Professional qualifications in finance can open up employment opportunities while guiding you down a clearly mapped-out career path
If you choose a career in finance, you'll almost certainly need at least one professional qualification to progress. Many people study while working - a large number of part-time and distance learning options are available in accounting, banking, investment management, insurance and risk management, and financial management and tax.
The following finance qualifications are necessary for many professional routes, but for more information on what you'll need for specific roles, see graduate finance jobs.
While accounting is a focused profession with its own set of processes and principles, it is still a diverse area with opportunities to train in banking, business or practice. The professional accountancy qualifications that you'll need will usually be gained at various stages in your career.
If you've just graduated, you can explore what can I do with my degree in accountancy and finance. Alternatively, whether you're just finishing your A-levels or have amassed work experience in the industry and want to follow a dedicated accounting route, discover how to become an accountant.
Many graduates decide to study for the ACA, from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), in order to achieve chartered status. This is gained while working (for between three and five years), with your employer often contributing financially as well as offering study leave. The study package includes fees payable to the ICAEW as well as your tuition provider. If you're in a training agreement with your employer and register between 1 January and 30 June, the annual ACA fee is £165 (plus VAT where applicable). Students are expected to apply for exams themselves, with professional-level fees set at £90 per exam.
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is a global body that offers the ACCA qualification, the graduate entry route into the industry. Taking three to four years in total, students must undertake up to 14 exams (depending on exemptions), as well as complete an ethics module and three years' work experience in a relevant role. You'll first have to register (£79) for the ACCA qualification, keep up your annual subscription, and pay fees for entry into knowledge, skills and professional exams (which will vary according to time of entry).
Partnered with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) offers its own widely recognised business finance qualification, CGMA (Chartered Global Management Accountant). In addition to subscription and registration fees, individual Tier 1 (includes western Europe) regional exam fees are priced at between £88 and £224 for exams sat from 3 July 2017.
As an internationally-respected professional body, members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) have studied for around three years to attain chartered accountant (CA) status (Masters degree level). There's a direct-entry school leaver route to the CA qualification, plus options for graduates and finance professionals with the right level of experience. The three-year graduate route, which takes the form of a training contract with an ICAS-approved employer, is open to those from all degree backgrounds. To see what's available, see How to become a Chartered Accountant.
It isn't imperative to hold an accounting degree, but for those looking to study the subject at university, three of the main accounting professional and awarding bodies - ACCA, ICAEW and CIMA - have accredited Bachelors degrees such as the BAEcon Accounting and Finance at The University of Manchester.
Postgraduate study is necessary for those pursuing a career as a management accountant. Before taking the professional CIMA qualification, you'll first need the Certificate in Business Accounting, which provides a good foundation for further study.
Although many of those working in accounting positions hold a Bachelors and often a Masters degree (in addition to professional qualifications), another viable route is to secure an entry-level job and build your experience that way. You could also decide to apply for an accounting apprenticeship, such as the one- to two-year schemes on offer from the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).
The AAT provides a range of technical and vocational qualifications for accountancy and finance roles. The highest (equivalent to a foundation degree) is the AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting. The student fee for this AAT qualification is set at £131, with training provider fees between £1,000 and £3,000. By successfully completing it within nine to 18 months, you'll be awarded professional AAT Accountant status (MAAT). AAT courses are delivered through classroom learning or distance and online study, with both part- and full-time options available.
This is a vast area, but the Chartered Banker Institute provides four distinct core banking qualifications designed for new entrants to the sector all the way through to experienced professionals looking to achieve chartered banker status. These are: the Chartered Banker Diploma, to develop your skills in the sector; the Associate Chartered Banker Diploma, to build upon your current skillset and gain a professional qualification; the Professional Banker Diploma, which supports the development of your technical knowledge and job-specific skills; and the Professional Banker Certificate, an introduction to the sector.
As High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2017 points out, investment banks (£47,000) and banking and finance companies (£32,500) featuring in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers offer some of the most generous graduate starting salaries, with continuing professional development only likely to further increase your earning potential. To explore this high-paying career path in more detail, read our top tips on getting into investment banking.
If you're interested in postgraduate study but want to ensure that the curriculum is current and relevant to the competitive business banking world, you may wish to explore industry-approved courses such as those available from City, University of London's Cass Business School. They offer a number of full- and part-time Masters programmes in areas such as corporate finance, investment management and wealth management. These degrees are designed in partnership with industry professional bodies - for example, the CII, the CISI and the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association (CAIA).
Many finance graduate schemes offered by leading employers also give graduates the opportunity to study towards a professional banking qualification as part of their training.
