Your Guide to Careers in Finance with an Online MBA or Other Degree in Organizational Leadership

Written by Scott Wilson

finance careers

The beginning and end of the realm of business is in finance. Financial support is necessary to start any organized effort; the goal of business is to develop more and more financial security and wealth.

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Even in the world of non-profit and governmental entities, finance has the final say. While the sources of funding may be different, the need to accurately account for income and expenditures, to understand the details and impacts of investment, all determine what is possible and what is not.

So skilled financial professionals are absolutely necessary in every industry and organization.

Wherever you have financial professionals, you need strong financial leadership.

But leadership is not a skillset that comes with the standard professional education in the field. A degree in finance, accounting, or economics delivers a lot of highly technical detail about managing money, but not much about managing people. There’s so much emphasis on numbers, sometimes the people adding them up don’t make it into the equation.

But people are a critical piece of financial organizations. And evaluating, motivating, and inspiring them is a key part of making those organizations successful.

Organizational leadership degrees are a path to achieving those goals for finance leaders.

How the World of Finance Benefits From Professionals with Organizational Leadership Skills

finance trainerFinancial organizations aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you start thinking about ethical and compassionate leadership. The public image of people in finance is of the lone wolf. In fact, The Wolf of Wall Street even borrows the name for the title!

But the Jordan Bellforts and Gordon Geckos are the exception in the finance industry. Genuine financial leadership is rooted in strong ethics and fiduciary responsibility.

When the Economy Is on the Line, Financial Organization Leadership Keeps the Country Open

financial crisis newspaperThe Great Recession is an event outside the experience of most students of finance and accounting going to college today. But it’s still studied with as much or more emphasis than earlier crises, even the Great Depression.

The same name comes up in all of those histories: then Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke.

Bernanke had been a tenured professor of economics at Princeton before coming to the Fed. He’d made a specialty of studying the Great Depression.

So when his phone rang at 4 a.m. on March 13th as investment bank Bear Stearns was heading toward bankruptcy, he was fully prepared for the crisis at hand.

Using his connections, knowledge, and influence, Bernanke went to work, orchestrating a buy-out of Stearns by JP Morgan. When that didn’t stop the collapse, he went to Congress to seek authorization for an unprecedented $700 billion bail-out package to keep other banks from failing.

“If we don’t do this tomorrow, we won’t have an economy on Monday,” he told the legislators.

On Monday, the world still had an economy. And after years of digging out of the aftermath, it was stronger than ever.

In 2022, Bernanke was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for research on banks and financial crises… for his analysis of the Great Depression.

Organizational leadership studies are a perfect match for these requirements. With a grounding in empathetic, supportive, ethically-sound leadership principles, OL cultivates inspirational, visionary leaders. There’s no con game that can improve on the returns of a workforce that is properly understood, supported, and motivated.

Organizational leadership offers all the tools and training you need to develop exactly that kind of performance in your organization.

What Are the Best Degrees To Help Finance Professionals Learn Organizational Leadership?

leading financial presentationFinancial leaders have to first develop a strong grounding in the basics of finance and accounting. That almost always means an undergraduate degree in one of those fields, or something closely related like economics or business. Often, future finance professionals opt for a degree in business with a concentration in accounting or finance.

But, as noted earlier, these degrees don’t offer a lot in the way of modern organizational leadership education. Some business programs have concentrations in the subject, but that leaves you without the technical financial training that you need.

Bachelor’s Degree Options in Organizational Leadership for Careers in Finance

Very rarely, you will encounter programs such as a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Finance, Management, and Organizational Leadership, but those are few and far between.

You will find some programs that let you add on a minor degree to combine skills. This could mean earning a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership and Human Skills Development together with a minor in accounting or finance.

With four years of study, you can rely on quite a lot of flexibility when it comes to electives, no matter what your major. This can allow you to bring in additional studies in leadership or in finance or accounting, but you’ll still miss the advantages that a full course load would offer in either major.

Master’s Degree Options in Organizational Leadership for Careers in Finance

So the reality is, when you start looking at leadership roles in finance, you’re probably going to be looking at a master’s degree.

