Master of Science in Finance
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A Master of Finance (M.Fin.) is a Master's degree designed to prepare graduates for careers in financial analysis, investment management and corporate finance. An alternate degree title is Master in Finance or Master of Science in Finance. The latter is abbreviated M.S.F. in North America, where it is becoming less common relative to the M.Fin., and "MSc in Finance", in the UK. The program generally requires one to two years of study, and may be a non-thesis degree. In the U.S. and Canada it may be positioned as a professional degree.
In the typical program, the core curriculum is focused on investment analysis, corporate finance and financial management / managerial accounting. These topics are generally preceded by more fundamental coursework in economics, accounting, and quantitative methods (usually time value of money and introductory statistics). In many programs, these are a prerequisite for admission or assumed as known, and if part of the curriculum, students with appropriate background may be exempt from (several of) these. The program usually concludes with coursework in advanced topics — where several areas are integrated or applied — such as portfolio management, financial modeling, mergers and acquisitions and real options. In general, these programs emphasize quantitative topics, although may also offer some non-quantitative elective coursework, such as corporate governance, business ethics and business strategy.
The curriculum often includes financial economics, derivatives and financial risk management as advanced topics, and sometimes managerial economics and quantitative finance / computational finance. These are areas which are usually studied as disciplines in their own right, via specialized degrees in economics and applied mathematics. On M.S.F. programs, the exposure will usually be limited to the generalist level: these areas of economics are taught to strengthen the theoretical underpin of the degree, however, since the emphasis is application, they are not developed; the computational topics, although practical, are too technical for a generalist finance degree. As regards the M.Fin. / MSc here, the treatment is generally substantive, including mathematically oriented coursework as part of the core curriculum; see comparison below.
Programs usually require a bachelor's degree prior to admission, but many do not require that the undergraduate major be in finance, economics, or even general business. The usual requirement is a sufficient level of numeracy, often including exposure to probability / statistics and calculus; the M.Fin. and MSc will often require more advanced topics such as multivariate calculus, linear algebra and differential equations. These may also require a greater background in Finance or Economics than the M.S.F. Some programs may require work experience (sometimes at the managerial level), particularly if the candidate lacks a relevant undergraduate degree.
Comparison with other qualifications
Although there is some overlap with an M.B.A., the finance Master's provides a broader and deeper exposure to finance, but more limited exposure to general management topics. Thus, the program focuses on finance and financial markets, while an M.B.A., by contrast, is more diverse, covering general aspects of business not dealt with in the finance program, such as human resource management and operations management. Note that an M.B.A. without a specialization in finance will not have covered many of the topics dealt with in the M.Fin. (breadth), and — often even where there is specialization — those areas that are covered may be in less depth. (Some M.B.A. candidates will "dual major" with an M.B.A./M.S.F.- some universities also offer this combination as a joint degree - or later pursue an M.Fin. degree, to gain specialized finance knowledge.) The MSM or M.Com in finance or financial management closely correspond to the MSF. Note though, that these degrees typically place more emphasis on theory and (sometimes) less on practice.
Some programs overlap with degrees in financial engineering, computational finance and mathematical finance: see Master of Quantitative Finance (MQF). Note, however, that the treatment of any common topics — usually financial modeling, derivatives and risk management — will differ as to level of detail and approach. The MSF deals with these topics conceptually, as opposed to technically, and the overlap is therefore slight. The M.Fin. / MSc, on the other hand, may cover these topics in a more mathematical fashion, and the treatment is often identical. Entrance requirements to the MQF are significantly more mathematical than for the MSF, while for some M.Fin / MSc degrees the requirements may be identical.
A Master of Financial Economics focuses on theoretical finance, and on developing models and theory. The overlap with the M.Fin. / MSc, then, as with the MQF, is often substantial. As regards the MSF, on the other hand, although the two programs do differ in the weight assigned to theory, there is some overlap: firstly, some MSF curricula do include a formal study of Financial Economics; secondly, even where the theory is not studied formally, MSF programs do cover the assumptions underpinning the models studied (at least in overview); thirdly, many financial economics programs include coverage of individual financial instruments, corporate finance and portfolio management, although this treatment is usually less practical.
The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is sometimes compared to a Master's in Finance, and in fact, several universities have embedded a significant percentage of the CFA Program "Candidate Body of Knowledge" into their degree programs. In general though, the CFA program is focused on Portfolio management and Investment analysis, and provides more depth in these areas than the standard M.Fin., whereas for other areas of finance the CFA coverage is in less depth. A further distinction is that many M.Fin. topics entail training in advanced techniques such as financial modeling—while training, per se, cannot be included in the CFA program. Similar comments apply to other certifications such as the Certified International Investment Analyst (C.I.I.A.); the so-called "Indian C.F.A." is, in fact, a Master's degree.
- FT Ranking of post-experience Masters in Finance programmes
- FT Ranking of pre-experience Masters in Finance programmes
- MSF Programs at U.S. Universities
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