How do I get into finance?
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There are two routes in to most finance careers. You can go to university full time first and then apply for a graduate job (usually on a graduate programme), or you can join an employer after your A levels or equivalent and start earning while you learn (usually referred to as a school leaver programme). A small number of employers allow you to start work and complete a university degree at the same time (often called a sponsored degree programme).
The majority of large accountancy firms offer graduate and school leaver programmes to candidates – in general, smaller firms recruit graduates only. Whichever route you choose, once you start your accountancy career you’ll work towards getting qualified. This means that once your training is finished you’ll hold a nationally (often globally) recognised accountancy qualification that shows employers, clients and the general public that you have the relevant practical skills and theoretical knowledge to do your job well. Read our article about professional qualifications in accountancy.
Starting your accountancy career as a school leaver
Accountancy firms usually seek good academic grades (eg 280 UCAS points) from applicants, with at least a B grade in GCSE maths and English. Most school leaver programmes last five years; the first two years are spent working towards a basic qualification or certificate, the following three towards professional qualification. A few firms offer a combined degree and professional qualification programme – these programmes usually take between four and six years.
A small number of firms offer summer schools for year 12 students – getting this kind of experience on your CV will make you more employable when applying for a school leaver programme. Equally, being able to show that you have attended a firm’s school events, open evenings or insight days will improve your chances of being hired.
Accountancy careers for graduates
A graduate can enter the accountancy profession with a 2.1 degree from a highly ranked university in almost any subject. Arts degrees are as welcome as numerate degrees (degrees with a high concentration of maths), as long as you can demonstrate to recruiters that numbers don’t scare you (numeracy tests are often part of the application process). Read our article about choosing a university and degree for a career in finance.
Most employers will want to see good A level grades (eg 280 UCAS points) as well, although things are changing – as of June 2015 PwC scrapped UCAS points as entry criteria for its graduate jobs. Many graduates seek internships in their penultimate year of study, as full-time offers are frequently made to interns who impress employers. After being hired, graduates usually take about three years to become professionally qualified.
Most investment management firms offer two structured routes into the business: school leaver programmes and graduate programmes.
Investment management careers for school leavers
The school leaver programmes, which are often called higher apprenticeships, are targeted at school/college leavers who have at least three A levels (or equivalent) at grades A to C. Some employers will only take on applicants who have studied a specific A level, such as maths or economics. Many will also look at GCSEs, requesting a minimum of five GCSEs at grades A to C including maths and English.
Investment management careers for graduates
Investment management graduate programmes target undergraduates or postgraduates who have achieved, or are on track to achieve, at least a 2.1 (the second highest grade) or equivalent at university. Investment management employers accept graduates from all degree disciplines for all positions except, at some companies, for their IT roles. Computer science/IT and software engineering degrees (or similar) can often be a prerequisite for these. Good A level grades (As and Bs, or equivalent) are also sought by some employers.
On-the-job training is an integral part of school leaver and graduate programmes. The nature of the training will vary across different investment management firms, divisions within the business and for school leavers and graduates. But training for both school leavers and graduates will typically include some or all of the following:
- Certified formal training. Some employers, for example, will put you through the Investment Management Certificate (IMC) and qualifications that are specific to your area of work within the company, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) qualification.
- Study towards a national qualification, such as an NVQ, on the school leaver programme.
- At least one rotation, which involves spending a period of the programme working in another division within the organisation.
The entry requirements for careers in banking depend on the division of a bank that you’re applying to and whether you want to go in as a school/college leaver or a graduate.
Banking careers for school leavers
Banks’ retail and corporate divisions hire college leavers into higher apprenticeships, which are sometimes known as level 4 apprenticeships. Recruiters typically ask for at least two good A levels (A to C) or between 200 and 280 UCAS points, as well as five or more A to C grade GCSEs, including maths and English. Recruiters may also seek customer service experience.
Some retail and corporate banking divisions first hire college leavers into a front-line role – at a local branch or within its call centre – where they’ll work for up to six months before being progressed onto the apprenticeship scheme. Other banks enrol college leavers into the training programme straight away – it’ll depend on the programme and the bank.