Like many other kinds of core business specialties, financial leaders have long looked to the venerable Master of Business Administration (MBA) as the best path to management and executive roles.

But the MBA focuses on more technical elements of business management and administration.

Some MBAs are available with concentrations in organizational leadership.

If your financial and accounting training is already strong and your leadership skills are where you want to focus, a master of arts or master of science in organizational leadership (MAOL/MSOL) is where you’ll get the most focused OL training. You can find both options such as a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Finance, or a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership with an Accounting concentration.

Either option will take a year or two to earn. These types of programs will help you sharpen both your professional financial skills and develop a deep and effective set of capabilities as an inspirational organizational leader.

Doctoral Degree Options in Organizational Leadership for Careers in Finance

Most PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, degrees in both organizational leadership and the various financial fields are aimed more at preparing strong research and academic expertise than cultivating leadership skills.

These degrees can take from four to five years to complete. They offer a high level of customization. Each student decides, with input from their advisors, what aspects of the field to focus on and constructs a curriculum and investigations around that subject. So it’s still possible to build practical organizational leadership skills with a doctoral program.

Certificate Options in Organizational Leadership for Careers in Finance

Certificates offer another popular option for finance leaders to get their organizational leadership game on. These programs offer a handful of classes that last only a few months and focus on the core essentials of organizational leadership. They are available for post-secondary, graduate, and post-graduate students, with their difficulty adjusted accordingly.

Few elective options are available in such carefully curated courses, but many offer some options in economics or finance and accounting.

Dual Degree Options Pull No Punches in Both Financial and Organizational Leadership Education

piggy bank graduationThe path to the most complete education available in finance and organizational leadership is also the most difficult: earning degrees in both subjects.

As outlined above, it’s somewhat common to do this by earning separate degrees at different levels, like a Bachelor’s in Finance and then a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. This has the advantage of leveling up your leadership skills right as you are getting to the stage of your career where you need them the most. You do have to pick one kind of advanced knowledge over the other, however.

But it’s also possible to earn multiple degrees simultaneously. Putting a Bachelor of Economics degree together with a Bachelor of Organizational Leadership gives you the full load of both majors at the same time. General knowledge requirements, common to both programs, you only have to take once, so it’s not quite as hard as earning two degrees separately.

Of course this is possible at any level of study, so you can also opt for a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership plus a Master of Finance degree.

What Do Financial Leaders Learn With an Organizational Leadership Degree?

Every organizational leadership program revolves around a core set of courses that cover the essentials of modern ethical and inspirational leadership. These deliver both the principles that have been uncovered among great leaders, and the kind of practical skills you need to put them into practice.

These core OL classes include:

Financial and accounting concentrations add another bundle of courses to the requirements. The specifics will vary with the concentration, but they may include topics like:

These courses will also place a high value on the role of ethics in financial leadership roles. Many concentrations in this area will dovetail the particular issues and responsibilities facing financial leaders together with the responsibilities and teachings of organizational leadership.

Finding the Best University To Deliver a Full Education in Finance and Organizational Leadership

working at deskChoosing a school to follow your financial leadership dreams will come down to a lot of different factors. Most importantly, you’ll need a college that has strong programs in both finance and organizational leadership. But since both fields are commonly delivered in business schools, that still leaves a lot of options on the table.

To decide between them, there are a few important factors to consider.


Even the most thrilling and engaging financial coursework can become boring drudgery in the wrong hands. Finding a program that has effective instructors who have a knack for academic and research work as well as real-world leadership credentials should be a priority.

Community and Professional Associations

Finance can be a small world, and who you know is a big part of how successful you will be. Finding a school that has strong connections to the professional finance world and a solid reputation among graduates will ensure you are rubbing shoulders with the people who are best positioned to help you launch your finance leadership career.

Academic Advising and Resources

One thing you will learn in organizational leadership courses is that no one makes it to the top on their own. That’s especially true in college, and that’s why you want to find a school that has active, empathetic, and accessible advisors to help you plot your course. Research materials and other resources for your studies should be equally available and cover all your needs.