Financial services qualifications
Another broad field, it can be divided into commercial and investment banking. As banks and other financial institutions provide a wide range of services for both types, there will be some overlap between the different specialisms.
For an overarching qualification, the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) has developed the Certificate in Financial Services. This award, which offers two targeted learning routes, is for those working in operational and technical support positions. You can either choose the life and pensions route, or general financial services.
The Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) also has various pathways for those working in financial services, with options at foundation, qualifying, advanced and professional levels in: capital markets/corporate finance, compliance/risk, financial planning (see section below), Islamic finance, operations, and wealth management.
These finance courses have been designed and developed in conjunction with industry so they're considered the benchmark for employees at major banks and financial organisations.
The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is an internationally-renowned Masters-level investment management qualification you can study through the CFA Society UK.
As you progress your career in the financial services, you may wish to consider the professional qualifications available from The London Institute of Banking & Finance. These include the Diploma in Business and Commercial Banking & Conduct and the Level 5 Commercial and Corporate Lending.
If you're looking to achieve an insurance focused qualification, the CII also offers the Advanced Diploma in Insurance. From this, and having gained five years' relevant experience, you may be eligible to apply for chartered status as an insurance broker, insurer, insurance practitioner or insurance risk manager.
Wealth management courses
There are a number of wealth management careers available to graduates and those already working in the industry.
For instance, you could decide to follow the Certified Financial Planner certification with the CISI, which covers pensions and provisioning, and pensions advice. However, you'll only be eligible to study towards the award once you've gained at least three years of unsupervised practical experience.
Other routes include the wealth management study pathway for wealth managers, discretionary portfolio managers, independent financial advisers, private bankers and private client managers. The seven levels range from foundation level to the Chartered Wealth Manager qualification.
Recognised pensions qualifications are available for those working in employee benefits and retirement savings. The Pensions Management Institute (PMI) offers relevant courses for those entering the industry, as well as established pension scheme managers and pensions consultants.
If you wish to undertake postgraduate study in this specialist area, City, University of London's Cass Business School runs dedicated programmes designed in partnership with respected organisations such as the CFA Institute, CISI and the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association (CAIA). This includes the MSc in Investment Management, which can be studied part time within 12 to 15 months and costs £15,000.
Financial planning certificates
Following the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) Retail Distribution Review (RDR), advisers were required to attain minimum knowledge levels. So, if you've complied with this and achieved the necessary standard, such as the CISI's Investment Advice Diploma or the Chartered Wealth Manager qualification (or have a current and valid Statement of Professional Standing), you may wish to study the Diploma in Financial Planning. By choosing the professional route, you can become a Certified Financial Planner.
Qualification for Chartered Financial Planner status is also possible if you hold the Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning, have at least five years' industry experience and are a member of the CII/Personal Finance Society (PFS).
Whether you're applying for a bookkeeping job or are hoping to start a business, the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB) allows you to study a bookkeeping course either at home or through an accredited training provider such as Kaplan.
If you complete the core ICB bookkeeping qualifications in order, you can study at the highest level and achieve the Diploma in Advanced Bookkeeping and Accounting. This allows you to become an ICB-certified bookkeeper, become a member of the professional organisation and carry out roles to a senior employed or self-employed standard.
The AAT offers five short bookkeeping courses, from introductory and foundation levels to the Advanced Certificate in Bookkeeping qualification, which can be used to progress to professional AAT Bookkeeper status (AATQB).
The Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) qualification from the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) is the highest attainment for those involved with tax. As well as passing the entry exams, you'll also need three years' professional experience in a relevant role.
A joint programme between the CIOT and ICAEW enables students to achieve the CTA and ACA qualifications, leading to becoming an ICAEW Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser within three to four years. After first enrolling with the ACA, students working in a relevant role can choose to either specialise in Indirect Tax or Owned-Managed Businesses. You will need to pay separate registration and exam fees to each organisation.
Another option is the ATT CTA Tax Pathway, which gives students the chance to study for both qualifications - through a flexible approach of classroom-based teaching, distance learning or self-study (to suit the student) - while also becoming members of these organisations within a shorter timeframe.
Explore what it takes to become a tax adviser.
The Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) offers a progressive learning path for those choosing treasury. Their qualifications are mapped to four treasury job levels: tactical, operational, managerial and strategic. This means that there's a qualification to suit your needs at whatever level you're at. You can study to support your career development as your progress from a junior to more senior position or jump on and off the study pathway at your appropriate level. Flexibility is a key part of the ACT learning experience - you can make progress at a pace that suits you.