The UK's leading financial institutions are having to adapt to keep up with trends such as cyber security, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud services - so join the new generation of finance graduates entering the sector and be part of its digital future
What areas of finance can I work in?
Employment opportunities can be grouped into five fields:
- 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:
- Ernst & Young (EY)
- PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Many well-known high street brands can be found among the UK's retail banks and building societies, including:
- Lloyds Banking Group
- Nationwide Building Society
- NatWest Group (includes the Royal Bank of Scotland)
In investment banking, large companies that employ graduates include:
- Barclays Investment Bank
- Deutsche Bank
- Goldman Sachs
- J.P. Morgan
- Morgan Stanley
- Rothschild & Co.
The main insurers operating in the UK are:
- American International Group (AIG)
- Direct Line Insurance Group
- Legal & General Group
- Liverpool Victoria (LV=)
- 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.
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. Companies will generally accept applications from graduates with degrees in subjects spanning a range of disciplines. However, you'll still be expected to demonstrate high-level numerical and analytical skills.
Most large employers running graduate schemes and work placements will ask for a 2:1 or above, and may also 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. It's important to be aware that 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.
Dedicated finance 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).
While larger finance employers, including retail banks such as Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, and the NatWest Group typically take graduates on to gain valuable experience across their main business functions, graduate jobs are available at the local level.
Opportunities for finance specialists exist across other job sectors, with the likes of Boots, Centrica, Nestlé, Network Rail, Tesco, and Virgin Media O2 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, either virtually or in person, and discussing your options with advisers.
If you're a university student, another option is to consider a finance internship, typically available during the summer months, to get that relevant experience recruiters are looking for.
Alternatively, securing an accounting or banking apprenticeship after leaving school or college, would enable you to study for a recognised qualification (up to degree or Masters level - Levels 6/7) while entering the world of work and earning a wage.
Which financial skills do employers want?
Graduate recruiters in the finance sector typically require candidates with:
- a logical mindset
- a real interest in finance
- attention to detail and accuracy
- the ability to work under pressure.
Finance professionals are also expected to develop a digital mindset and be ready to learn, unlearn and relearn to thrive in a rapidly changing business world.
According to the Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends 2023 guide, 90% of the accountancy and finance employers questioned had experienced skills shortages within the past year.
Communication and interpersonal skills (63%) were the top soft skills employers needed, showing that financial ability alone isn't sufficient to forge a successful career in the industry. Over half (52%) also wanted their finance staff to have the ability to adopt change.
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
- average starting salaries with recruiters featuring in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers to be £35,000 in accounting and professional services, £40,000 in banking and finance, and £55,000 in investment banking (High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2023)
- salaries to increase rapidly if you gain professional qualifications
- substantial bonuses
- good opportunities for progression
- employee benefits, such as joining-up bonuses, private healthcare, pension plans and sports club membership.
What are the key issues in the financial industry?
The Hays recruiting trends report showed how productivity has been affected by skills shortages in the last year, with nearly half (49%) of recruiters in the sector admitting this has had a negative impact on their business.
However, while most employers (94%) are optimistic about their own organisation's performance over the next year, expecting it to either increase or remain the same, this contrasts with their confidence in the wider economy. Just a third (33%), are hopeful about their employment opportunities over the next five years.
Despite threats to the sector posed by Brexit, COVID-19 and the need to change in keeping with technological advancements, 1.1 million people still work in the UK's financial industry - rising to 2.5 million when including related professional services.
As digital-first banking 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 accounting and finance skills. Read more about relevant IT courses.
Well over half (59%) of the staff questioned in the Hays survey were looking for a role that offered more of a mix of hybrid working. Workforce skills shortages will need to be addressed, while considering that striking a work-life balance has become a higher priority for finance professionals.
Find out more
- Explore our finance job profiles.
- Read about the full range of graduate finance jobs.
- Consider careers in business, consulting and management.