Finance Definition

It is the study and practice of money, money-related instruments, and funds.

Finance is the study and practice of money, money-related instruments, and funds. It is associated with economics, which studies how money, assets, products, and services are produced, distributed, and consumed, but it is not the same. 

US dollar

The prehistoric history of money may serve as the foundation for the history of finance. It is known that basic financial operations, including banking, trade, and accounting, were practiced by ancient and medieval cultures.

This field may be loosely classified into personal, corporate, and public finance since such activities occur in financial systems at various scales.

Financial instruments, such as currencies, loans, bonds, shares, stocks, options, futures, etc., are used to buy, sell, or exchange assets in a financial system

To enhance value and reduce loss, assets can also be invested in, insured, and banked. Risks are a constant in all financial transactions and businesses. 

It is a very large discipline, and there are many different subfields within it. The objectives of asset, money, risk, and investment management are to increase value and reduce volatility.

The financial analysis evaluates an activity or entity's viability, stability, and profitability.  

Experimental finance is studying how to test financial hypotheses using the scientific approach. 

Some subjects are interdisciplinary, including mathematical finance, financial law, financial economics, financial sciences, and financial information technology. These are the areas in which accounting and business are built.


Since the birth of civilization, banking has existed. Around 3000 BC is considered the oldest historical record of money. 

Banking first emerged in the Babylonian kingdom, where secure storage for treasures was practiced in temples and palaces. 

The only asset that could be placed at first was grain, but, later on, livestock and priceless materials were also permitted. 

During this time, loans and interest were used to boost commerce in the Mesopotamian metropolis of Uruk, home of the Sumerians. Mas, which means "calf" in Sumerian, is the word for "interest."

Ancient coins

The terms interest, tokos, and ms meant "to give birth" in ancient Greece and Egypt.

The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi codified the early Sumerian people's financial dealings (circa 1800 BC). 

This set of guidelines controlled financing, employment of agricultural labor, and land ownership or leasing.

Loans existed in those days, and interest was imposed on them. The rates varied depending on whether you borrowed grain, commodities, or precious metals.

Cowrie shells were used as currency in China around 1200 BC. In the first millennium B.C., coins were initially used as currency. Around 564 BC, King Croesus of Lydia/Turkey was one of the first to mint and distribute gold coins, giving rise to the phrase "wealthy as Croesus.


As clergymen or other church employees were seen as the most trustworthy, pious, and secure to preserve valuables, coins were kept in the basement of temples in ancient Rome. As a matter of fact, temples served as the financial hubs of significant cities and made loans.

Between 600 and 570 BCE, coins were first used to symbolize money. Aegina (595 BCE), Athens (575 BCE), and Corinth (570 BCE) were among the Greek empire's cities that first began producing their coinage.

The Lex Genucia legislation made all types of interest illegal. Under Julius Caesar, interest rates were limited to 12%, while under Justinian, they were reduced somewhere between 4 to 8 percent.

The Origin of Financial Products (Stocks, Bonds, etc.)

The first trade, which took place in Antwerp in 1531, is credited to Belgium.

One of the first companies to compete for the exports from the spice trades was the Dutch East India Company. Given that it was a joint-stock business, financiers who would fund the travels might purchase shares from the company. 

Investors needed a secure, regulated setting to purchase and sell shares in these early multinational companies.

The New York Stock Exchange was founded fewer than 20 years after the London Stock Exchange in 1773.


The first bond is known to have existed as early as 2400 B.C. when grain-guaranteed financial obligations were written down on a stone tablet. 

Governments first started issuing bonds to pay for military operations throughout the Middle Ages. 

The Bank of England was established in the 17th century to provide funding for the British Navy. The United States also started issuing Treasury bonds to aid with the Revolution.

The philosopher Thales describes the early use of alternatives in Aristotle's fourth-century philosophical study, Politics, through the narrative. 

Thales preemptively bought the rights to all the olive presses in Miletus and Chios because he anticipated a large olive crop in the upcoming year.

By the middle of the 17th century, both forward and options contracts were included in Amsterdam's sophisticated clearing system regarding options on an exchange.

Finance as Science 

It is a research subject and a commercial sector that undoubtedly has deep roots in allied scientific fields like statistics and mathematics. 

In addition, many contemporary financial ideas mimic mathematical or scientific concepts.

There is no disputing, however, that the financial sector also consists of non-scientific components that resemble art.


