If you want to progress your career in the financial sector, it's highly likely you'll need to achieve professional-level finance qualifications specific to your chosen field
Many people study towards their professional finance qualifications while working. Part-time and distance learning options are widely available, so you can usually fit your studies around your job, with employers often contributing towards the course and allowing time off to sit exams.
Masters in finance
Although the Master of Finance (MFin) or Masters in Finance (MiF) may sound like general postgraduate qualifications, they can also refer to a specific financial services programme, which leads to achieving the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, offered by CFA Society UK.
You can still learn the essential knowledge and quantitative skills required for a career in the financial industry in retail, commercial or investment banking, corporate finance, or broking, in both public and private sector organisations. However, this course is reserved for ambitious candidates with a clear career plan.
Institutions offering this degree, or the more common MSc Finance, through the CFA University Affiliation Programme include:
- Alliance Manchester Business School
- Imperial College Business School
- London Business School
- Swansea University
- The University of Warwick.
Most MSc Finance courses typically ask for a related maths, economics or finance degree (among others), while some require a number of years' work experience before you'll be accepted onto a course.
If you're a graduate already working in the finance sector, the Finance MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a prestigious award that will help you to further your professional career at a strategic level.
These finance-specific postgraduate courses also allow you to follow the CFA specialist pathway and become a chartered financial analyst.
Typically studied full time for one or two years, the Finance MBA is offered by the following universities:
- Bangor University
- Coventry University
- Edge Hill University
- University of Greenwich
- Heriot-Watt University.
Get the lowdown on MBA courses.
A career in accountancy is one of the most far-reaching areas of finance, and would suit those who are well organised, analytical, logical and good with numbers.
While banking is a vast area, the Chartered Banker Institute (CBI) provides a range of 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 include:
- Associate Chartered Banker Diploma - to build upon your current skillset and gain a professional qualification, which entitles you to use the Associate Chartered Banker designation.
- Professional Banker Diploma - supports the development of your technical knowledge and job-specific skills.
- Professional Banker Certificate - an introduction to the sector for those working in non-banking specialisms such as marketing, HR or IT.
If you're interested in postgraduate study but want to ensure that the curriculum is current and relevant to the competitive business world, you may wish to explore industry-approved banking courses such as those available from Bayes Business School and Cranfield University.
Both full and part-time Masters programmes are available in areas such as banking and international finance, corporate finance and investment management.
These degrees are often designed in partnership with industry professional bodies, such as the CBI, CFA, Chartered Alternative Investment Analysts Association (CAIA) and the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII).
For example, the Cranfield School of Management offers a part-time Sustainable and Digital Banking (Retail) MSc, which provides a unique opportunity to gain an advanced-level understanding of retail and digital banking, business strategy and management.
This postgraduate course is accredited by the CBI, and successful completion leads to the additional award of the Chartered Diploma Professional qualification and Chartered Banker status.
Many finance graduate schemes run by leading employers also give graduates the opportunity to achieve a professional banking qualification as part of the programme.
You may also wish to read about the top UK banking apprenticeships, which provide on-the-job training as you study towards a recognised qualification.
Financial services qualifications
The field of financial services is broad and can be divided into commercial and investment banking. As banks and other financial institutions provide a range of services for both types, there will be some overlap between the different specialisms.
For those interested in an investment banking career, High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2023 points out that investment banks featuring in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers offer some of the most generous graduate starting salaries (£55,000).
Studying towards industry-approved investment banker qualifications alongside continuing professional development (CPD) will only further increase your earning potential.
To explore this high-paying career in more detail, read our tips on getting into investment banking.
For an overarching qualification, the CII has developed the Level 3 Certificate in Financial Services. This award offers two targeted learning routes for those working in operational and technical support positions. With the CII qualification, you can choose to go down one of two routes - life and pensions 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 and corporate finance, compliance and risk, financial planning, 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.