Banking careers for graduates
Graduate programmes within retail and corporate banking are open to graduates and final-year bachelors or masters students who have achieved, or are on track to achieve, a 2.1 (the second highest degree classification) in any degree discipline and have 300 to 320 UCAS points. Most employers will also have minimum GCSE (or equivalent) requirements; for example HSBC asks for a grade B or above in English and maths. Conversely, building society Nationwide accepts applications from graduates with a 2.2 (the third highest degree classification), but conditions apply.
To get into investment banking, you’ll typically need a university degree at a 2.1 or above and at least 320 UCAS points. Most investment banks take on graduates from all academic disciplines and all universities. However, a prerequisite for most technology divisions is a technical degree or a degree with a significant IT component, such as computer science/IT or software engineering degrees. And investment banks, in practice, tend to go for graduates from ‘top universities’. Having an internship on your CV is almost a must if you want to secure a graduate job in this area of banking.
Most people enter into insurance via a structured apprenticeship/school leaver programme or a graduate programme.
Insurance careers for school leavers
The level 4 higher apprenticeship in insurance is the most suitable way into the industry for school/college leavers with A levels or equivalent who don't want to go to university – it is equivalent to a higher national certificate (HNC) or roughly one year of university. Entry requirements vary across different insurance companies, but most will request a minimum of 240 to 300 UCAS points (two or three good A levels) and a minimum of five GCSEs at grades A to C, including maths and English. The level 4 higher apprenticeship can lead to a level 6 higher apprenticeship – equal to a degree. There isn’t a level 5.
Across all programmes, the training will lead to professional qualifications accredited by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) – a professional organisation for those working in the industry. The higher the apprenticeship, the higher the qualification you can obtain. For example, it’s expected that if you enter the industry on a level 4 apprenticeship you’ll progress to level 6 after acquiring certain CII-accredited certifications. You can then work towards a level 7 (the same level as a masters degree). Ongoing training and support is available.
Insurance careers for graduates
Graduate routes into the industry vary from employer to employer. But the vast majority of insurance companies will ask for a 2.1 or 1st class degree (the second highest and highest grades respectively) along with a minimum of 300 UCAS points (equivalent to A levels ABC/BBB). Some employers accept all degree disciplines, while others see a directly related degree as an advantage or only accept degrees with a high maths content. For IT roles, IT degrees or similar are typically sought. Some employers also have A level subject requirements; AXA, for instance, wants graduates with an A grade at A level maths (or equivalent).
Graduate schemes typically last two or three years, depending on the part of the insurance business that you join. They will involve working towards professional qualifications pertinent to the business area. So, for example, this will be an ACII for underwriting or insurance broking roles. If you work in the finance and accounting division of an insurance company, you will work towards qualifications accredited by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) or the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). Read our article about professional qualifications for more information about these qualifications and the organisations that award them.
Fewer school leaver opportunities exist in the actuarial profession than graduate openings, but there are still a few programmes to choose from.
Actuarial careers for school leavers
A few companies, including Aon and Aviva, recruit school leavers onto actuarial apprenticeships. To be considered for an actuarial programme at this level, you must have, or expect, a minimum of 240 to 340 UCAS points (equivalent to A levels AA or AAB) as well as have a grade A at A level maths. Companies also request at least five GCSEs, including maths and English, at grade C or above. Once on the scheme, which typically lasts three years, your employer will sponsor you to study for the internationally recognised professional actuarial exams with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA). Once qualified, you’ll become a fellow of the IFoA.
Actuarial careers for graduates
Most employers require or have a preference for a numerate degree such as statistics, economics or maths. In addition, graduates will typically need to have an A level in maths – often at grade B or above – or an equivalent qualification. Employed trainee actuaries are required to study towards professional qualifications with the IFoA; they’ll study towards an associateship. Once it has been obtained, trainees will be able to officially call themselves an actuary and put the letters AIA or AFA after their name. Following this, associates can study towards a fellowship and put the letters FIA or FFA after their name once that is obtained. Employers will typically support and sponsor graduates through these qualifications.