Master of Finance
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A Master's degree in Finance is a postgraduate program designed to prepare graduates for careers in Finance. The degree is often titled Master of Finance (M.Fin; also, "Master in Finance"); alternate titles are Master of Science in Finance, abbreviated MSF in North America - where it is becoming less common relative to the M.Fin - and in the UK, MSc in Finance. In the U.S. and Canada the program may be positioned as a professional degree.
In general, MSF and MFin programs differ as to intended career preparation and hence degree focus - with the former centred on financial management and investment management, and the latter on more technical roles (although, see below for further discussion as to this distinction). Both degree types, though, emphasize quantitative topics, and may also offer some non-quantitative elective coursework, such as corporate governance, business ethics and business strategy. Programs generally require one to two years of study, and are often offered as a non-thesis degree.
The MSF program, typically, prepares graduates for careers in financial management, investment banking and investment management. The core curriculum is thus focused on Managerial finance, corporate finance and investment analysis. These topics are generally preceded by more fundamental coursework in economics, (managerial) 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; managerial economics and various quantitative finance topics may also be offered as advanced courses.
The M.Fin / MSc prepares graduates for more technical roles, and thus "focuses on the theory and practice of finance"  with a "strong emphasis on financial economics in addition to financial engineering and computational methods." The MSF core topics are (often) also covered, although in (substantially) less detail. Elective work allows for specific applications in financial engineering and computational finance, as well as in corporate finance, private equity and the like; several of the MSF advanced topics — such as real options and managerial economics — will thus also be offered, here differing as to a more technical orientation. As regards coverage of quantitative finance as compared to more specialized degrees, see below.
Note that the MSF/M.Fin distinction is not absolute: some MSF programs offer a "quantitative track"; others are specifically technically oriented. Also, although the "MSc in Finance" corresponds to the M.Fin, many schools offer a range of programs, where finance may be combined with accountancy and/or management, and these then correspond to the MSF; note also that many MSc programs are further specialized, with the degree as a whole focused on, for example, Behavioral finance, Islamic finance or Wealth management.
Programs 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 MSF. 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./MSF - 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.
As above, some MSF and all M.Fin 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: although practical, these topics are too technical for a generalist finance degree, and the exposure will be limited to the generalist level. The M.Fin / MSc, on the other hand, cover these topics in a substantially mathematical fashion, and the treatment is often identical. The distinction here though, is that these place relatively more emphasis on financial theory than the MQF, and also allow for electives outside of quantitative finance. Entrance requirements to the MQF are significantly more mathematical than for the MSF, while for the M.Fin / MSc 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. (As regards managerial economics, similar comments apply. The course is taught to strengthen the theoretical underpin of the degree; however, since the emphasis is application, it is not developed.)
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 Finance Master's, whereas for other areas of finance the CFA coverage is in less depth. A further distinction is that many M.Fin (and MSF) 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.
- Master's of the Financial Universe, businessweek.com
- For example Johns Hopkins - Carey's MS in Finance
- Cambridge's Master of Finance
- Princeton's Master in Finance
- For example, Boston College - Carroll's MSF
- For example, Clark University's MSF
- For example Exeter and Essex
- For example Henley-ICMA and City University London - Cass
- Getting an MBA vs. a Master’s in Finance or Economics, mbapodcaster.com
- Recognized by UK NARIC (December 2009) as comparable to QCF Level 7.
- CFA Program Partners Overview, cfainstitute.org
- 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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