For instance, it has been shown that a lot of the financial world's elements are heavily influenced by human emotions and their judgments.

Science's rules of statistics and mathematics are substantially incorporated into modern financial theories like the Black Scholes model; these ideas would not have been conceivable without science's basic foundation. 

Additionally, theoretical models like the efficient market hypothesis (EMH) and the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) make an effort to rationally and emotionlessly describe the stock market's behavior while fully disregarding factors like investor and market mood.

When making investing decisions, the novice will be unduly focused on financial modeling and depend on superficial quantitative outputs, such as buying a stock because of its low P/E ratio or high FCF yield. 

In other words, the beginner is not thinking enough since they are spending too much time on the model.

Finance as an Art

Even if these and other scholarly developments have significantly enhanced the functioning of the financial markets daily, history is replete with instances that appear to refute the idea that this field follows logical scientific rules.


The balance changes from being a science to being more of an art as the investor acquires experience. He or she develops a better understanding of what an appealing return looks like and gives more thought to the qualities that define strong companies over time. 

The investor becomes more adept at analyzing potential future world states and the winners and losers in each one. It could be difficult to convert all information into an IRR or target price. 

Finding these chances might also seem erratic and sometimes random, making it occasionally seem more like an art than a science.

For instance, stock market catastrophes like the great 1929 stock market crash that began on Black Thursday, Oct. 24, 1929, and the October 1987 crash called Black Monday, which saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average fall 22 percent. 

Scientific theories like the EMH cannot adequately explain this. Fear's human component also contributed.

Moreover, investors' past performance has demonstrated that markets are not rational and, hence, not entirely analytical. 

According to studies, the climate may have little impact on investor mood; in public, the market tends to become more positive when the weather is sunnier.

The January effect, in which stock values decrease towards the end of one calendar year and rise at the start of the next, is just another event.

Different Disciplines in the field

Borrowing, lending, investing, raising funds, and selling and trading securities are all aspects of finance. 

These endeavors are designed to enable businesses and people to support specific initiatives or projects now, with repayment depending on revenue streams from those initiatives in the future.


Without this field, individuals could not afford to buy homes (entirely in cash), and businesses could not develop and prosper as they do now. As a result, money enables the more effective deployment of working capital.

The word "finance" is a general one that covers a multitude of functions. However, in essence, they are all about budgeting, spending, and so on, from borrowing to invest. 

In addition to activities, it also refers to people's use of tools and instruments in connection to money, as well as the organizations and structures that support such activities.

Personal, corporate, and governmental finance are the three main subfields. Investments, risk management, and quantitative finance are the main activities and sub-disciplines that are used by these in turn.

Let's take a deeper look into finance's main fields and sub-disciplines.

1. Personal Finance 

To budget, save, and spend money over time while considering different financial risks and upcoming life events, an individual or a family must manage their finances personally. 

People consider the suitability of various banking products, such as checking, savings, credit cards, and consumer loans, investments in private equity.

Data analysis

Company shares, bonds, and mutual funds, insurance, such as life, health, and disability insurance, as well as participation in and/or employer-sponsored retirement plan social security benefits, are also accounted for while conducting financial plans.

If you don't take charge of your money, you risk being unprepared for a catastrophe, such as an illness, an unforeseen job loss, or the passing of the family breadwinner.

This field is a relatively new topic, despite parts of it having been covered at colleges and schools as "home economics" or "consumer economics."

Financial planning is an essential element of personal finance; it is a dynamic process that needs ongoing examination. 

2. Corporate Finance 

The finance domain deals with financing sources, asset classes of businesses, managerial activities to raise the firm's value to shareholders, and the tools and analyses used to distribute financial resources. 

The maximization or growth of shareholder value is the main objective of this.

Two primary sub-disciplines make up corporate finance. First, when creating a capital budget, criteria must be established for which value-adding projects should receive investment funds and whether debt or equity financing should be used.

Charts and graphs

The management of a company's cash, inventory, and short-term borrowing and lending is known as working capital management

It deals with the short-term operational balance of current assets and current liabilities.

Financial management's main objective is to maximize or steadily raise shareholder value.

Managers must be able to balance capital funding between investments in "projects" that boost the company's long-term sustainability and profitability, as well as paying out surplus income as dividends to shareholders to maximize shareholder value. 

Office work

Growth company managers will spend the majority of the firm's capital resources and excess cash on initiatives and investments so the company can keep growing its business operations in the future.

