Business and finance
I need a dollar…
While it’s not true that money makes the world go round (that’s down to gravity and stuff), it’s certainly important. Working in in business and finance – sometimes called financial services – means helping to run the processes that keep financial markets, banks and businesses running. It’s not all about cold numbers: helping people make the right choices about how to manage their money can be a big part of the job, so it’s also an industry with a very human side.
About business and finance
We all have a relationship with money. Every time we buy or sell something we contribute to the economy and make a tiny change to the big picture. Meanwhile, everyone else – people, businesses, even countries – does the same thing. With so much going on, it’s not surprising that the finance sector employs so many people – around seven percent of the entire UK workforce, in fact – to keep track of it. That’s good news if you want to get involved.
What can I do?
Because it’s a big sector, career paths in business and finance lead to a few different professions. You might work in accountancy and finance, for example, helping individuals, businesses, charities or even the government; or perhaps you’ll work in banking, taking care of money matters on behalf of all kinds of customers, big and small.
Knowing what to do with money (other than trying not to spend all of it on nice things) can be tricky for anyone, so another area is financial planning, advising people and organisations on the best way to spend, save and invest it.
Tied into the fact that we never know exactly what’s around the corner is the insurance industry, which helps us protect against the unexpected. Work in this area and you might be dealing with home, car, life or even pet insurance, collaborating with other companies or dealing with customers directly.
Finally, investment and pensions companies need people to predict what the stock markets are going to do, trade stocks, provide analysis and support and much more. You could be filling any of these roles in a huge company, maybe working overseas, or even setting up your own firm.
Skills to pay the bills
While a head for figures is definitely helpful in some roles in the finance sector, it’s not the only thing that employers look for. You’ll need to be good at maths and English, yes, but this is very much a people-focused area so things like being a good team player, communicating well with others and having a responsible, professional attitude are also really important.
You might be surprised by some of the other skills that come in handy, like languages, or an understanding of different cultures and the way their societies view money (for example, home ownership is a big part of the UK’s financial personality). Imagination counts too, particularly when predicting the markets or what the next big thing in business might be.
Don’t worry though, these skills (and more) are all things that your training will help you develop. You’ll learn about the technical side of things, but also build your confidence in the workplace – and as the finance sector has lots of opportunities to gain advanced qualifications and move into senior roles, you really could start at the bottom and end up as the boss of a multinational company.
There are plenty of different ways to get the skills you need to get ahead in business and finance…
Work-based & work-related qualifications
Relevant NVQ and BTEC programmes include:
- Financial Services
- Enterprise and Entrepreneurship
Don’t forget: BTECs etc. can also pave the way for a degree.
The level of Apprenticeship available varies slightly depending on the part of the sector you enter – banking, for example, only offers higher Apprenticeships. Broadly, though, there are three levels:
- Level Two (Intermediate) – equivalent to GCSEs/Standard Grades
- Level Three (Advanced) – equivalent to A Levels/Highers
- Level Four (Higher) – equivalent to Foundation Degree/Advanced Highers
Some of the UK’s biggest firms – including Aviva, Deloitte and PwC – offer Apprenticeships, but you’ll find that many more small to medium-sized enterprises (often referred to as ‘SMEs’) offer them too.
It’s also possible to do a Degree Apprenticeship in areas like banking – check out UCAS.com for more information.
A Levels and Bachelors Degrees
Useful A Levels might include:
Already know that a degree is the way you want to break into the business and finance? Head to UCAS and find out what A Levels (or Scottish Highers/IB modules) you’ll need for the course that interests you.
Degree programmes include:
- Business and Finance
- Business Management
The banking and finance industries look for talent from all areas, so you don’t necessarily need specific A Levels or a degree in business and finance: many employers want the right attitude and a general set of high level skills, so A Levels (or Scottish Highers etc.) or a degree qualification in anything from German to Art History might be relevant.
Life in business and finance
With so much variety in the finance sector, there’s no shortage of jobs to choose from, each offering a different experience and working environment.
Apprenticeships are becoming more and more popular as a way to get started, with many students and employers seeing them as a great alternative to university. With the right Apprenticeship, you can get degree-level qualifications and land a well paid job without any student debt to worry about. Whoever you work for, they’ll help you get the skills you need with carefully structured training – many employers have been running Apprenticeships for years, so you’ll be in good hands.
But whether you arrive via the Apprenticeship route, a degree or perhaps a school leaver programme, the opportunities and challenges will be similar. Lots of people are office-based (although not everyone), so you might be part of a team in an accounts or finance department of a larger company (which could be anything from a bookseller to a bowler hat maker); on the other hand, you might work for a specialist accountancy firm or financial adviser.
Alternatively, you could work for a branch of a high street bank, which might mean a role where you’re meeting and helping members of the public. Or you could be employed by a big investment bank, wrangling the numbers on behalf of global corporations.
Let’s be clear: at the top levels of financial services, things get pretty tough. You can expect long hours, a demanding work environment and a lot of pressure to perform. However, many people can and do thrive, and the money is good in return for your efforts. At every level, though, there’s the chance to develop professional skills, gain high level qualifications and build a career. You might even pick up some handy tips on how to make your money go further along the way…
You could work in…
- Accountancy firms
- High street banks
- Finance departments
- Customer service centers
- Local businesses
At a glance: paths into the industry
- Vocational qualifications, eg BTEC, HNC / HND
- A Levels, IB or Scottish Highers
- Apprenticeships & Degree Apprenticeships
- Bachelors Degrees
Find Apprenticeships and jobs in business and finance near you at Careermap.
1. 2.2 million people work across the UK in financial services (Source: Nomis)
2. The financial services industry contributed £176 billion to the UK economy in 2015 (Source: thecityuk.com)
3. According to employment agency Reed, the average salary for the industry is £45,467
School leaver programmes
Some major employers in this sector offer school leaver programmes. They do what it says on the tin: you join straight from school, either after GCSEs or A Levels – depending on the programme – and start work immediately. Along the way you’ll receive training, which can include Apprenticeships, degrees and professional qualifications, as well as on-the-job learning; and you’ll be paid, too. Hit Google with ‘school leaver programmes’ to find out more.