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. Indeed, many finance graduate schemes offered by leading employers give graduates the opportunity to study towards a professional qualification as part of their training.
The qualifications below are necessary for many professional routes, but for more information on what you'll need for specific roles, see graduate jobs in accountancy and finance.
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 qualifications that you'll need will usually be gained at various stages in your career, whether you're just finishing your A-levels, have graduated, or have amassed work experience in the industry and are aiming to become a chartered certified 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 accountant 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, the annual ACA fee is £165 (plus VAT where applicable). Students are expected to apply for exams themselves, with professional-level exam 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. Students must undertake five exams, 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, and pay fees for entry into knowledge (standard price is £76), skills (£102) and professional (£128) exams. The exact fee charges will depend on how early you register.
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 regional exam fees are priced at between £59 and £126 for 2016.
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. 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, visit the dedicated BecomeaCA website.
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. Students taking core course modules may be exempt from certain professional exams.
In most instances, postgraduate study isn't necessary for those pursuing a career in accountancy. The main exception to this is the management accountant. Before taking the professional CIMA qualification, you'll first need the Certificate in Business Accounting, which provides a good foundation for study at the higher level.
To discover which postgraduate accountancy programmes are available in the UK, search accounting and finance courses.
Although many of those working in accounting positions will hold a Bachelors and possibly a Masters degree (in addition to professional qualifications), there's an argument for getting an entry-level job and building your experience that way, or applying for an accounting apprenticeship, such as those 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, and the equivalent of a foundation degree, is the AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting. Training providers will be expected to pay between £1,000 and £3,000, with the student fee currently set at £131. By successfully completing this qualification (within nine to 18 months), you'll typically get exam exemptions from the UK's chartered and certified accountancy bodies, and will be awarded professional AAT Accountant status (MAAT). There are also short courses in specific areas such as accounting software and bookkeeping. The AAT delivers its courses through classroom learning or distance and online study, with both part-time 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.
If you're already working in securities and investments, or would like to enter this specialism, you should visit the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI). Pathways are available 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 courses have been designed and developed in conjunction with industry so they're considered the benchmark for employees at major banks and financial organisations.
With all of these financial vocations, work experience is highly valued along with the professional qualifications. Therefore, you can choose to get a job in the sector first, or if you already know what you want to do, select the particular career pathway you want to go down and start studying.
As High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2016 points out, investment banks (£47,000) and banking and finance companies (£36,000) offer some of the most generous graduate starting salaries, with continuing professional development only likely to further increase the earning potential in this sector.
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 CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Institute, The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), the CISI and the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association (CAIA).
The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers offers courses for those interested in becoming an ICB-certified bookkeeper. You can choose from classroom-based and home study options with approved training providers such as Kaplan.
Their distance learning courses are available at ICB Levels 2 to 4. The Certificate in Advanced Bookkeeping and Accounts leads to Member of ICB (MICB) status. This qualifies the individual to carry out roles to a senior employed or self-employed standard.
Financial planning diplomas
The Institute of Financial Planning (IFP) has now merged with the CISI. Qualifications relating to this field are available at CISI Levels 2-6. You can study the Diploma in Financial Planning to achieve the professional level as a Certified Financial Planner. To be eligible, you'll first require a Retail Distribution Review (RDR) compliant qualification (such as the CISI Level 4 Investment Advice Diploma) and a current and valid Statement of Professional Standing (SPS), as recognised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
Chartered Financial Planner status from the CII is possible for those who 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).
Financial services qualifications
The professional body for financial services, the Institute of Financial Services (ifs), is changing its educational service in September 2016 from ifs University College London to the Institute of Banking & Finance. In addition to a wide selection of undergraduate, postgraduate and professional courses in banking, you can study the Professional Certificate in Financial Services (PCertFS).
If you're looking to achieve an insurance or financial services qualification, The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) offers a full range of awards, certificates, diplomas and advanced diplomas. By completing the Advanced Diploma in Insurance and having five years' experience, you may be eligible to apply for chartered status as an insurance broker, insurer, insurance practitioner or insurance risk manager.
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.
There's also the option to take the Certificate in Regulated Financial Services Operations with the CII, as that's also designed for those who manage the delivery of life, pensions or investment products.
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. 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.
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 progress at a pace that suits you.