Developing a thorough understanding of finance and accounting can help advance your career. By gaining financial skills and knowledge, you can make smarter business decisions, analyze how well you, your team, and company are performing, and determine which projects and goals to pursue.

If you’re interested in developing or furthering your financial skills, you might be interested in Harvard Business School Online’s Financial Accounting and Leading with Finance courses. Curious about which certificate program is the right fit for you? Here’s a closer look at each discipline and what the courses offer.

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The Difference between Accounting and Finance

Before deciding between the two courses, it’s important first to understand the difference between finance and accounting.

Finance takes a forward-looking approach at how your company generates, uses, and manages money. In finance, you focus on activities such as investing, borrowing, budgeting, and forecasting to position your organization for future growth.

Accounting, on the other hand, focuses more on the day-to-day flow of money coming into and out of your organization. In accounting, you zero in on how your company’s performing at a specific point in time, which you can determine by preparing and analyzing financial statements, including balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements.

Related: How Learning About Finance Can Jumpstart Your Career

Is Financial Accounting Right for Me?

Financial Accounting, taught by HBS Professor V.G. Narayanan, is an eight-week online course that teaches key accounting concepts and principles. You'll learn not only how to prepare a balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement, but how to analyze financial statements to determine your company’s business performance and potential. The course concludes with an introduction to forecasting and valuation, enabling you to make more informed, strategic decisions.

“I’m currently leading the operational functions of a system-wide IT implementation—a project that affects the daily work of a few thousand employees,” says Kali Pfaff, who took Financial Accounting. “Knowing how to read financial statements and understand them has helped me make major decisions on future state reporting.”

Developing a sound understanding of basic accounting can help you, no matter your industry. If you’re a current or aspiring manager, this knowledge enables you to determine your decisions’ impact on your company’s bottom line and improve its profitability. This course is also ideal for recent graduates interested in learning the language of business or those considering an MBA who want to prepare for the classroom with a course HBS offers its incoming students.

Is Leading with Finance Right for Me?

If you want to gain an intuitive understanding of finance, consider Leading with Finance. This six-week online course is taught by HBS Professor Mihir Desai and designed to equip you with a toolkit for making smart financial decisions and the confidence to communicate those decisions to key stakeholders. Throughout the course, you'll dive deeper into financial analysis and learn how capital markets work, as well as how to create and assess value to evaluate and pitch potential projects.

“I use what I learned on a daily basis,” says Paul Accornero, a past participant of Leading with Finance. “Even though I'm not in a finance role, operating in a general management position, I need to make decisions utilizing the principles we learned daily. The course empowers me to do that.”

Leading with Finance is ideal for early- and mid-career professionals who want to understand the financial landscape of their business and industry to advance their career—particularly if they’re in a non-finance role. The course will also benefit aspiring finance professionals who want to learn fundamental financial terms, concepts, and principles, as well as new leaders who want to equip themselves with the skills to create a budget, calculate return on investment (ROI), and articulate the financial implications of their decisions.

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Choosing the Right Course for You

Whether you’re interested in pursuing accounting or finance, both courses can equip you with skills that will prove invaluable, no matter your role or industry. Developing financial literacy will enable you to make better business decisions, understand the financial implications of those decisions, and effectively communicate and collaborate with others throughout your organization.

Are you interested in learning more? Explore our online six-week Leading with Finance course or eight-week Financial Accounting course and discover how you can take the next step in your career.

Lauren Landry

About the Author

Lauren Landry is the associate director of marketing and communications for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to joining HBS Online, she worked at Northeastern University and BostInno, where she wrote nearly 3,500 articles covering early-stage tech and education—including the very launch of HBS Online. When she's not at HBS Online, you might find her teaching a course on digital media at Emerson College, chugging coffee, or telling anyone who's willing to listen terribly corny jokes.