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Finance Jobs with No Degree: You Don’t Need College to Work in Finance

Finance Jobs with No Degree: You Don’t Need College to Work in Finance

You can get finance jobs with no degree. Ever hear a major Wall Street player answer the question, “How did you start your career?” It usually goes something like this:

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“My first job was as an intern at my dad’s hedge fund …”

Or, “After I got my degree from Yale, I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do …”

Or, “I took the money my aunt gave me to spend the summer in Europe and invested it in …”

If you don’t come from a wealthy family, it’s enough to make you lose heart – but you shouldn’t. Privilege does give you a head start in the Financial Services sector but, if you have a head for math and enough drive, you can find a rewarding, well-paying career keeping tabs on other people’s money. This is even true if you’ve never been to college. Despite what others may tell you, it is possible to get certain finance jobs with no degree.

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Frankly, the math isn’t that hard unless you’re doing deep, strategic work. Most financial analysts, traders, brokers, insurance salespeople, accountants and auditors don’t do any quantitative work that wasn’t covered in Algebra 1. If you managed to get a B in that class – or if you could’ve had you been allowed to bring a calculator with you to the exams –  you can probably find a job in finance.

We’re not saying that mind-blowing wealth is within your reach, but a decent-paying career is.

If you ever saw the series Billions, then you know that the main character, fund manager Bobby Axelrod, enjoyed bossing around Ivy Leaguers while he himself graduated from a second-tier university. Going back a few years, corporate raider Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street displayed his wealth with the humble-brag, “Not bad for a City College kid.”

We assume that, unlike these Axelrod and Gekko, you aren’t a) a ruthless psychopath or b) a fictional character. So there’s only so far you’re going to go. But a job that offers benefits and above-average pay could be within your grasp.

But you have to start somewhere. Try these entry-level positions to start your no-degree finance career.

Bank Teller Opportunities

When you go into your local bank branch, the person behind the glass is likely not a college graduate. They might never have worked at another job before.

We won’t sugar-coat it: There’s no future in being a bank teller. But at this moment, it’s still a good place to begin your journey.

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“Employment of tellers is projected to decline 15 percent from 2022 to 2032,” according to the U.S. Labor Department. “Despite declining employment, about 29,000 openings for tellers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.”

You can expect to receive a month’s position-specific training. While the Labor Department cites a 2022 average rate of hourly pay of $17.49. Indeed.com puts the average figure a few cents lower, but also reports that at least two institutions – Bank of the West and M&T Bank – pay more than $20 per hour.

Indeed also indicates that, if you bridge the gap from part-time to full-time, you can expect the job to start around $26,000 per year, along with a 401(k) retirement plan with matching funds. You’d probably top out at around $40,000. Health insurance and paid time off might also be part of your package. A lot of banks also provide tuition assistance should you decide to take college classes or attend certification exam test prep courses.

If you want to make that jump, though, it won’t happen because you’re good at math. You need to be competent, of course, but all you’re really doing is adding and subtracting – tallying up receipts and making change. You don’t need to calculate the circumference of a circle or solve quadratic equations. You just need to be accurate.

Promotion comes from one, much more critical skill set: selling. Remember this! It remains true no matter what else you do in finance. The better your people skills, the bigger your payday.

We noted that the need for bank tellers is declining. If you can be replaced by an ATM or a phone app, you will be. But if you can talk someone with a checking account into opening a savings account, then up-sell with a savings account into investing in CDs, then you can expect advancement and higher pay.

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Being a bank teller can be that foot in the door for you. It’s an entry-level job that, once you get to full-time status, comes with steady pay, predictable hours and full benefits. But most importantly, the skills you gain on this job can be transferred to just about any other position you’ll ever likely attain. The next step up the ladder at the bank would be as a personal banker – also called a relationship banker – then as a mortgage lender and finally into branch management.

Accounting Entries

Entry-level jobs in accounting departments of non-bank companies pay a little better than being a bank teller, but the hiring managers are a little more selective. People with college degrees often take these jobs temporarily, but they don’t make a career of it. They tend to either get promoted quickly or change fields. But the work still has to get done, and that’s why most accounting clerk jobs are done by high school or two-year community college graduates.

