As banks, insurance companies, and securities firms merge, a few business schools are beginning to reflect the industry's changes by offering degrees in financial services.
One example is Bryant College of Smithfield, R.I., which started offering a major in financial services last year.
Three students are set to graduate with the degree this month, and 44 more are enrolled in the program.
"If someone is to have a career as a personal finance planner for a bank or an insurance company or a securities brokerage firm, they need to understand investment products, insurance products, financial institutions and the laws regarding them," said Arthur C. Gudikunst, the coordinator of the financial services major at Bryant.
Along with liberal arts credits and core requirements in business, students opting for the financial services major must take courses in accounting, marketing, legal, and actuarial studies.
Course choices for a Bryant student majoring in financial services would include investments, personal income taxation, risk and insurance, markets, consumer behavior, and the law of financial institutions.
Lynn Rapoza, a senior at Bryant and one of the three students scheduled to graduate this month with the newly minted degree, said she was attracted to the major because of its depth.
"I needed more experience in marketing and how to better relate to people to understand their financial behavior and needs," she said.
Ms. Rapoza, who is to start work this summer as an analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., said she thinks the degree makes her more marketable.
"Some people think of this major as a jack-of-all-trades without a focus, but the focus is still finance with an edge," she said.
Northeastern University in Boston has been offering financial services as a specialization in its business program for the last eight years, but does not award a financial services degree.
Joseph W. Meador, group coordinator of Northeastern's finance department, said the school has no plans to add financial services as a separate major. "I don't think it would be useful for students to have that degree of specialization at the undergraduate level," he said.
Northeastern offers finance, a "broader" major, which gives students more flexibility in career choices, Prof. Meador said. Too much specialization can be harmful, he added.
The University of Rhode Island in Kingston is putting together its own major in financial services.
Gene Lai, who heads the department of finance and insurance at the school, said: "We believe the major will help students get a job and better prepare them for the future. People today are not just going to a bank for their banking needs, so students today need to know the other industries."
At Bryant, financial services majors are encouraged to pursue internships, which can earn them three credits per assignment.
The school is already seeing a payoff. Bryant officials said an increasing number of companies have contacted the career services department to interview students about jobs.
Laura H. Jenkins, a staffing and recruiting specialist at People's Bank of Bridgeport, Conn., said she expects the financial services degree to become even more important.
As banks get more involved in nontraditional businesses, that kind of background makes a student more attractive to a hiring company. "It is no longer just banking," Ms. Jenkins said.