COVID-19 has brought unprecedented disruption to the UK's financial services industry, but it's also highlighted the need to plan for a digital future - with a new generation of graduates at the forefront

What areas of finance can I work in?

Employment opportunities can be grouped into:

  • Accounting - This covers financial accountants responsible for managing and reporting a business's accounts and managerial accountants performing functions on behalf of the company itself. Roles are available with firms of all sizes, as well as not-for-profit organisations.
  • Banking and finance - The sector's biggest employers, banks and building societies enable individuals and businesses to manage their money and access products such as loans, mortgages and insurance.
  • Financial planning - Jobs focus on the provision of advisory services, and support people and organisations looking to plan their financial futures.
  • Insurance - Employees in this area work closely with other professionals, including doctors, lawyers and fire officers, to gather evidence, assess risk and resolve claims against insurance policies.
  • Investments and pensions - Professionals research the likely performance of funds and look to mitigate financial risk and liability for their clients, with the key functions of investment companies including performance measurement, investment support, risk assessment, data management, and trading and stockbroking.
  • Tax - Often regarded as a subset of accounting, tax specialists can either work as advisers to their employer's clients or take up governmental positions.

Who are the main graduate employers?

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

  • Deloitte
  • Ernst & Young (EY)
  • KPMG
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Many well-known high street brands can be found among the UK's retail banks and building societies, including:

  • Barclays
  • HSBC
  • Lloyds Banking Group
  • Nationwide Building Society
  • NatWest Group (includes the Royal Bank of Scotland)
  • Santander UK.

In investment banking, large companies that employ graduates include:

  • Barclays Investment Bank
  • Citigroup
  • Deutsche Bank
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Morgan Stanley
  • The Goldman Sachs Group.

The main insurers operating in the UK are:

  • Admiral Group (includes Confused.com)
  • Allianz
  • American International Group (AIG)
  • Aviva
  • AXA
  • Direct Line Insurance Group
  • Legal & General Group
  • Liverpool Victoria (LV=)
  • Prudential
  • RSA Insurance Group
  • Standard Life.

You may also be able to find graduate roles with major insurance brokers such as GoCompare.com, MoneySuperMarket.com and the BLG Group (Comparethemarket.com).

Many of the largest financial companies are multinational and offer generous starting salaries for graduates. There may be opportunities to work overseas, although these jobs typically require specific language skills.

In the UK, there are more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) than large companies, with small businesses often enabling graduates to get a foot in the door through work experience.

Graduate jobs in accountancy do exist within charities and not-for-profit organisations, but most opportunities are with profit-generating businesses.

How do I get a graduate job in finance?

This will depend on how specialist the role is and the working environment. However, companies will generally accept applications from graduates with degrees in subjects spanning a range of disciplines - as long as you're able to demonstrate high-level numerical and analytical skills.

Most large employers running graduate schemes and work placements ask for a 2:1 or above and will sometimes specify a certain number of UCAS points or minimum grades at A-level.

Vocational finance qualifications in areas such as tax and investment management may be viewed by recruiters as more important than a degree. However, these recognised awards can often be gained once you're working in the industry, either through part-time study or distance learning. See our 5 tips on getting into investment banking.

For a career in accountancy, you may be looking to work within a company's finance department or provide financial services to clients. One route to take is to seek a training contract with an employer while you study for an appropriate accounting qualification. See how to become an accountant and explore relevant accounting courses.

Dedicated graduate schemes offer a clear pathway into various finance careers, with many placements resulting in permanent positions. They can also sometimes provide an opportunity to gain a recognised professional qualification from an awarding body such as the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). See finance graduate schemes.

While larger finance employers, including retail banks such as Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, typically take graduates on to gain valuable experience across their main business functions, graduate jobs are available at the local level.

In fact, opportunities for finance specialists exist across other job sectors, with the likes of Boots, Centrica, Nestlé, Network Rail, Tesco and Virgin Media taking on graduates through entry-level jobs and graduate schemes.

When looking for jobs, you'll find details on the main graduate employers' websites, with vacancies also advertised by specialist recruitment agencies. You can also try applying for work speculatively, especially with SMEs.

It's also worth making the most of your university's student services by attending careers fairs (virtually or in person) and discussing your options with advisers.

Where will I find finance internships?

Many internships and work experience placements lead to a permanent job with the company or a place on their graduate scheme. This is because many roles are filled by those who've already worked for the organisation during their undergraduate studies, possibly by spending a year in industry.

The experience can also give you a good insight into the financial sector, while the company may even offer support for professional training and development.

To find work placements and internships, visit company websites or your university's careers service.

Another option to consider is an accounting or banking apprenticeship, as these enable you to study for a recognised qualification while gaining experience in the workplace and earning a wage.

Which financial skills do employers want?

Generally speaking, graduate recruiters typically require candidates with a logical mindset, a real interest in finance, attention to detail and accuracy, self-confidence, and the ability to work under pressure.

Finance professionals are also expected to develop a digital mindset and be ready to learn, unlearn and relearn in order to thrive in a rapidly changing business world.

While the latest Employer Skills Survey 2019, published by the Department for Education (DfE) in October 2020 (covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland), showed a decrease in the density of skills-shortage vacancies (SSVs) within the financial services sector - down from 17% to 13% - it did highlight that nearly half of all employers still find complex analytical skills difficult to obtain from applicants.

According to the Hays Salary & Recruiting Trends 2020 guide, finance was one of the top five specialist skills most needed by employers. Data analytics and cyber security were also highlighted as skills in demand. Read more about big data courses and cyber security training.

Why work in finance?

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 recruiters featuring in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers to range from £17,500-£34,500 in accounting and professional services, £21,500-£45,000 in banking and finance, and £35,000-£60,000 in investment banking (High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2020)
  • salaries to increase rapidly if you gain professional qualifications
  • substantial bonuses
  • good opportunities for progression
  • further employee benefits, such as joining-up bonuses, private healthcare, pension plans and sports club membership.

What are the key issues in the financial industry?

At the start of 2021, uncertainty still surrounded the Brexit deal - especially regarding the regulation of UK financial services. Any business restructuring would have an impact on the 1.1 million people working in the financial industry, but this could take a while to roll out. And as a prominent global financial centre, the City of London and the wider UK is expected to respond to this challenge, with the sector already planning for these eventualities.

You can read about the latest on Brexit at GOV.UK - Department for Exiting the European Union.

Although Brexit had been expected, the country certainly wasn't prepared for coronavirus. Since the first national lockdown in March 2020, the situation has forced people and businesses to change the way they bank.

Yet, while there's no escaping the fact that COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption to the industry, Steve Davies, partner at PwC UK, argues that today's banking customers were already demanding 'more choices and options, including greater personalisation, faster solutions, self-service, and the ability to conduct transactions anytime and anywhere'.

Steve explains how the pandemic has only served to accelerate these trends, forcing financial institutions adopting traditional banking models to transform and find new ways to deliver their services both virtually and digitally.

As digital-first services become the norm, this will only increase the demand for suitably qualified candidates with the required level of experience. Those choosing finance careers will be expected to keep pace with the latest developments and build up their technical as well as financial skills.

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