According to Indeed, they’re paid an average of $20.52 per hour, with rates between $25 and $29 not unheard of. The Labor Department reports an average annual salary of $45,860. But salary isn’t everything. A lot of this work is done through temp agencies, which aren’t known for extravagant benefits packages. Ideally, you want to get hired directly by the company you’ll be working at. That’s not always easy, because accounting work related to financial reporting or tax reporting is highly seasonal.

Job titles vary with the specific tasks, but this heading covers:

  • Accounts payable clerks,
  • Accounts receivable clerks,
  • Financial clerks,
  • Accounting assistants or
  • Bookkeepers.

The skill set, though, is consistent across these. Companies need people who can produce and edit financial documents, record transactions and check for accuracy. Math and computer skills are a must.

As technology advances, there’s less and less need for manual processing in accounting. But it’s a slow bleed; the Labor Department predicts that the number of jobs will decline only 6% over the course of 10 years. In the meantime, there are a lot of on-ramps. If you take a job in this field, though, you need to take advantage of any opportunity to improve your computer skills, because the machines will keep encroaching on this career path.

Insurance: A Premium Career

At the risk of incurring the wrath of one particular company, working in insurance is so simple even a caveman can do it. Well, not every job, but there are a lot of things you can do in this industry even if you didn’t go to college (or if you can’t build a fire).

Let’s start with selling insurance. This is a straight-out-of-high-school job that you can stick with the rest of your life. According to the Labor Department, it pays $27.82 per hour on average, or $57,860 per year, and the number of jobs available is growing all the time. According to Indeed, the average base salary is almost $65,000, and some insurance agents make more than $100,000.

There are standards for this job, even though a college degree isn’t one of them. If you’re going to sell insurance instruments called variable annuities, you need to pass an exam and get your Series 6 license, which is offered by a financial industry association called FINRA, which is in turn chartered by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Even if you don’t sell those, though, you’re probably going to require some state-level licensure – and the requirements for those vary drastically by state.

The money is good, but it doesn’t just fall out of the sky. This is a tough business. You’ll have to do a lot of cold-calling and be persistent to the point of being relentless. If you’re someone who enjoys the competitive, eat-or-be-eaten atmosphere of sales, though, this is one way to cash in.

If not, there are other roles in the insurance game that don’t involve being a closer.

You could instead become a claims adjuster. Sometimes called claims appraisers, claims examiners or claims investigators, they decide whether an insurance company must pay a claim and, if so, how much.

While such work won’t get you the sky’s-the-limit upside of being a sales rep, it can get you a nice, steady paycheck. According to the Labor Department, a mid-career adjuster makes around $72,000 per year, generally speaking. The pay for auto insurance claims is a little lower and the claims for health insurance claims significantly lower. With that factored in, Indeed estimates the average annual salary at $63,445. These tend to be full-time jobs, but they’re not always 9-to-5, Monday through Friday.

High Finance

Dare to dream, but it’s next to impossible to get a Wall Street job without a bachelor’s degree – or really a master’s degree – and usually from one of the hardest schools to get into.

That said, there’s no law that says you can’t. Every now and then, a securities trader or analyst emerges from high school. But if you weren’t the LeBron James of your school’s math club, this probably won’t work out for you.

Your first step would be to take FINRA’s Securities Industry Essentials exam. That should brighten your resume enough to gain entry into some financial services firm in some kind of entry-level position. From there, you would probably want to take FINRA’s Series 7 exam, which qualifies you to trade stocks and bonds. However, you have to already work at a financial services firm before you can sit for the Series 7, so that’s why we advise you to take the SIE exam first.

But even if you don’t catch on at a brokerage house, you can still put to use what you learned in order to take those exams. If you find yourself in a job where you can put some money away, this will help you figure out how to invest on your own account. You’ll be surprised how much more money you can make with a sensible portfolio than with a 0% checking account.

And even if you don’t make enough money to invest by yourself, you might consider forming an investment club with your friends and neighbors. That’s a group of individuals who each contribute money to a pool that is then invested for the shared benefit of the group members.

If you could convince half a dozen people to contribute the money they’d otherwise blow on lottery scratchers into a fund in which the group decides to buy or sell based on a majority vote, you’re all likely to see positive results in short order.

Relief Recap

If you’re looking for finance jobs with no degree, you may find some success picking up one of these entry-level finance positions. Once you’ve got your foot in the door, you may be able to climb the ladder to success. Try one of the positions outlined in this article to take your first step!