Career progression routes in financial services

Individuals entering the financial services sector have a wide range of options to choose from, and various potential career paths to follow. Some choose to join retail banks or building societies, dealing with the supply of money, loans, mortgages, pensions, insurance and other products to consumers and businesses.

Other entrants seek investment roles, potentially in the City with banks or broking firms - eager to work on the cutting edge of the industry.

Financial services opportunities exist all over the UK - not merely in London. Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds in particular have large financial hubs, but there is scope to carve out a career in virtually every corner of Britain. Individuals with the necessary skill, qualifications, drive and ambition - those who are eager to learn their trade - can quickly find themselves working in well-remunerated roles with good prospects.

  • Working in investment banking

To many, investment banking is where the glamour jobs exist, and as such, many people target such a role in the City. The UK is a good place to be, since London remains one of the key international finance hubs - the largest foreign exchange centre in the world. Employment opportunities exist in areas such as trading, portfolio management, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate finance.

Often, investment banking professionals start off as analysts. They may be deployed in a research role, play a supporting role in transactions, or work as an assistant to a manager. From here, individuals may be promoted into roles where they start to take responsibility for accounts - and this means making decisions on behalf of clients.

The rewards can be high but the pressure is intense, given the inherent risks should something go wrong. Employees who generate strong returns are likely to be promoted quickly, giving them the chance to earn large salaries. But with earnings largely commission-based, a consistently high level of performance is required.

  • Working in commercial banking

Many professionals decide that the stress of investment banking is not for them, and instead pursue career options on the commercial or retail side. The pay rewards are unlikely to be as large in this segment of the market, but workers typically benefit from greater job security. Employees are more likely to be given time to grow and learn at their organisation, with clear development programmes in place.

Retail banks offer a wide range of banking services to consumers and businesses, such as financial advice, credit supply and account management. Entrants to the sector will typically take a job at a bank branch, or within the overarching support network.

If you aspire to take on a managerial role in commercial banking, starting on the bank counter is the usual point of entry. From here, you can learn about how the bank operates, and the various services provided to the public. Degree-holders typically join on a graduate trainee programme, which may see them work towards a financial management qualification. From here, individuals may move into branch management, financial advisory, online banking, operational or product development roles.

  • Are you suitable for a career in financial services?

Financial services jobs are highly sought-after, and as such, employers can typically choose from a wide and varied candidate pool. A good education is a pre-requisite, with strong English language and mathematics skills essential.

In most instances, employers are looking for applicants who have a degree of 2:1 or higher, and preferably some industry experience. Where graduates are concerned, it helps if individuals have undertaken some form of internship, allowing them to learn about how the industry works in practice.

Hiring managers are looking for candidates who are genuinely enthusiastic about working in the sector, and particularly those with a wider interest in business and finance. Being able to demonstrate knowledge about financial services - and a passion for this field - shows you are serious about developing your career.

Individuals with a wide range of skills, experience in positions of responsibility, and with potential to take on leadership roles are among those likely to be in the highest demand. Hiring managers are looking for the next generation of professionals who will be able to take their organisation forwards - and applicants need to convince them that they fit the mould.

  • What are the prospects for financial services employees?

In an improving economy, employers are competing to hire the most talented individuals, and this is having the effect of inflating salaries. Nearly all (99 per cent) of financial services employers surveyed by Robert Half said they are struggling to hire the skilled professionals they need, and 95 per cent are concerned about losing their best performers. This is leading many to pay more for the people they wish to hire.

However, employers cannot simply rely on high pay awards to attract and retain the best staff. Phil Sheridan, managing director of Robert Half UK, said employers looking to hire the market’s most sought-after professionals know that financial remuneration "is only one factor affecting candidates’ decisions". "As employees aim to balance work and life commitments, offering a comprehensive benefits package - often flexible and tailored to each employee’s preferences - is helping companies position themselves as great places to work."

For many financial services employees, professional development opportunities and clear paths to progression are seen as attractive benefits. Individuals want to move up the career ladder as soon as they can, taking on new responsibilities and increasing their earning capacity. Employers recognise that by giving their staff the opportunity to progress, they can keep them for longer - and as a consequence, benefit from their skills and expertise.

This means that, in most financial services organisations, there are clearly-defined career progression routes. Individuals who seek out training and development opportunities, and target the qualifications they need, can secure promotion to more senior roles and boost their earning capacity.