Financial analyst vs accountant: what’s the difference?

An overview

There are plenty of jobs in the business world for those who enjoy analysis and numbers, two of the most common being the financial analyst and the accountant. While there is some overlap between these two disciplines, they focus on different areas of money management.

A financial analyst examines past and current trends to help realize a future reality, while an accountant can examine a company’s day-to-day financial data. Many financial analysts use reports generated by accountants to make recommendations on how best to use company resources.

Key points to remember

  • Financial analysts tend to work with the bigger picture of economic trends and market movements in order to predict future financial situations.
  • A career in accounting is ideal for people who enjoy and excel at reviewing data, auditing and reviewing financial statements.
  • Financial analysts can make more money on average than accountants.

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts tend to work with the big picture. They review financial decisions based on current market trends, stated business goals, and possible investment options. Reviews from these professionals help determine whether a project or business is worthy enough for investment.

Analysts can focus on business or investment financial analysis. In corporate financial analysis, analysts work with in-house accounting departments to help make decisions on worthy investment projects. Analysts who work in the financial analysis of investments, however, work externally to perform top-down or bottom-up analysis using macroeconomic or microeconomic approaches to find investment opportunities.

There are two main types of financial analysis: fundamental analysis and technical analysis. An analyst who uses fundamental analysis examines and evaluates data in a company’s financial statements to determine its value. Technical analysis, on the other hand, involves the use of statistical trends derived from trading activity to determine value.

Education and diplomas

A degree in finance is probably most beneficial for aspiring financial analysts, although math or economics may also suffice. A master of business administration (MBA) can help a financial analyst, but it is not always necessary.

Many financial analysts are Chartered Public Accountants (CPAs), but most analysts generally choose the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. Unlike the CPA, which focuses on a professional understanding of public accounting standards in the United States, the CFA focuses on those who actively make investment decisions on behalf of clients or an employer. Having both titles is considered a major advantage for almost any career in the business world and requires a significant mastery of business accounting and investment knowledge.

The job market

Financial analysts earned a median annual salary of $ 83,660 in May 2020, the most recent figures being in November 2021. The top earners brought in nearly $ 159,560 and the lower end, around $ 48,760, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Financial analysts tend to earn the most in large financial centers, such as New York or San Francisco. Bridgeport, Connecticut, is also a lucrative destination for analysts. Increased regulations and market complexity are driving the growth of financial analysts, especially among large companies with many assets to manage.

People with an economic mind generally prefer financial analyst roles because economic trends and market movements do not have a huge impact on the day-to-day activities of an accountant.

Accounting

Accountants are much more interested in the specific and exact details, day-to-day operations, financial accuracy, and taxes of an entity. An accountant describes the current financial reality of a business or individual and performs tasks such as auditing or analyzing financial statements.

Education and diplomas

To become an accountant, many professionals first pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting or another related discipline such as math or business. Some companies may prefer someone who has a graduate degree.

Credentials are extremely important for accountants and financial analysts. Entry-level accounting jobs may require a recognized professional designation, but advancement certainly depends on it. Pursuing an accounting degree is the most obvious undergraduate course of action for a future accountant.

Each career choice has a dominant professional certification. For accountants, the CPA designation is awarded by the Uniform Chartered Accountant Examination established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). It is probably the best known and most recognized professional designation in the financial industry.

The job market

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for an accountant in May 2020 was $ 73,560. The top 10% of U.S. accountants earned more than $ 128,680, while the bottom 10% of the industry earned less than $ 45,220.

The need for accountants is expected to increase by about 7% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS. Much of this is due to an increase in demand for people in the field, increased globalization, tighter regulations and a stronger economy.

Special considerations

Both careers likely appeal to a similar subset of analytical, detail-oriented and data-driven individuals. The main differences boil down to whether you like to collect data to make recommendations or if you prefer to collect data to ensure its accuracy. If this is the first case, you may want to consider becoming a financial analyst. But if you are drawn to the latter, then accounting can be your strong suit.

Accounting is a better area for the investigative mindset, where auditing and reviewing financial statements is a big part of the job. It is a little easier to break into the accounting field for two reasons. The first and foremost reason is that there are many more jobs in accounting than there are financial analysts. The second reason is that accounting requires less real-world experience, which means that students who understand accounting rules can more easily move into an entry-level accountant position.

Many accountants and financial analysts normally work 40 to 50 hours per week, have paid time off, and do not normally work weekends. Some financial analysts remain available after normal business hours by email or phone, but the job is not as demanding as many other professions in the industry.

Travel can be a recurring part of either job. Financial analysts travel to meet with clients, while accountants travel to perform audits or attend seminars and conventions. For financial analysts who work for large investment banks, travel could be an important job feature.