The assumption is often made that to go into a profession you need to centre your education around that field. Now in some cases that is true: you need a specific degree to go into healthcare, engineering or even law. With finance, given the competition around applications and the technical nature of the work, the same assumption is often made i.e. you need to have studied finance to get into finance. However, it isn’t necessarily the case that studying finance to a masters’ level will put you ahead of non-finance applicants.
In the case of IB, it isn’t as clear cut whether you need a masters’ in finance. Bulge bracket Investment Banks (i.e. the largest investment banks) often don’t require a finance related education to get an internship/ grad scheme at the firm. It isn’t unheard of for classics, humanities, or hard sciences students to get offers from these firms. The key reasoning behind this is that they level set right at the start and spend at least a month training up talent before they actually hit the desk. In pre-COVID times this meant an all expenses paid for trip to the company HQ with lessons and exams in the day and networking in the evenings. But essentially you leave the training equipped with the knowledge to do your job regardless of the educational background. For those without a finance background it means a steeper learning curve at the start – but over the long-term you accumulate the same knowledge.
With hedge funds there is often more of an emphasis having a degree in finance, economics or accounting. In some instances any quantitative related degree is sufficient if you can show a strong understanding of finance. Given the very technical nature of analysis, the quantitative skillset is more actively sought after and directly related to the job. However, given the developments in machine learning techniques and the broader shift to automating certain parts of the job, a degree in statistics, programming, or computing will help just as much in equipping you with the skills for the job.
Getting to the crux of the question: a masters in quant finance is not the only way to get into hedge funds or IB. What is essential is a strong interest in finance, a stellar academic record, and an ability to demonstrate you have the skills to do the job required or are at least able to pick them up very quickly. And while a masters in quant finance is one way of demonstrating those pre-requisites, there are other ways. Practical experience and quant finance masters alternatives are also excellent ways to show that you have the knowledge and skills required to undertake the job.