Exploring this Job
There are many sources of information dealing with the financial services industry. Read publications such as Barron's (http://www.barrons.com), Wall Street Journal (http://www.wsj.com), Forbes (http://www.forbes.com), Bloomberg Businessweek (http://www.bloomberg.com/businessweek), Fortune (http://fortune.com), and Financial Times (http://www.ft.com). In either the print or online versions, you will find a wealth of information on stocks, mutual funds, finance, education, careers, salaries, global business, and more. You can also use these resources to conduct company research. You might have to become a subscriber to access certain sections online.
AnalystForum (http://www.analystforum.com) is a resource for chartered financial analysts and CFA candidates. While this site won't be of much use to you until you've launched your career, you can find links to financial, investment, and security analyst society sites. From within these societies, you can perhaps track down a professional who would be willing to do an information interview with you.
While in high school, you might volunteer to handle the bookkeeping for a school club or student government, or help balance the family checking account to become familiar with simple bookkeeping practices. Your school may have an investment club you can join. If not, ask a parent or teacher to help you research and analyze investment opportunities. Choose a specific industry (e.g., telecommunications, technology, or health care), study companies in that industry, and select and track several stocks that appear to have growth potential.
The specific types, direction, and scope of analyses performed by financial analysts are many and varied, depending on the industry, the employer or client, and the analyst's training and years of experience, but there are two main types of analysts: buy-side analysts and sell-side analysts. Buy-side analysts conduct research to track down desirable investments, usually for money management firms (e.g., mutual, hedge, or pension funds; insurance companies; and nonprofit organizations with large endowments). The research is used solely for the firm's purposes in the hopes of turning a profit after purchase. If the firm makes money from the buy-side analyst's investment recommendation, it's likely the analyst will be compensated. Sell-side analysts (also known as sales analysts or Wall Street analysts) similarly conduct research to track down desirable investments, but do so for brokerage firms. These investment recommendations ("buy," "sell," or "hold") are passed on to a firm's clients and also the public. The firm makes a commission based on customer orders rather than investment performance. The more orders that come in, the more money the firm is likely to pay the analyst.
Financial analysts study their employer's or client's financial status and make financial and investment recommendations. To arrive at these recommendations, financial analysts examine the employer's or client's financial history and objectives, income and expenditures, risk tolerance, and current investments. Once they understand the employer's or client's financial standing and investment goals, financial analysts scout out potential investment opportunities. They research other companies, perhaps in a single industry, that their employer or client may want to invest in. This in-depth research consists of investigating the business of each company, including history, past and potential earnings, and products. Based on their findings, financial analysts may recommend that their employer or client buy stock in these companies. If the employer or client already holds stock in a particular company, financial analysts' research may indicate that stocks should be held or sold, or that more should be purchased.
Financial analysts work for companies in any number of industries, including banking, transportation, health care, technology, telecommunications, and energy. While investment options and concerns differ among these, financial analysts still apply the same basic analytic tools in devising investment strategies. They try to learn everything they can about the industry they are working in. They study the markets and make industry comparisons. They also research past performance and future trends of bonds and other investments.
Financial analysts compile many types of reports on their employer or client and on investment opportunities, such as profit-and-loss statements and quarterly outlook statements. They help to develop budgets, analyze and oversee cash flow, and perform cost-benefit analyses. They conduct risk analyses to determine what the employer or client can risk at a given time and/or in future. Another responsibility is to ensure that their employer or client meets any relevant tax or regulatory requirements. Financial analysts compile information using various software programs, often developing financial models, such as charts or graphs, to display their data.
Companies that want to go public (sell company shares to individual investors for the first time) often ask financial analysts to make projections of future earnings as well as presentations for potential investors. Financial analysts also make sure that all paperwork is in order and compliant with Securities and Exchange Commission rules and regulations.
Entry-level financial analysts, usually working under direct supervision, mainly conduct research and compile statistical data. After a few years of experience, they become more involved in presenting reports. While a financial analyst generally offers recommendations, a senior financial analyst often has the authority to actually decide purchases or sales. Senior financial analysts implement a company's business plan. In larger companies, they also assist different departments in conducting their own financial analyses and business planning. Those in senior positions become supervisors as well, training junior financial analysts.
Many specialties fall under the job title of financial analyst. These specialties vary from employer to employer, and duties overlap between different types of analysts. In smaller firms a financial analyst may have extensive responsibility, while at larger firms a financial analyst may specialize in one of any number of areas. Budget analysts, often accountants or controllers, look at the operating costs of a company or its individual departments and prepare budget reports. Credit analysts examine credit records to determine the potential risk in extending credit or lending money. Investment analysts, also known as portfolio managers, evaluate investment data so they can make suitable investment recommendations. They also explain investment decisions and strategies to investors. Mergers and acquisitions analysts conduct research and make recommendations relating to company mergers and acquisitions. Money market analysts assess financial data and investment opportunities, giving advice specifically in the area of money markets. Fund managers oversee hedge funds or mutual funds. Ratings analysts explore a company's financial situation to determine whether or not it will be able to repay debts. Risk analysts focus on evaluating the risks of investments. The intent is to identify and then minimize a company's risks and losses. Security analysts specialize in studying securities, such as stocks and bonds. Tax analysts prepare, file, and examine federal, state, and local tax payments and returns for their employer or client and perhaps also for local affiliates. They analyze tax issues and keep up with tax law changes. Treasury analysts manage their company's or client's daily cash position, prepare cash journal entries, initiate wire transfers, and perform bank reconciliations.
Personal financial advisers have many similar responsibilities (assessing finances, projecting income, recommending investments), but these are performed on behalf of individuals rather than companies.