Finance vs Consulting – Which Career is Right For You?

Finance vs Consulting

Finance vs Consulting – As a student/professional what you would like to be? Do you want to increase the depth of knowledge or the breadth of knowledge? What do you think your inner structure is?

A professor was giving a talk in a small room conference. Students were listening to him deeply. When the professor paused and encouraged his students to ask questions, one of the students asked him – “What do you think, sir? What’s more important, depth of knowledge or breadth of knowledge?” The professor paused, gathered his thoughts and said – “If you want to be an expert, go for deepening your knowledge. But if you’re okay with becoming a non-expert, I would recommend, be a generalist and increase the breadth of knowledge.”

The answer the professor gave is subject to argument and can encourage a lot of debate. Here we’re talking about something of that sort. What should you choose? A career which needs a lot of depth of knowledge or a profession which needs a lot of knowledge in different subjects to effectively manage the tasks at hand? Who are you, a finance guy or a management consultant?

Here, in this article, we will do the analysis between a finance guy and a consultant. We will also provide all the details for you to make an informed decision. But the decision has to be made by you. We’re picking fruits and putting in two baskets. You need to choose which basket is yours – a basket with all cherries or a basket with different fruits!

Let’s get started.

Finance vs Consulting Snapshot

Comparison Finance Consulting
Area Specialist Generalist
Career Options Investment Banking,
Corporate Finance,
Equity Research,
Private Equity,
Risk Management,
Quantitative Analysis,
Project Finance,
Technical analysis
Strategic Consulting
Management Consulting
IT Consulting and other areas
Hard Skills Required Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint, Financial Modeling, Valuations, Sensitivity Analysis, Accounting, Corporate Finance, Fixed Income, Derivatives,
Corporate Law
Microsoft Powerpoint (heavy), Microsoft Excel (less), Analytical Skills, Process vast data, Business Modeling, Business Strategy, Operations, Human Resource, Supply Chain
Soft Skills Required Ability to work for extended time period (80-100+ hours a week), Excellent Communication Skills Required, Writing Skills, Negotiation Skills Ability to understand Clients Requirement, Communication Skills, Excellent Presentation Skills, Taking Ownership, Ability to work in Team
Top Firms Blackstone,
Goldman Sachs & Co
Morgan Stanley
Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Credit Suisse
Deutsche Bank
J.P.Morgan Chase & Co
McKinsey & Company.
Boston Consulting Group,
Bain & Company
Booz & Company
Deloitte Consulting LLP
Monitor Group
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Mercer LLC
Ernst & Young LLP
Work Life Balance Depends on which sub domain in Finance you are working for. Investment Banking – its brutal! Equity Research is still OK. Buy Side Analyst have a balance work life.
Depending on the area, you may have to work for 10-18 hours a day
In consulting the working hours vary depending on the client and project.
On an average, it is around 12 hours per day
Travel Mostly they are not required to travel much. You can safely assume that 90% of the time is spent in Office. Consultants travel for 25-75% of their time
Key Words Financial Modeling, Valuations, M&A, NPV, IRR Top Level analysis, Insights, Findings, Facts
Exit Opportunities Depending on the chosen area of interest, there are some amazing exit opportunities within the Finance sector.
For example, Investment Bankers moving into Private Equity, or a Research Sell side analyst moving into a Buy Side Analyst profile
Become senior executives in the sector you are consulting
Networking Opportunities Mostly work within the Financial Industry. Alumni network is strong but not varied as found in the Consulting. Consultants work for diverse industries – they get immense opportunities of networking with diverse group of businesses, academics, government and also countries. They also have a very strong alumni network which helps them connect across various levels
Popular Certifications CFA, FRM, PRM, CFP, CIMA, CMA, ACCA, CPA and more CMC
Job Security Chance of spending 15-20 years in Finance filed is a bit lower (especially Investment Banking) chances of having a 15-20 year career in consulting look a lot higher


Finance vs Consulting – Picking One?

Let’s talk a bit more about generalist and specialist so that you can have an idea what characteristics are more of your kind.


If you’re a specialist, you tend to think about one thing. It comes naturally to you. You’re able to concentrate and don’t feel bored easily about one thing. And before going into depth, you don’t leave any subject. You’re someone who is a go-to guy for a specific thing. You love your one thing and you wholehearted want to pursue it.


You’re someone who is okay with knowing a little about everything. You get bored with things easily. You’re someone who picks up one book, reads it through and next, you pick another book of different subject. You have a hard time concentrating on one thing most of the time. You feel that knowing enough is enough.

Now the description we have given above may not match who you’re completely; but while reading you may feel “this is me”, “no, this isn’t me”. Pick that/those and read the entire article while keeping those phrases in mind. We will be talking about finance and consulting.

Finance is for specialists, for professionals/students who love to play with numbers, think logically, base their decisions on reasoning and mostly get busy in increasing their knowledge in finance. On the other hand, consultant has to do multiple things. They can’t only get around with finance knowledge. They need to understand business, administration, marketing, analysis, presentation, customer service and many more. So they’re jack of all trades and mostly master of none.

Let’s look at how it looks like to have a career in finance and to have a career in consulting.

Career in Finance

This section would be divided in two parts. First, we will talk about the possible certifications/degree you can take up to create an amazing career in finance. Then, we will talk about how to get there.

  • Investment Banking
  • Corporate Finance
  • Equity Research
  • Private Equity
  • Risk Management
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Project Finance
  • Technical analysis

How To Get Into a Finance Role?

The first step is to decide what you want to specialize in. Is it something that you want to do at least for the next 5-10 years? If yes, then choose whatever speaks to you. But if you feel that specializations are not for you, you can read on. In the next section, we will talk about careers in management consulting. To thrive in management consulting career, all you need to have is a mindset of a generalist. So if you think being a specialist speaks to you, choose any of the above certifications and get going.

