Frequently Asked Questions about Financial Analysis
Financial analysis is the examination of the details of a business’s financial performance. This may begin with a relatively simple analysis of a company’s balance sheet, cash flows and liabilities, and other accounting data from its operating history, along with research on the larger economic and regulatory context in which it must compete. However, this examination of historical data is often just a first step; more in-depth analysis seeks to project the likely future performance of a company.
This financial analysis of a company is important for internal stakeholders looking for ways to improve performance, as well as for potential lenders or investors trying to ascertain whether it is wise to give the business money. Regardless of whether they’re working in a company’s finance department or at a private equity firm, analysts must apply a mix of complex financial modeling tools to develop a robust picture of the company’s financial health to inform decision-making on investments worth millions or even billions of dollars.
For example, linear programming (LP) techniques seek to optimize financial problems such as debt/equity ratio or portfolio construction, typically using spreadsheet programs like Microsoft Excel and Solver. For predicting future performance, regression analysis techniques are typically used, as well as probabilistic modeling using Monte Carlo methods of simulation to identify areas of potential risk. These more complex statistical approaches may use Excel, but increasingly rely on more powerful programming tools such as Python.
Financial analysts are always in demand, as their specialized skills create fundamental inputs for business planning and investment decision-making. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these professionals had a median annual wage of $85,660 in May 2018, and the median wage of analysts working in securities, commodities, or other financial services roles earned a median wage of $101,410.
Analysts may start out with only a bachelor’s degree, and entry-level positions typically specialize in researching certain types of investments, industries, or regions of the world. With experience - and, often, with a master’s in business administration (MBA) or related education - these jobs may eventually lead to higher-paid positions as portfolio managers or fund managers responsible for selecting an optimal mix of investments across multiple companies and sectors.
Certainly. Online education is a great way to learn the sophisticated quantitative and modeling skills you need to become a financial analyst, whether you’re just starting out or are an experienced professional looking to upskill yourself. Coursera delivers high-quality courses and Specializations from top-ranked schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University, which means you can learn about financial analysis and other business topics from some of the best teachers in the world - no matter where you are in the world.
And, because you’ll pay a lower tuition than on-campus students taking the same course, you can enroll in classes on Coursera knowing you’re getting a great deal on a smart investment in your future.
The skills and experience that you might need to already have before starting to learn financial analysis would likely involve a mix of financial understanding, mathematics, economics, algebra, statistics, and data science. These are among the chief skills you might call on to analyze financial statements to appraise a business’s current financial status and its future prospects. Additional skills for learning financial analysis may include expert problem-solving skills, quantitative skills, logic insights, programming knowledge, and excellent communication skills. To work in financial analysis, a person should be able to present the data, numbers, and probabilities in the analyses to senior executives in a clear, concise way.
The kind of people who are best suited for work that involves financial analysis are those people with a good head for numbers, an understanding of ratios and percentages, and a wide perspective on financial statements and the information within the statements. A person must be able to know the difference between total revenue and gross profit, and operating income and cash flow. To gain that information, a person most likely would take courses in accounting, financial management, personal finance, risk management, and other similar studies. The kind of people best suited for financial analysis roles would be those who are focused, determined, disciplined, logical, and analytical.
You might know if learning financial analysis is right for you if you have found yourself regularly poring over company annual resorts, watching financial programs like CNBC on a daily basis, and taking an enthusiastic interest and knowledge in financial news and issues. The work of financial analysis may appeal to you if you find interest in knowing the key aspects of financial statements, income statements, balance sheets, and performance charts to assess a company’s financial position. Ultimately, if you enjoy scrutinizing financial charts and graphs to uncover possible growth areas for a corporate re-positioning, then a career in financial analysis may be right for you.
This FAQ content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.