What Are Financial Services?
If you’re interested in economics or business, chances are that you’ve seen the phrase Financial Services floating around a lot. But what actually are they? We’ve put together a quick guide to introduce you to all things financial, from what the industry actually does to how you can land a job in it.
What is the financial services industry?
Well, it’s pretty broad. Put simply, financial service companies help individuals and organisations make sound commercial decisions and investments. This can range from making money, to managing it, to actually investing it. Depending on the company, you might be working on a local or an international scale. The UK financial services industry is largely based in London’s so-called City district, around Canary Wharf and London Bridge. The sector and job market are highly competitive, with lots of companies offering the same service, trying to attract the same clients and looking for the best employees.
What services do they provide?
Companies within the financial services industry provide a range of support, which can be divided into:
- Retail and commercial banking (the sector’s biggest employers)
- Investment banking
- Accounting and Tax
- Financial planning and advisory services (also known as financial consulting)
Many of the larger financial services companies cover more than one of these areas. The so-called Big Four (PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG) all offer a combination of auditing, consulting, insurance, legal, taxation and sustainability services.
What jobs are there in this industry?
As you’d expect from such a varied sector, the job opportunities depend on the particular type of financial service you’re interested in.
Retail banks are the biggest employers for recent university graduates. Companies in the UK include Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and Santander. Jobs offered by these businesses include bank tellers, branch managers, loan officers and executive roles in marketing and operations. Undergraduate degrees aren’t necessary, and retail banks can provide great career progression if you work hard and commit to the company.
Investment banking companies such as Barclays Investment Bank, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, and J.P. Morgan handle more complex financial transitions than retail banks. This sector functions on an international level, working with mergers and acquisitions (M&A), stock shares and trading. Getting a job in investment banking could involve being a trader, a financial adviser or an analyst. In this sector, you’ll need to have a first class or 2:1 undergraduate degree, preferably in a relevant subject and from a good university.
All financial service companies have an accounting and tax department. Jobs in these areas include being a chartered accountant, an external or internal auditor or an accounting technician. Working in a company’s tax department could mean being a tax advisor, inspector or accountant. These positions usually require qualifications in place of or in addition to an undergraduate degree.
Insurance is another popular financial services path, with UK companies including the Admiral Group, Allianz and AXA. These offer careers as insurance account managers, brokers, and insurance risk surveyors, amongst other managerial and administrative roles. Again, a degree is not strictly necessary, but could help with your career progression.
Financial advice and consulting
Financial advisors and consultants are experts in financial, economic and/or investment conditions, and give individuals and companies advice on what to do with their money. In the UK, you don’t need an undergraduate degree, but it could help to fast-track your career if you do have one in a relevant subject, especially if you’re aiming for the Big Four.
What to expect from a job in financial services
In order to have a successful career in financial services, you should be prepared to work long hours in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment, especially when you’re just starting out. You’ll probably be offered a high starting salary, usually around £20,000-£40,000 a year in accounting, up to £35,000-£60,000 a year in investment banking.
The salaries reflect the challenging environment in which you will be working, and the responsibility you’ll be expected to take on from the very beginning. That said, these careers will also often give you the opportunity to develop personally and professionally, gain additional qualifications and even travel the world.
How do I get a job in financial services?
What employers are looking for
Employers in the financial services industry aren’t necessarily looking for applicants with a university degree that’s directly related to finance. They’d rather employ well-rounded individuals with a good work ethic, and train them themselves. Candidates who have studied History, English or Philosophy can be as successful in this industry as Economics, Maths and Science students.
Most larger companies do require candidates to have a 2:1 university degree. But post-A-Level apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular in the sector too.
Employers are looking for individuals who:
- Work well in high-pressure situations
- Are team players with good communication skills
- Are analytical in their thinking
- Have a good market awareness
- Display a sound knowledge of their sector and any recent changes
As the industry becomes more and more competitive, candidates’ CVs are becoming increasingly impressive. This means cover letters, performance in numerical tests and interview skills are key to securing a great job.
Why should I do an internship?
Internships are very important for getting into the financial services industry. Employers are more likely to hire someone who has already developed their knowledge of the sector. As the industry is so diverse, internships are also a good way to figure out exactly which area you would like to work in.
Many internships carried out while you’re at university can lead to a permanent job offer once you graduate. They’re especially important if you’re aiming to secure a graduate job in investment banking.
How do I find an internship?
Head to any university fairs and networking events for financial services, as they will give you an insight into the different types of internship on offer. Most of these take place between September and November.
Deadlines for internships are usually in December or January, although some companies have rolling deadlines throughout the year. So make sure you only apply to ones you actually think you’ll benefit from, as it’s better to take your time with each application than rush dozens of different ones.
What can I expect from an internship?
Each company will have a slightly different internship programme, but you can expect to work on several different projects, and get to see how different areas of the industry function. A lot of them even give you a chance to work in different departments, meaning one internship could involve working in Tax and Transaction Services, or Accounting and Risk Management.
Almost all financial service companies offer graduate schemes. These are two or three year training contracts, which will prepare you for a permanent position in any given sector. And some graduate schemes fund additional qualifications, such as becoming a Chartered Accountant. These involve a balance between working and studying, and often allow you to shadow senior staff members.
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