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Overview of the finance sector in the UK

Could you be one of the two million people employed in the finance sector? Discover what it's like to work in the industry

What areas of finance can I work in?

Employment opportunities in accountancy, banking and finance are grouped into:

  • Accountancy and finance - these types of jobs employ more than 1 million people who work in audit, tax and accountancy businesses as well as in financial functions within other organisations.
  • Banking and building societies - is the largest employer in the financial services sector enabling individuals and organisations to manage money, access loans and conduct business in the UK and overseas.
  • Financial planning - focuses on the provision of advisory services and supporting people and organisations to plan their financial futures.
  • Insurance - businesses work closely with other professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and fire officers, to gather evidence to assess risk and resolve claims against insurance policies.
  • Investments and pensions - research the likely performance of funds and advise asset managers. Key functions carried out by investment companies are trading and stockbroking, alongside performance measurement, investment support, valuation, risk assessment and data management. 

There are about 34,000 businesses providing financial services, such as banking, insurance and financial advice, and more than 37,000 businesses registered to provide accountancy services, including audit, assurance, tax and advisory services.

For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in accountancy and finance.

Who are the main graduate employers?

The 'big four' accountancy and financial services firms are:

  • Deloitte LLP
  • EY
  • KPMG
  • PwC

In retail banking, employers include well-known high street brands, such as:

  • Barclays
  • HSBC
  • Lloyds Banking group
  • Nationwide
  • Royal Bank of Scotland

In investment banking, large companies include:

  • Barclays Capital
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Morgan Stanley

The main insurance companies include:

  • Aviva
  • AXA
  • Lloyds of London
  • LV

Many of the bigger financial companies are multinational and opportunities exist to work overseas, although this may depend upon having additional skills or competences, such as languages.

In the UK, there are far more small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) than large companies and this type of employer provides good prospects for graduates, although recruitment, selection and training arrangements may not be as formal.

SMEs in the financial sector provide support for professional training and development and are likely to provide a more varied experience of work.

Graduate jobs in accountancy exist within charities and not-for-profit organisations but the majority of opportunities in this sector are in profit-generating businesses.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates working in financial and accountancy professions can expect:

  • to work long hours in a fast-paced office environment;
  • starting salaries between £17,500 to £24,000 depending on where the work is based in the UK with salaries increasing rapidly upon professional qualification and experience;
  • starting salaries for administrative roles in finance tend to be lower, at around £15,000 to £17,000;
  • substantial bonuses for some finance professionals. Sales roles can also earn commission or bonuses;
  • good opportunities for progression;
  • further employee benefits, such as joining-up bonuses, private healthcare, pension plans and sports club membership.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see types of jobs.

What are the key issues in the finance sector?

Despite job cuts in the banking sector during the recession, the future looks positive for the professional services, with finance and accountancy leading the recovery.

7% of all UK employment belongs to the financial services sector and while it's often assumed that most of these jobs are centred in London and the South East over half are in other regions across the country.

Although London dominates as a global finance centre, other cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester have flourishing financial centres.

On 1 April 2013, the government established the Prudential Regulation Authority which is responsible for the supervision of more than 1,700 firms, including banks, building societies, and credit unions. The aim is to reduce the likelihood of failure and ensure a healthy and successful economy for the future.

Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
May 2014

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