What types of jobs and employers are there in finance?
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If you work in finance you could be involved in investing money, managing it, protecting it or many other possibilities, working with individual customers, corporate clients, investors, shareholders and colleagues. Finance can roughly be divided into accountancy, investment management, banking, insurance and the actuarial profession, but within each of these sectors there is a wide range of work for school leavers and graduates. Opportunities to work in finance exist throughout the UK and around the world. Discover the main areas within finance and think about where your skills, talents and interests would fit best before applying for university courses or school leaver jobs.
What is accountancy?
Every business, whatever its size, needs an expert to manage its finance and ensure all the figures add up. Managing cash flow and monitoring profit and loss are key areas of work for accountants. It’s also their job to provide and explain financial information to the people in organisations who are in charge of strategy. Graduates and school leavers generally start in these areas of accountancy (some, such as assurance and audit, can overlap):
- advisory (providing advice to a company about how to overcome financial challenges)
- assurance (reviewing a company’s financial information to reassure shareholders that their money is being put to good use)
- audit (doing a financial health check on an organisation)
- tax (advising businesses and individuals about how much tax they need to pay)
There are also other specialist areas of work in accountancy, such as:
- corporate finance (making more money for a business through buying and selling)
- corporate recovery (ensuring everything goes smoothly – financially speaking – when businesses fail)
- corporate treasury (managing a company’s funds)
- financial accounting (analysing financial information to show how well or badly a business is doing)
- forensic accounting (investigating to find out if fraud has occurred)
- management accounting (supplying economic information to help businesses make financial decisions)
- risk assessment (identifying and evaluating risks to a client’s business)
For more details of any of these areas of work, click on the links above.
Where could you work?
You could work for an accountancy firm, providing accountancy services to clients, or you could be the accountant in a company whose main business is not finance, eg a car manufacturer. You could also work in a professional services firm, which provides a large range of different business services, including accountancy, to its clients. The four largest international professional services firms are known as the Big 4. If you work for an accountancy firm or one of the Big 4, your clients will be individuals or businesses seeking advice and expertise. If you work for a non-accountancy employer (eg a retail organisation, a bank or a restaurant chain), you’ll be providing internal accountancy services to your employer. In public sector accounting (government, health or education, for instance) you could work for the public good and ensure, for example, that taxpayers’ money is managed properly.
Wherever you work, and whether you’re a school leaver or a graduate, once you start your accountancy career you’ll work towards getting qualified – read more about this in our article about professional qualifications in accountancy.
Many accountants who eventually go on to work for small businesses or charities get professionally qualified while working for an accountancy firm or a large business with a big finance team. This is because not all organisations can afford to support new starters to get qualified. Typical first jobs include roles in audit or assurance. Once you're fully qualified you'll have a much wider range of employers you can work for.
What is investment management?
Investment management firms help their clients, who are typically large institutions and individuals with lots of money and/or valuable possessions (assets), increase their fortune. They do this by merging and investing their clients’ wealth – keeping in mind the level of risk that clients want to take and their financial goals. Clients include rich individuals and families, governments, educational institutions, charities and insurance companies – to name just a few. Investment management firms can also be known as asset management firms or money management firms.
Where could you work?
Jobs in investment management can be found at investment management firms, such as M&G Investments and Fidelity International, insurance companies, such as Allianz and AXA, and large banks, such as Barclays and HSBC. There are several aspects to investment management – including managing and investing funds, researching companies, and maintaining and developing IT systems to support clients and staff – so an investment management business will comprise multiple divisions in which different individuals with different skills will work.
There are two main sides to banking: retail and investment. There are also smaller areas such as corporate. Some banks specialise in just one of these areas while others cover more than one. Retail banking provides a range of financial products to individual customers, such as mortgages, personal loans, credit cards, debit cards and savings accounts. Businesses, such as newsagents, will also require direct access to similar products and services; this is known as corporate (or commercial) banking. Investment banking involves advising cash/asset-rich individuals and institutions on raising money for business ventures and business strategy, such as mergers (two companies merging to create a new company) and acquisitions (one company buying another). Investment banks also use their own and their clients’ cash in trade deals to make money.
Where could you work?
Retail bankers work in the many branches that are dotted on high streets and in town centres across the UK. They can also be found at banks’ national call centres and in their in-store branches launched in conjunction with established shops, such as Marks & Spencer. Retail banks have several different areas you could work in, including customer service, sales, marketing and IT. Roles in investment banking exist in investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, and the investment banking arms of banks that also have a retail wing, namely Barclays and HSBC. Investment banks also have several parts, so employment opportunities will span different divisions.
What is insurance?
There are two main functions within insurance: underwriting and investment. Underwriting involves measuring clients’ exposure to the risk that they want to be insured against (eg if they want house insurance, that would be the likelihood of their home being broken into or flooded) and deciding how much money to charge to insure (or underwrite) that risk. The investment side sees the money that insurance companies have left over, following payouts to clients, invested to grow the pool of cash. Types of insurance vary; there’s general, life, health and commercial, for instance, and clients include individuals and organisations – both big and small.
In addition to underwriting and investment, roles in insurance span other areas, including compliance (understanding and complying with rules) and marketing (developing and issuing information). Actuarial science – using maths, statistics, and knowledge of business and economics to assess the probability of something bad happening – is closely connected to insurance. It is sometimes a function within insurance companies or it can be carried out by specialist actuarial firms whose customers include insurance companies.
Where could you work?
There are five major types of employer within the insurance industry: insurance companies; retail banks and certain retailers, such as supermarkets; insurance brokers; the Lloyd’s of London insurance market where brokers meet underwriters; and specialist consultancies that provide expert advice in a particular area. Businesses will specialise in all or a combination of the areas mentioned.