The Primary Areas of Business Finance

Corporate Finance, Investments, and Financial Markets and Institutions

Man using laptop at desk in home office with charts and a budget sheet next to him

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Business owners and managers should have a basic understanding of business finances even if they outsource certain areas of their financial operations. Becoming familiar with the basics of business finance can give an owner some additional tools to help understand the financial complexities of business ownership.

The three major areas of business finance are corporate finance, investments, and financial markets and institutions.

Corporate Finance

Corporate finance is a broad description of a company's balances, income, and cash flow information. This information is used to create measurements to gauge a company's financial performance. Performance is measured by developing metrics such as the current ratio—the ability to pay your financial obligations on time.

Balances, income, and cash flows are statements generated for accounting purposes. These statements are required for companies that are publicly traded—issued stocks to investors on a public trading market—but can be useful for private businesses of all sizes as well.

Some of the uses of corporate finance are budgeting, managing working capital, and financial analysis. Budgeting is more than ensuring you have enough cash to pay your bills. It is also financial planning for future business operations such as expansions or new products.

Financial analysis is usually used as a method of determining a companies liquidity, solvency and investment potential. However, it can be a vital tool for a business to use internally to view the financial performances of different departments, operations, or processes.

Working capital is the capital—money—a business can use to finance its daily functions. Some working capital examples are cash or inventory.


Another area of finance is investments. Within a business, usually a larger business, the firm may invest in assets ranging from short-term securities to long-term securities like stocks and bonds.

Companies can invest in financial assets such as stocks of other firms, or physical assets such as buildings or new equipment.

Financial Markets and Institutions

Financial markets include the stocks and bonds, commodities, and derivatives markets.

Financial markets, such as the stock market, help facilitate the transfer of funds between savers of funds and users of funds. Savers are usually households, and users are generally businesses and the government.

Commodities markets are markets in which traders and investors trade for volatile commodities—prices rise and fall rapidly—such as oil or milk.

Commodities futures markets are markets where investors trade for future goods, e.g., an agreement to purchase corn when it is brought to market. However, futures are part of the derivatives market.

Derivatives are a market in which trades are conducted with products from adjacent markets. The trade is conducted in the form of a contract between two parties, and the value is based on the value of the original investment. For example, an investor agrees to purchase 500 bushels of wheat for $500 next summer hoping that the price agreed upon will be lower than the actual value at the time of sale.

Financial institutions such as banks, investment companies, and brokerages work in the financial markets. Financial institutions generally act as intermediaries that help make transfers of funds between businesses and savers (working as a broker or agent for the trade).