Corporate Finance Overview

An overview of the corporate finance industry

What is Corporate Finance?

Corporate finance deals with the capital structure of a corporation, including its funding and the actions that management takes to increase the value of the company. Corporate finance also includes the tools and analysis utilized to prioritize and distribute financial resources.

The ultimate purpose of corporate finance is to maximize the value of a business through planning and implementation of resources, while balancing risk and profitability.


Corporate Finance Overview

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The Three Important Activities that Govern Corporate Finance


#1 Investments & Capital Budgeting

Investing and capital budgeting includes planning where to place the company’s long-term capital assets in order to generate the highest risk-adjusted returns. This mainly consists of deciding whether or not to pursue an investment opportunity, and is accomplished through extensive financial analysis.

By using financial accounting tools, a company identifies capital expenditures, estimates cash flows from proposed capital projects, compares planned investments with projected income, and decides which projects to include in the capital budget.

Financial modeling is used to estimate the economic impact of an investment opportunity and compare alternative projects.  An analyst will often use the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) in conjunction with Net Present Value (NPV) to compare projects and pick the optimal one.


#2 Capital Financing

This core activity includes decisions on how to optimally finance the capital investments (discussed above) through the business’ equity, debt, or a mix of both. Long-term funding for major capital expenditures or investments may be obtained from selling company stocks or issuing debt securities in the market through investment banks.

Balancing the two sources of funding (equity and debt) should be closely managed because having too much debt may increase the risk of default in repayment, while depending too heavily on equity may dilute earnings and value for original investors.

Ultimately, it’s the job of corporate finance professionals to optimize the company’s capital structure by lowering its Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) as much as possible.


#3 Dividends and Return of Capital

This activity requires corporate managers to decide whether to retain a business’s excess earnings for future investments and operational requirements or to distribute the earnings to shareholders in the form of dividends or share buybacks.

Retained earnings that are not distributed back to shareholders may be used to fund a business’ expansion. This can often be the best source of funds, as it does not incur additional debts nor dilute the value of equity by issuing more shares.

At the end of the day, if corporate managers believe they can earn a rate of return on a capital investment that’s greater than the company’s cost of capital, they should pursue it. Otherwise, they should return excess capital to shareholders via dividends or share buybacks.


How Important is a Company’s Capital Structure in Corporate Finance?

A company’s capital structure is crucial to maximizing the value of the business. Its structure can be a combination of long-term and short-term debt and/or common and preferred equity. The ratio between a firm’s liability and its equity is often the basis for determining how well balanced or risky the company’s capital financing is.

A company that is heavily funded by debt is considered to have a more aggressive capital structure and, therefore, potentially holds more risk for stakeholders. However, taking this risk is often the primary reason for a company’s growth and success.
Capital Structure in Corporate Finance

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What are the Career Paths in Corporate Finance?

At the CFI, we specialize in helping you advance your corporate finance career.

The best place to start is by exploring our Career Map and discovering the various jobs and positions that exist in corporate finance.

corporate finance careers

The main career paths in the corporate finance industry include positions at Investment Banks (the Sell-Side), Institutions (the Buy-Side), Corporations, and Public Accounting Firms.


Additional Corporate Finance Resources

Thank you for reading CFI’s guide and overview of the corporate finance industry.  To keep learning and advancing your career these additional CFI resources will help you along your path:

  • What is Investment Banking?
  • Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Financial Modeling Guide
  • Valuation Methods

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