to apply for it, you must have the following:1

  • At least a bachelor’s degree (any subject) from an accredited university or college in the U.S.
  • At least two years of experience in governmental financial management
  • A passing grade on three CGFM® exams

AGA offers exam preparation materials and practice tests to help candidates prepare for the exams. Candidates can retake the exams if they do not pass the first time. Upon achieving the credential, financial managers must periodically renew it by completing continuing education courses.

Consider Earning a Master’s Degree

After you’ve been working in the finance field for a while, you may decide to return to school. If you haven’t yet ascended to the role of financial manager from your entry-level position, then earning a master’s degree may help you pursue the next step on your career path.

One appropriate degree option is the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, ideally with a concentration in finance. An MBA in Finance program will guide you in refining your critical thinking, analytical reasoning, communications and leadership skills while you deepen your knowledge of financial best practices and principles.

You’ll study topics such as:

  • Leadership styles, effective management and organizational behavior
  • Operations management, with an eye toward eliminating inefficiencies and streamlining operations
  • Strategic analysis and management, such as the development of strategic plans that outline value-adding approaches
  • Advanced business financial strategies, including a look at mergers, acquisitions, partnerships, cooperative agreements and spin-offs

The value of an MBA degree doesn’t lie in the academics alone. Going back to school will also give you plenty of opportunities to network with fellow professionals from various industries and backgrounds. Make the most of the opportunity by striving to develop meaningful relationships with your peers.

Essential Skills and Characteristics of an Effective Financial Manager

Throughout your career path, self-improvement is a continuous process that you’ll work on. Some examples of skills and qualities that you can work on improving include the following:

  • Analytical reasoning – Financial managers must be able to evaluate financial data accurately.
  • Communication skills – Financial managers are responsible for sharing financial insights with senior-level executives, as well as interacting with the employees they supervise.
  • Attention to detail – Error avoidance is crucial when preparing financial reports. Yet, financial managers must also be capable of seeing the “big picture” of their company’s fiscal health and long-term objectives.
  • Organizational skills – Financial managers sift through many documents on any given day. Keeping everything organized is essential.

In addition, all financial professionals must have a keen sense of professional ethics and responsibility. They may need to diplomatically navigate ethical conundrums.

Are Financial Managers in High Demand?

Employers are expected to increase their hiring of qualified financial managers during the coming years. As of September 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for financial managers to increase by about 17% from 2020 to 2030, faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 118,200 jobs in the field.2

No matter where your career takes you, you can pursue future success when you enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Finance and Economics. This degree enables students to develop a comprehensive understanding of the overlapping fields of finance and economics, with a strong focus on professional ethics and servant leadership.

 

1Retrieved from: Association of Government Accountants, CGFM® Certification in July 2022. 

2COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019, which can be found here: Financial Manager .

 

Approved by the Director of Academic Operations for the Colangelo College of Business on Sept. 14, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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