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Overview of the finance sector in the UK

Find out how you could fit into the UK finance sector, which makes a vital contribution to the economy and employs more than two million people

What areas of finance can I work in?

Employment opportunities in accountancy, banking and finance can be grouped into:

  • Accountancy and finance - this covers employees in audit, tax and accountancy businesses, as well as those performing financial functions in the relevant departments (such as treasury) of other businesses or not-for-profits.
  • Banking and building societies - the biggest employers in the sector, these enable individuals and businesses to manage their money and access products such as loans, both in the UK and overseas.
  • Financial planning - jobs in this area focus on the provision of advisory services and supporting people and organisations to plan their financial futures.
  • Insurance - these 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 - employees research the likely performance of funds and advise asset managers, with the key functions of investment companies including trading and stockbroking, performance measurement, investment support, risk assessment and data management.

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

Who are the main graduate employers?

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

  • Deloitte;
  • EY;
  • KPMG;
  • PwC.

Among retail banks and building societies, 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;
  • JPMorgan;
  • Morgan Stanley.

The main insurance companies include:

  • Aviva;
  • AXA;
  • LV;
  • RSA.

Many of the bigger financial companies are multinational and so opportunities exist to work overseas, although this may depend on 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.

In the financial sector, SMEs provide support for professional training and development, and are likely to offer 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 accountancy, banking and finance professions can expect:

  • to work long hours in a fast-paced and high pressure office environment;
  • starting salaries with large employers of £15,000 to £42,000 in accountancy and professional services, £26,000 to £50,000 in banking and finance, and £36,000 to £50,000 in investment banking (according to High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2015 report);
  • lower starting salaries in smaller firms and in administrative roles;
  • salaries to increase rapidly if you gain professional qualifications and experience;
  • substantial bonuses for some finance professionals;
  • 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?

Financial and related professional services contribute around 12% of the UK's gross domestic product (GDP) and account for more than 7% of total employment, according to a 2015 report by TheCityUK, an organisation that represents the industry. Banking and insurance are the biggest employers.

While the sector is widely perceived to be dominated by London, the same report showed that two thirds of the 2.1 million jobs in finance and professional services are elsewhere in the country. Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham are among the other hotspots, so there's no need to restrict your job search to the capital.

Damage to the industry and its reputation following the banking crash had an impact on graduate recruitment and students' perceptions of financial services. However, the sector is recovering strongly and there are opportunities for new entrants to make up the skills shortages that appeared during the recession.

Since 2013, more than 1,700 firms including banks, building societies, insurers and investment firms have been supervised by the Prudential Regulation Authority. It aims to reduce the chances of sector-wide failure on the scale seen in the last financial crisis - making the industry a more stable career choice than previously.

Written by Editor, Prospects
August 2015

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