Why Study Finance?

When you hear the word finance, what comes to mind? Money? Banks? Wall Street? While many of these terms are associated with a finance degree, the field of study is much more complex. 

If you’re looking to learn more about the different branches and career paths a finance degree offers, you have come to the right place. Tom Barkley, director of the master’s in finance program and professor of finance practice, answers some of the common questions he receives what the Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management finance programs entail.

What is finance?

At its core, finance can be defined as finding the value or price of something, such as a company, a product or service, a stock or a bond. There are two significant branches: corporate finance and investments.

Corporate finance is what big companies do in terms of raising money and investing in projects. If a company does not raise capital, it will not be able to push forward with new projects. One example is General Motors. It needs money for research and design to create a new car, then test a prototype. Once the product is done, GM can market it and sell it for a profit.

In contrast, investments are described as the actions of those who have capital and give or lend that capital to companies. Consumers, as well as larger investors and institutions, invest capital into corporations and expect a profit for their investment.

Beyond these two branches, smaller fields of finance exist, such as commodities, real estate investing and venture capital.

What careers can you pursue with a finance degree?

On the undergraduate and graduate level, a finance student can find many careers to pursue depending on their interests.

When students graduate from the Whitman School with a degree in finance, there are two paths they can choose. Students can work in a financial institution, such as a commercial or investment bank, an insurance company or a hedge fund. They can also work in a non-financial institution, such as in a corporation, within its finance division.

Ph.D. students with a finance major can pursue a teaching job at a university or work in the federal bank’s public sector. A doctoral degree in finance opens the doors to high-level quantitative research on efficiency and policy. 

From personal experience, Barkley’s finance career was not limited by borders. He had jobs in four different countries, understanding each country’s unique financial system. Born in Brazil, he grew up in a country where there is a service fee for checking accounts, unlike the United States. Following his undergraduate studies, he understood how vast the finance industry is and how business practices vary in different regions.

What skills do you need to excel in this field?

After graduating with an MBA, he worked in Houston, Texas, for a research group at an energy company that taught him the quintessential skills for a finance career. Every good finance professional should have an understanding of the basics of finance, a background in statistics and mathematics, and some programming or computer science knowledge. He has become well-versed in programs such as Visual Basic, C, C++, R and Python throughout his career. 

Beyond the technical skills, communication skills are indispensable for any professional. Students need to learn how to take all of the complex math and be able to explain it in simpler terms — both in conversation and writing — to people who do not have a finance background.

What makes the Whitman School finance programs unique?

The degree programs’ flexibility and versatility give students at the Whitman School an invaluable opportunity to choose their career paths and become experts in different types of finance. Students learn the basics of finance and are offered a variety of electives and different specialties to choose what they are interested in.

They are also encouraged to work together inside and outside of the classroom to enhance their skills and passions further. At the Whitman School, our faculty encourages students to learn from each other through collaboration.

The opportunities outside of the classroom make the Whitman School an innovative place for students to gain real-world experience. Students can access real-time market data with Bloomberg terminals in the Ballentine Investment Institute and become Bloomberg certified. Students can also become involved in professional organizations, such as the Syracuse University Investment Club (SUIC) or the Orange Value Fund, LLC, a $4.5 million hedge fund run by students and faculty.

What advice do you have for students unsure about choosing finance?

While dollar signs and big cities often signify the finance industry, Barkley encourages students to pursue finance for the work they will be doing rather than the salary earned. If a student is passionate about their career, the value associated with a finance degree is just another perk.

Similarly, finance is a career that can be applied anywhere, as he discovered through his many jobs around the world.

Regardless of the career students choose, they should be motivated by their passions and skills to find a path that will pay off for years to come. If students find something they are really good at and something they love, then a career will never feel like work.

The Whitman School of Management offers a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, MBA specialization and doctorate in finance. Learn more at the Whitman School.

Karley Warden