Despite the prospect of upheaval in the financial services industry, as regulatory changes are made post-Brexit, there's optimism that an influx of skilled workers can help to maintain the nation's status as a leading global business centre
What areas of finance can I work in?
Employment opportunities in this sector can be grouped into:
- Accounting - This covers financial accountants who are responsible for managing and reporting a business's accounts and managerial accountants who perform functions on behalf of the company itself. Roles are available with firms of all sizes, as well as not-for-profit organisations. See how to become an accountant.
- 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. See 5 tips on getting into investment banking.
- 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.
For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate finance jobs.
Who are the main graduate employers?
The 'big four' accountancy and professional services firms are:
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
- Royal Bank of Scotland Group
- Santander UK.
In investment banking, large companies that employ graduates include:
- Barclays Investment Bank
- Deutsche Bank
- J.P. Morgan
- Morgan Stanley
- The Goldman Sachs Group.
The main UK insurers are:
- Direct Line Insurance Group
- Legal & General Group
- Liverpool Victoria (LV=)
- RSA Group
- Standard Life.
You may also be able to find graduate roles with major insurance brokers such as GoCompare.com and 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 a greater number of 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 your numeracy 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, accounting 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.
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.
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). Explore the different types of 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 also 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 and discussing your options with advisers.
Where can I find a finance internship?
Internships and work experience placements can often lead to a permanent job or a place on a graduate scheme. This is because many vacancies are filled by those who've already worked for the company during their undergraduate studies, possibly by spending a year in industry.
This 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.
Which financial skills do employers want?
In recent years, skills shortages in accounting and finance have been widely reported, with a clear demand for suitably-qualified professionals in the UK. For example, the latest Employer Skills Survey 2017, published by the Department for Education (DFE) in August 2018, highlighted an increase in the density of skills gaps within the financial services sector. This showed that the highest proportion of the workforce lacking full proficiency had risen from 3.7% in 2015 to 5.0% in 2017.
Despite this, specialist recruiters Hays saw a positive outlook for partly and newly-qualified accountants in the UK during 2017, as there remained a strong demand for financial skills. Graduates can take advantage of the situation where demand outstrips supply by planning their career paths in accordance with employer needs.
Hays also highlighted audit, risk and finance professionals as another area that could be in demand due to businesses seeking to mitigate the risk of cyber attacks. Those with skills in information security, a knowledge of data and general controls are also being sought after. Read more about cyber security training.
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.
Gaining work experience prior to graduation can help to develop your skillset, plus demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to the sector. You should also keep up to date with industry news.
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 to range from £17,000-£42,000 in accounting and professional services, £27,000-£55,000 in banking and finance, and £40,000-£56,000 in investment banking (High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2018)
- 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.
For more information about typical salaries and working conditions, see job profiles.
What are the key issues in the financial industry?
Brexit negotiations are ongoing, so there's uncertainty surrounding the future of the UK economy. However, as a prominent financial centre, the City of London and the UK as a whole is expected to respond to this challenge, with the sector already planning for the various potential eventualities.
The country's access to Europe's single market and workers' rights to employment in other countries are undoubtedly the main issues on the agenda. Fujitsu's 'Financial Services Predictions 2017' article published within the Industry Insight Magazine (December 2016) stated that it's unlikely the major banks will seek to move their bases once this situation is resolved, but there could still be repercussions.
A Reuters survey of 123 companies that employ the majority of workers in international finance (including banks and insurers) revealed that around 10,000 finance jobs could be moved overseas if the UK doesn't succeed in its key negotiations.
In fact, almost half of these businesses would be restructured following a 'hard' Brexit - impacting on the 1.1 million people working in the financial industry. Frankfurt and Paris were listed as the most popular destinations for creating these new roles abroad. Even if this scenario did come to pass, it would still take a number of years to roll out.
You can read about the latest on Brexit and how it might impact upon the financial services industry at the Institute for Government.
As mentioned above, skills shortages in the industry has led to increased demand for those suitably qualified and with the required level of experience.
This situation has arisen due to the fact that the financial sector is further ahead than other industries in terms of its move to digital, according to Fujitsu's Digital Transformation of Banking Services report (2018). They found that around 90% of financial services companies questioned had begun their digital transformations. Therefore, those working in finance will be expected to keep pace with the latest developments and build up their technical skills.
Cyber crime and increased automation are other concerns being faced by the financial services industry. The former is an area being heavily invested in by finance institutions, according to Fujitsu's industry insight, and technological solutions are replacing outdated banking systems.