Getting there is easy. The hard part is to choose something that you can continue doing for next 5-10 years. To understand whether you would like to specialize or not, you can simply look at the lifestyle of the finance profession. Pick any profession and look at the lifestyle. Now ask yourself – Am I ready to adapt to the lifestyle this career offers me? Am I excited about that lifestyle? If the answer is yes, pick that specializations and you would be happier.

Career in Management Consulting

While finance careers are mainly built on the foundation of certification, management consulting needs a different route. Here’s what you should do to thrive in management consulting.

First of all, let’s talk about the skills required to do great in management consulting career.

Skills required for Management Consulting

  • Effective communication & interpersonal skill: To be a great management consultant, you need to know how to express yourself so that the clients can understand where you’re coming from. Clarity is the key. While communication can be developed, interpersonal skill needs to be honed only by dealing with more people. You can’t just get great at interpersonal skill until you become well-versed in your social life.
  • Understand trends: Your job is to see the past, be in the present and predict the future in such a way that the client can be positive about their business. And while getting there, you need to understand trends of the business and how to make sense in your prediction.
  • Being able to analyze vast amount of data: How would you know where the company is coming from? You need historical data to answer this question. Moreover, you need to know how to analyze the data so that you can change their future. Even if analyses is not always considered as a specific skill, but you need to know how to analyze the data in such a way that you can communicate the trend via statistical model, charts or presentations.
  • Future orientation: As a management consultant, your job is to improve their future. So if you’re not focused on offering them better results in future, you would not be hired again. Why would you get hired if you can’t sell them the possibility of future or their most-cherished goal? Your job is to put the results on the table even before you start working with them. Be sound. Know a lot. Show past results to your present clients. And they’ll trust you.

Let’s see how you can get there.

How to Get Into A Consulting Role?

You’ve heard the expression – “When I do, I learn”? Yes, you need to do consulting to be good at consulting. How would you start? You can start by joining a –

Big consulting firm:

You can join a big consulting firm like McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, Accenture etc and can learn the art of the trade. Joining a big company is beneficial for you for these reasons –

  • You will be a small fish in a big pond. So there’re no limits to your learning. You can learn everything about everything. And then can apply the same in your own domain of work.
  • You will get much better salary compared to a small firm.
  • You will add value to your personal brand. Because later when recruiter will look at your profile, you will definitely have an edge over others.
  • You will also learn about how these big firms do businesses with clients and can learn a ton from the experience.

Small consulting firm:

Yes, you can join a small firm and be the king of your kingdom. Of course, you will be in a small pond, thus your chances of growth would be more. How? You need to take more responsibility and would run the firm mostly as an entrepreneur. Yes, the compensation may be less, but experience in a small firm is great if you want to start something on your own.

Start your own consulting firm:

Starting your own consulting firm is lucrative. Of course, it’s risky and not easy. You may lose sleep nights after nights, but it’s worthy of every sleepless night. Owning your own firm will give you the autonomy of choosing your clients, expanding at your own pace, choosing your own schedule and making your own profits (yes, as much as you want). No. It’s not easy to start a consulting firm on your own. But if you have few years of experience in big firms and in small firms, that will be enough.

In the final analysis

The only difference between finance and consulting that may bother you in the compensation. You would earn a little less while starting your management consulting career than your finance counter-part. But if you stick to your laurel, you will do well and eventually, you may earn much more than a finance professional. A word of caution here – as a management consulting professional, you need to ensure your own growth as there’s no or limited scope for any professional certification. However, you can do a finance certification and choose a career in management consulting. Many professionals do that. Think about all the options and then decide what makes you tick at the end of the day.


  1. By Ervin on

    Very good article, thanks for that!

    I wanted to disagree with you in regard to your view on ACCA and CFA, because ACCA is not just pure accounting but includes Auditing as a license and profession and also it has broad finance and business topics covered in all its levels from fundamental to professional. I am talking from my personal experience and as an ACCA and the main difference for me is about what countries you want to work because CFA is a global US qualification, while instead ACCA is a global UK qualification and minor changes like CFA includes investment profiles, while ACCA includes Auditing profile which CFA don’t.


    • By Dheeraj Vaidya on

      Hey Ervin, you are right! Many thanks for the details and differences between ACCA and CFA. I shall include the points that you have made in the main article.


  2. By Harrison on

    Very apt analysis but i need help. Im currently working in an accounting role at a firm but i dont know if i want to do that long term and with the job market in my country i have been seeing a lot of openings in accouting. A role i would prefer is Coperate Finance and im trying to make a decision on which certification to take. CFA or ACCA. I intend to start the CFA and start looking for internships in Asset Mgt, Portfolio Mgt or IB’s. Should i go ahead and do just that and would CFA appropriately cover topics in Accouting? or do i start with ACCA first and then later write the CFA?
    I need detailed responses friends. Advice me like you would advice your kids. Thanks.


    • By Dheeraj Vaidya on

      Hello Harrison, thanks for your note. If you are looking to move into Asset Management, IB kind of roles then CFA is the right career path to look at. Please note that CFA is not an accounting themed exam and it covers topics of financial analysis in detail (rather than pure accounting).

      ACCA is focussed on accounting and you may enroll for that if you want to stay in accounting roles.

      Hope it helps,


  3. By Sangamesh on

    Very descriptive note on choosing the consultant or management role. People how have gained the domain expertise through work rather from professional course background. Would hold starting problems. But if they can work with already existing consultant. Hope then consultant job would be good.


  4. By Syed NAJMUL Hassan on

    A very good analysis of two careers. Gives complete guidelines to make an informed decision about your Career


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