Master's in Finance Vs. MBA in Finance: Salary & Difference

May 31, 2020

Increased economic globalization and complexity continue to drive demand for financial specialists with a high degree of knowledge and expertise. There are two very valid paths to graduate-level education in finance: the Master of Finance degree and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance. Both provide very advanced training and qualifications geared toward an upper-level career in the financial industry.

Graduate Degree Comparison

The main difference between the two degrees is diversity of content. MBA programs tend to cover a fairly wide range of topics and courses, providing a broad base of financial knowledge, although students can choose specialties that allow them to narrow their focus. Master of Science in Finance (MS in Finance) programs, on the other hand, are usually more specialized, focusing on the detailed application of financial concepts and methods. Also, MS in Finance programs are generally more quantitative than the MBA, which is more strategic in nature and usually takes longer to complete.

Master's in Finance

Programs resulting in a master's degree in finance typically require 1-2 years of coursework. The focus is entirely on advanced financial concepts, with common courses including financial accounting, investment analysis, financial modeling, and strategic corporate valuation.

For admission into a master's in finance program, a bachelor's degree is generally necessary, with a minimum GPA requirement. You will need to provide transcripts, acceptable GRE (Graduate Record Examination) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) results, relevant work experience and letters of recommendation.

MBA in Finance

Some MBA programs can be completed in as little as one year, but 2-3 years is more the norm. An MBA program will cover a very diverse set of financial topics, featuring courses such as corporate finance, behavioral finance, equity markets, and investment banking.

The admission requirements are roughly the same as those for an MS in Finance, with small details varying from school to school.

Careers in Finance

There are a wide variety of careers to choose from after having completed either a Master of Finance or MBA in Finance degree. In most cases, the person with the MBA will receive a slightly higher median salary, although the difference is small enough that this should probably not be the main criteria when choosing between the two.

Career MS in Finance - Median Annual Salary* (2020) MBA - Median Annual Salary* (2020)
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) $148,579 $150,695
Finance Manager $97,037 $101,051
Financial Controller $88,636 $89,272
Accounting Manager $77,512 $78,279
Financial Analyst $62,687 $63,947

Source: *PayScale

Financial Career Descriptions

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Chief financial officers oversee all financial matters for corporations or organizations. They set targets, design and implement strategies, and monitor results. Normally they will coordinate with heads of other departments and be responsible to a board or president. Top executives generally have completed a financial graduate degree.

Financial Manager

This is a fairly broad position that provides management and direction for all financial aspects of an organization. Their duties are generally a bit more hands-on than that of a CFO. They are responsible for setting investment goals, formulating financial plans, and providing financial reports. While a bachelor's degree is typically the minimum requirement, many employers now require both a master's degree and prior experience in the industry.

Financial Controller

Financial controllers are specifically responsible for producing financial reports that either aid in predicting financial performance or are required by compliance departments and government agencies. They directly monitor the budget and accounting departments, and are in charge of putting together income statements and balance sheets. Once again, a master's degree is not strictly necessary but has become the norm in this competitive industry.

Accounting Manager

Accounting managers are in charge of all accounting and financial reporting for the organization. They act as the liaison between the accounting department and other departments to coordinate strategies based on budgets, expense reports, tax planning, and financial reporting requirements. They normally start out further down in the organization and reach this position based on sufficient work experience and further education, such as a master's degree or MBA specifically.

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts are responsible for collecting, analyzing and monitoring data for the organization. They create financial models, forecast trends, and develop strategies. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement, but due to strong competition for jobs and advancement, a master's degree is highly recommended.

Completion of either an MS in Finance or an MBA in Finance will open up a vast array of career options. A Master's in Finance is especially beneficial for a finance-specific career, while a Master's in Business Administration is a broader program that could prove beneficial in a variety of business careers.

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