The management of these businesses will utilize excess cash to pay out dividends to shareholders after they achieve maturity levels within their sector, such as enterprises that make average or lower returns on invested capital

Managers must analyze to decide how to effectively split the company's capital resources and cash surplus between projects, dividend payments to shareholders, and debt repayment to creditors.

3. Public Finance 

One of the more traditional subfields of economics, this field emphasizes the function and role of government in the economy

A region's inhabitants established a formal or informal entity known as the government to carry out various tasks, including providing for social requirements like education and healthcare and protecting the populace's private property from outside threats.

The correct function of government serves as the foundation for the examination of public finances. 

Private markets should, in principle, efficiently distribute products and services among people under specific conditions. 

There would be little to no need for the government if free markets could produce effective results and if the income distribution was considered acceptable by society. 


However, the prerequisites for the effectiveness of the private market are frequently disregarded. 

Private markets could offer too little of a good, for instance, if several individuals can enjoy it simultaneously.

National defense is one instance of non-rival consumption or a public benefit.

Good financial management entails the proper and adequate collection of resources from the economy and their efficient and effective allocation and usage. 

The key elements of a public financial management system are resource creation, resource allocation, and spending management.

4. Investment Finance 

Investment management is the professional management of a variety of assets, including real estate, bonds, shares of stock, and other assets, to achieve specific investment objectives for the benefit of investors. 

Institutions, including insurance companies, pension funds, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and institutions, as well as private investors, may all invest. 

They may do so directly through investment contracts or, more frequently, through collective investment vehicles like mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, or real estate investment trusts (REITs).

While the more general word fund management may be used to describe all types of institutional investment and investment management for individual investors, the phrase asset management is frequently used to describe the management of funds.


When discussing their services in the context of "private banking," investment managers specializing in advising or discretionary management on behalf of private customers may frequently use the term portfolio management.

Financial advisers specializing in wealth management take a more comprehensive approach to their clients, allocating funds to specific asset management techniques.

The investing industry has several components, including the use of professional fund managers, research, dealing, settlement, marketing, internal auditing, and the creation of custom reports. 

The biggest financial fund managers are businesses that demonstrate all the intricacy their scale necessitates. 

In addition to those who manage investments and bring in the money, there are compliance employees, various types of internal auditors, financial controllers, computer specialists, and back office workers.

5. Financial Risk Management 

Financial risk management is preserving a company's economic value by utilizing financial instruments to control exposure to financial risk, primarily operational risk, credit risk, and market risk, with more specialized versions mentioned separately. 

Financial risk management, like general risk management, necessitates recognizing its origins, assessing it, and devising measures to handle it. Businesses are primarily subject to market, credit, and operational risk.


Banks and other financial institutions confront various risks while doing operations, and how well these risks are handled and understood is a critical driver of profitability and the amount of capital necessary. 

Since the financial crisis of 2007-2008, financial risk management in banking has expanded significantly.

The primary emphasis is on credit and market risk, which incorporates operational risk, particularly through regulatory capital.


Credit risk is inherent in the banking industry; however, these institutions are also vulnerable to counterparty credit risk. 

Both are somewhat neutralized by margin and collateral, and the management is of the net position. 

Large banks are also vulnerable to systematic macroeconomic risk, which is a risk connected to the aggregate economy in which the bank operates.

6. Quantitative Finance

Financial engineering and computational finance both have significant similarities with mathematical finance.


The latter emphasizes modeling and applications, frequently using stochastic asset models, whereas the former puts more emphasis on developing models' implementation tools in addition to analysis. 

Another related topic is quantitative investing, which, in contrast to conventional fundamental analysis, manages portfolios using statistical and numerical models, algorithms, and big data.

Typically, the procedure entails scanning enormous datasets for patterns, such as correlations between liquid assets or price-movement patterns. The tactics that emerge may entail high-frequency trading.

The word quant refers to people who work in nearly any area of mathematical finance, including the buy side.

Although the term's originators were sold side quants from market maker businesses, who were concerned with risk management and derivatives pricing.  

The term "applied quantitative analysis" is frequently used to refer to the field of quantitative investment management, which encompasses a number of strategies such as statistical arbitrage, algorithmic trading, and electronic trading.

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Researched & Authored by Aviral Mathur | LinkedIn

Edited by Céline Khattar | LinkedIn 

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