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Accounting vs. finance degree. It can be a tough decision to choose between the two. From corporate business to client representation, these two educational paths each have much to offer. Both disciplines are integral to the business world, focusing on different aspects of financial health and management. While accounting is often seen as the language of business, providing a detailed snapshot of a company's financial situation, finance is the broader canvas. It deals with the management, creation, and study of money, banking, credit, investments, assets, and liabilities.  

The Basics of Both Finance and Accounting 

Before we can weigh the finance degree against the accounting degree, we must ensure that we have a clear understanding of finance and accounting as academic and professional disciplines. Recognizing their unique roles and areas of expertise within the business ecosystem is crucial for anyone looking to make an informed decision between the two. 

Definition of Finance 

The Corporate Finance Institute provides an excellent, succinct yet comprehensive definition of finance as “the management of money and includes activities such as investing, borrowing, lending, budgeting, saving, and forecasting.” It also notes that there are three principal categories of finance (personal, corporate, and public), each of which comes with its own unique set of processes, standards, and regulations. Personal finance applies to individuals and families, corporate finance applies to businesses, and public finance applies to all levels of government as well as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other quasi-government institutions. 

Key Concepts in Finance 

A good undergraduate finance program covers fundamental business concepts and administrative operations. It delves into both microeconomics and macroeconomics, providing a solid foundation in these critical areas. Additionally, the program offers in-depth study of analytics, statistics, investment, estate planning, insurance, and other areas crucial for the strategic examination and management of financial matters. 

Definition of Accounting 

The University of the Cumberlands masterfully encapsulates the heart and soul of accounting as “the process of creating, interpreting, and working with financial records to make sure an individual’s or a business’s finances run smoothly.” The definitive task of the accountant is to clearly record, logically organize, and promptly report all financial transactions that pertain to one or more specific organizations, groups, or individuals. 

Key Concepts in Accounting 

Like finance majors, accounting majors must complete basic coursework in business, economics, and analytics. But while finance majors go on to focus on financial management, accounting majors take a deep dive into the intricacies of tracking, recording, and reporting of finances. From taxation to auditing, accounting programs devote entire courses to specific facets and advanced techniques of accounting in both the private and the public sectors. 

Exploring Careers in Both Finance and Accounting 

The following are rewarding professional positions as key employment prospects for college graduates with either a finance degree or an accounting degree: 

Career Paths With a Finance Degree 

From financial examiner to loan officer, you can travel any number of lucrative and satisfying career paths with an undergraduate degree in finance. Here are some specifics about just two of the many exciting jobs that a finance graduate can pursue: 

  • Personal Financial Advisor – These professionals oversee guiding individuals and families as they invest assets, manage risk, create budgets, and generally plan for the financial future. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), American personal financial advisors take home a healthy median annual salary of $95,390. Furthermore, personal financial advisement is a growth industry. Through 2032, this occupation is expected to expand by 13 percent in the U.S. This rate more than quadruples the three percent national average for all occupations. 
  • Financial Analyst – Drawing upon in-depth data and state-of-the-art tools, financial analysts advise individuals and organizations alike in matters that relate to asset attainment and expansion. The BLS lists a $96,220 median annual salary for financial analysts and an eight percent growth rate for the financial analysis profession. 

Career Paths With an Accounting Degree 

After mastering the basic principles of the profession, accountants can refine their focus to become experts in certain sectors, such as public accountancy, or even more specialized subsectors, such as government accountancy. In fact, an accounting degree can lead to any number of accountant, auditor, or analyst positions. 

  • Accountant/Auditor – While accountants place a greater emphasis on financial record management and auditors place a greater emphasis on financial record review, a great deal of overlap exists between these two occupations. Examining them together, the BLS reports a pay rate of $78,000 per year and an employment expansion rate of four percent for accountants and auditors. 
  • Budget Analyst – These professionals guide the strategic planning and routine management of budgets for both private and public organizations. The job outlook for existing and aspiring budget analysts keeps pace with the average for all professions in the United States. And the financial rewards for the profession include a substantial median yearly salary of $82,260. 

Skills Required for Finance and Accounting 

No matter what specific career path you choose to travel in finance/accounting world, you will want to hone your capabilities in certain areas. For example, finance and accounting professionals alike will benefit from a basic mastery of critical soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving. In other cases, each of these two professional branches requires its own distinct and unique skillset. 