To achieve an insurance-focused qualification, the CII offers the Level 6/7 Advanced Diploma in Insurance, which typically involves 660 to 850 hours of study time.
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.
The Society of Insurance Broking, part of the CII Group, also details a range of CII qualifications, including the Level 3 Certificate in Insurance, for insurance staff working in all sectors.
Wealth management certifications
The Certified Financial Planner certification with the CISI covers pensions and provisioning, and pensions advice for those embarking on a wealth management career. However, you'll only be eligible to study towards the award once you've gained at least one year of supervised practical experience, or three years unsupervised.
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 Level 7 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 (at Levels 2-5).
If you wish to undertake postgraduate study in this specialist area, Bayes Business School runs the one-year full-time MSc Investment Management, a dedicated programme designed in partnership with the CFA Institute and CISI.
Financial planning certificates
Following the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) Retail Distribution Review (RDR), financial advisers were required to attain minimum knowledge levels.
So, if you've achieved the necessary standard, such as the CISI's Investment Advice Diploma or the Chartered Wealth Manager qualification, you may now wish to study the Level 7 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 CII Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning, have at least five years' industry experience and are a member of the CII or the Personal Finance Society (PFS).
Other courses for those looking to provide financial advice to their clients are available from The London Institute of Banking & Finance (LIBF).
For instance, you could study the Level 4 Financial Services, Regulation and Ethics (FSRE) or the Diploma for Financial Advisors (DipFA). At Level 6, you could choose the Diploma in Financial Advice (Adv DipFA) or the Financial Planning in Retirement (FPIR).
According to research company IBISWorld, the UK's bookkeeping industry has grown by over 9% between 2017 and 2022, with this higher level of demand set to continue over the coming years.
While there are no legal requirements for bookkeepers to hold formal qualifications, by studying a recognised course and gaining certifications may validate your professional standing.
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 Training Link or Ideal Schools.
If you successfully complete any three of the four core ICB bookkeeping certificates at Level 4, you'll have achieved the Diploma in Advanced Bookkeeping and Accounts. After two years of good standing as a professional member, you'll become a fellow and ICB-certified bookkeeper where you can carry out roles to a senior employed or self-employed standard.
The Institute of Accountants and Bookkeepers (IAB) also has its own award pathway. By achieving its Level 3 Certificate in Bookkeeping and Accounting qualification, you can apply to become an IAB member. The course can be studied online with the exam taken at an IAB-accredited centre.
The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) offers three bookkeeping courses:
- Level 1 Award in Bookkeeping
- Level 2 Certificate in Bookkeeping
- Level 3 Advanced Certificate in Bookkeeping.
The Level 3 Award, designed for experienced bookkeepers, can be used to progress to professional AAT bookkeeping member status (AATQB).
To study the Level 2 or 3 bookkeeping course online, you can do so through Kaplan. The latter will cost you between £675 to £1,287 when choosing to study with this learning provider.
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 modular exams within two to three years, you'll also need three years' professional experience in a relevant role.
A joint programme between the CIOT and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) enables students to achieve the CTA and ACA qualifications, leading to ICAEW Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser status within three to four years.
Students working in a relevant role can choose one of three taxation routes:
- Larger Companies and Groups (FTSE 350 companies and other corporations)
- Owned-Managed Businesses
- Indirect Tax.
You'll 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 ATT (Association of Taxation Technicians) and CTA qualifications.
You'll learn through a flexible approach of classroom-based teaching, distance learning or self-study, while becoming members of the two organisations within a shorter timeframe.
Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO offers this route to becoming a tax professional through their school leaver apprenticeship programmes.
Explore what it takes to become a tax adviser.
The Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) offers a progressive learning path for those looking to become a treasury professional.
Their qualifications are mapped to four treasury job levels:
This means there's a qualification to suit your needs at no matter what 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.
Read about the role of a corporate treasurer.
Find out more
- Browse all finance job profiles.
- Learn more about specific graduate finance jobs.
- Get an overview of the UK's financial sector.