As a field that is firmly in the pantheon of business studies, most finance and accounting programs will be eligible for specialty accreditation from one of the three major accreditors in that area:

  • ACBSP (Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs)
  • IACBE (International Accreditation Council for Business Education)
  • AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business)

For organizational leadership programs that are also run by business schools, that same accreditation can be a powerful indicator of overall quality and value. Specialty accreditors look at all of the factors above and more. They have experience digging into the details of educational programs, and connections in the larger finance and business community to assess the importance of what they find.

Calculating the Costs of an Organizational Leadership Degree for Finance Professionals

Costs are also usually a major consideration when choosing a school for organizational leadership studies. It doesn’t take a finance professional to tell you that college costs in the United States today have skyrocketed. But anyone aiming at a position as a financial leadership professional is probably going to be more careful about that calculation than most.

You’ll have to decide on the value proposition behind the cost of an organizational leadership degree yourself, but we can at least help you figure out what the average costs look like.

The National Center for Education Statistics keeps track of the typical costs of degrees in the United States at various levels and different kinds of institutions. For 2021, their data shows the typical annual cost of tuition and fees as:

  • Undergraduate program annual cost:
    • Public – $9,375
    • Private – $32,825
  • Graduate program annual cost:
    • Public – $12,410
    • Private – $26,597

Why Online Degrees Might Make the Most Sense for an Organizational Leadership Education

using calculator on degree costsAll kinds of college degrees are now available online, and organizational leadership and finance are no exception. As fields of study that don’t require a great deal of hands-on activity, they are a perfect fit for fully remote classes.

Remote studies carry all kinds of advantages for finance professionals climbing the ladder to leadership roles. For starters, you can choose from among the finest programs in the country, since you can attend without relocating.

That also lets you continue your studies without having to double-up with night classes on top of your day job, or leaving that job behind for the years you are in school.

Online programs also typically adopt an asynchronous format, which makes most coursework just as flexible in terms of time as in space. So you can stream a video lecture on the bus on your way to work in the morning, catch up with class group chats on your phone at lunch, and take care of your part in a group research project after you’ve put the kids to bed.

Keeping up with your personal and professional commitments while you are building your leadership skills is really a kind of leadership itself. And online degrees make sure you aren’t making any sacrifices in the quality of your education in doing so.

Important Financial Leadership Roles Exist in All Kinds of Organizations

businesswoman in warehouseThere are a broad range of specialties within the realm of finance leadership. Your daily activities and specific leadership role will vary quite a lot depending on what kind of job you choose to pursue.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups all of these various roles into the overall category of Financial Managers. Some of the specific jobs within that category you might land with an organizational leadership degree behind you include:

And it’s not unheard of for CFOs and other senior finance executives to also branch over into more general management, becoming the Chief Executive Officer or Chief Operating Officer of corporations in the later stages of their career.

In every case, financial leaders are expected to have a strong command of the details of accounting and finance in their organizations.

Financial leaders have the responsibility to make the positions and options clear to other staff and executives. Much of the job is collaborative in nature, working with other teams and departments to make the numbers add up.

Financial Leadership Jobs Offer Significant Salary and Benefits

financial advisor with clientsThe overall median annual salary for financial managers in 2021 according to BLS data came to $131,710. The top ten percent of the field, those who had the highest levels of education and the most experience, earned more than $208,000 annually.

If you’re looking at eventually becoming a corporate leader in a financial organization, you can expect similarly high salary levels. For businesses in the finance and insurance sector, BLS found for 2021 that top executives averaged $158,680 and chief executives earned $460,920 per year.

Of course, in all of these roles, bonuses and other benefits like stock grants and generous pension benefits can make up a considerable part of your total compensation.

Jobs in financial leadership play a key part of how modern organizations operate. But they do it without the glamour and excitement of roles in operations or sales. A finance manager with organizational leadership training can make their department’s contributions clear, though. Engagement with both your own staff and the rest of the company can result in a healthier and better-run organization. And that’s always going to pay dividends in the end.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Financial Managers and Top Executives reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed December 2022.