Essential Skills for Finance Professionals 

In their December 2023 article, the panel of experts on the Forbes Finance Council ranked emotional intelligence and the ability to connect across verticals first and second, respectively, among their 20 key skills finance professionals need to cultivate. 

The ability to understand and manage the feelings of oneself and others, emotional intelligence (EQ) is, in the words of Forbes Finance Council member and CVS Health senior finance executive David Chavez, “vital for navigating complex interpersonal dynamics in the business world.”  

To court success, a finance professional must be able to leverage EQ and other values to engage with others and capitalize on opportunities within their own narrow area of primary expertise, as well as a spectrum of intersecting fields. By connecting across verticals in this manner, a finance professional can better position themselves for the C suite. 

Essential Skills for Accounting Professionals 

In the field of accounting, there are a number of key skills that these professionals must follow. For instance, adaptability is a critical skill due to the frequent changes in tax laws, financial reporting standards, and technology. Professionals need to be prepared for shifting standards and new ways of working. This ability to adapt is especially important in public accounting, where changes occur regularly with new clients and projects, and regulations can shift rapidly. The importance of being comfortable with change is underscored, reflecting its essential role in the success and resilience of accountants. 

Analytical skills are equally fundamental in accounting. Accountants must meticulously review financial records to ensure accuracy and reliability, emphasizing the significance of not only compiling data, but also evaluating the reasonableness of analysis reports. This scrutiny prevents the pursuit of flawed analyses, highlighting the value of critical thinking in identifying and solving problems. Moreover, the ability to work collaboratively and communicate effectively is vital. Accountants often work in teams and must explain complex financial information in simple terms, making these skills indispensable for professional effectiveness and success. 

Comparing Coursework in Finance vs. Accounting 

As previously discussed, finance and accounting degree programs generally include similar classes in basic business, economics, statistics, and analysis. From legal environment of business to principles of management, the undergraduate degree programs in finance and accounting at the University of the Cumberlands share several courses in common. In fact, finance degree candidates must complete accounting coursework and accounting degree candidates must complete finance coursework. 
 
However, finance and accounting are distinct academic professional disciplines, and quality university programs will inevitably reflect this. Here are just a handful of the defining courses in both the finance degree program and the accounting degree program at UC. 

Key Finance Degree Courses 

The following courses are examples of the comprehensive nature of a finance degree with a concentration on strategic financial guidance and asset management: 

  • BADM 336 Money, Banking, and Credit 
  • BADM 337 Investments 
  • BADM 338 Business Decision Concepts 
  • BADM 452 Advanced Financial Management 
  • BADM 457 Estate Planning 
  • BADM 458 Risk Management and Insurance 

Key Accounting Degree Courses 

The following courses are examples of the comprehensive nature of an accounting degree with a concentration on through and exacting finance oversight and record-keeping: 

  • BACC 337 Accounting Information Systems 
  • BACC 431 Cost Accounting 
  • BACC 435 Accounting Theory 
  • BACC 437 Federal Taxation 
  • BACC 438 Taxation of Business Entities 
  • BACC 410 Accounting Law & Ethics 

Combining Accounting and Finance Careers 

Our discussion of accounting and finance has revealed numerous ways in which these two disciplines inform and augment each other. Indeed, strong accounting skills are a valuable commodity in the world of finance just as a command of finance principles is expected in many accountants. Therefore, it is advisable to take an interdisciplinary approach to mastering accounting and finance. 

Should You Consider Further Professional Qualifications in Finance or Accounting? 

In nearly every field, professionals can substantially further their careers by going to graduate school. The finance and accounting fields are no different. That said, a myriad of financial advisors and accountants choose to build on their bachelor’s level education with a master’s degree (MA or MS) or even a doctorate (PhD). 

Beyond these advanced academic credentials, you may want to seek esteemed qualifications from industry groups such as the Financial Management Association and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. 

In the world of financial planning and advisement, professionals can better position themselves for success by becoming a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC), or Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA). 

By contrast, common accounting credentials include the well-known and widely respected Certified Public Accountant (CPA) as well as the Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), and Certified Management Accountant (CMA). Accounting and finance professionals alike might seek to acquire a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. 

Pursue Your Finance or Accounting Degree Today!  

Instead of pitting the two disciplines against each other in a finance vs. accounting degree standoff, you might want to consider training and study in both areas. The University of the Cumberlands covers all the bases by offering dual Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees in both their Bachelor of Science in Finance and their Bachelor of Science in Accounting. Pursuing either or both degrees can open any number of exciting and rewarding career doors in the business world. Request more information about our programs or apply today!