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Financial Capability

Financial Services Sectors

Learn more about the different sectors in the financial services industry.

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Deciding on which job you might like as a career can be difficult. You could start by finding out about the different sectors within financial services.

As with most careers, the more experience you gain in a specialist area the more responsibility you can expect. That can lead to promotion, a higher salary and the chance to further develop your expertise.

We look at some of the major sectors within the financial services industry and some of the skills you’ll need to succeed in them.

Financial services sectors

  • Accounting
  • Business banking
  • Funds and investments
  • Insurance
  • Investment banking
  • Life assurance and pensions
  • Regulated advice
  • Retail banking



Accountants keep and maintain complex records of the company’s financial transactions, as well as reporting on things like business performance and plans for the future. Their main role is to balance the books, ensuring that income exceeds outgoings and that a company remains profitable.

Skills and career paths
Accountants can sometimes start off as trainees straight from school but most commonly they will specialise after studying for a relevant degree. To practice as an accountant you’ll also require professional qualifications, which are usually studied for while working. Once qualified, accountants can choose to specialise. Accountants often work their way up to the position of Finance Director, or Chief Financial Officer, where they will have overall control of a company’s finances.

Key players
Accountants generally can be found either working within a financial services company directly, or as an external accountant working for a specific accountancy firm. Some of the biggest professional services companies like Deloitte, PwC, KPMG and Ernst & Young offer accountancy consultancy to companies across the UK and the world.

Jobs in accounting
Accountants, analysts, auditors, claims handlers, complaints officers, customer services, economists, external & public affairs, human resources (HR), information technology (IT), law & legal services, operations, regulators, risk officers, sales & marketing, training & development professionals.

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Business and commercial banking involves helping small and medium-sized businesses with their finances, by providing a range of services to keep them running smoothly and helping them to grow.

The biggest users of banking and financial services in the UK are small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). The range of services provided by business and commercial banking includes:

  • lending money to set up or expand a business
  • paying its staff
  • paying their suppliers
  • offering insurance and even foreign exchange
Skills and career paths
Typically business bankers will have either a degree or specialist business management qualification, but school leaver schemes and specialist on-the-job qualifications are available. Starting off as a general business banker with a portfolio of clients, most professionals will choose to specialise in certain types of industry or company. With progression they can become business banking managers and even move to senior management.

Key players
Business banking in the UK is dominated by the five big banks, namely Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and Santander.

Jobs in business banking
Accountants, analysts, auditors, business bankers, claims handlers, complaints officers, customer services, economists, external & public affairs, human resources (HR), information technology (IT), law & legal services, operations, regulators, risk officers, sales & marketing, training & development professionals, treasury professionals, wealth managers.

 

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The investment sector and fund management focuses helps individuals and businesses use their savings and other financial assets to make a profit and generate income. The type of assets managed includes: 

  • stocks and shares (owning part of a company)
  • bonds (a loan in which an investor provides money to a government or company and receives interest)
  • foreign exchange (investing in currency fluctuations)
  • property (residential and commercial)
  • gold and other previous metals
  • cash

Most people in the UK own assets through their participation in workplace pension funds. These pension schemes aim to help them generate an income in retirement so they have more to live on than just the pension provided by the State (basic State pension).

Skills and career paths
Investment advisers and managers will usually join the sector having studied a finance-related degree, though it is not essential. They will also usually specialise in certain areas such as stockbroking, pensions, equities or funds, gaining increasing seniority with their expertise.

Key players
All of the major banks will offer investment services through their Asset Management divisions, while the thousands of independent financial advisers (IFAs) in the UK also help people to invest their savings and pensions. Large fund managers, who manage funds and assets on behalf of individuals and companies include: Blackrock, M&G, Invesco Perpetual, Fidelity and Columbia Threadneedle Investments. There are also specialist investment management platforms, such as Hargreaves Lansdown, allowing people to invest their assets independently.

Jobs in funds and investments
Analysts, auditors, brokers, claims handlers, complaints officers, customer services, economists, external & public affairs, financial advisers, fund managers, human resources (HR), investment bankers, information technology (IT), law & legal services, operations, regulators, sales & marketing, stockbrokers, traders, training & development professionals, treasury professionals, wealth managers.

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Insurance companies provide financial protection to individuals, companies and governments (called ‘cover’) in exchange for payment (called ‘premiums’).

Skills and career paths
Insurance is a huge and diverse industry, providing many opportunities for people with very different skills, from developing mathematical models to selling policies to customers.

There are many opportunities to enter the sector and you won’t necessarily need a degree, but many professionals will have a specialist qualification from accredited bodies like the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII).

Key players
There are thousands of insurers operating in the UK, many of whom specialise in things like motor or home insurance. However, many of the larger companies, such as Aviva, Legal & General, RSA Group and Prudential have become known as composite insurers and offer both life and general insurance, while brokers such as Lloyds of London act as an insurance marketplace.

Many insurers also specialise in certain types of business or sectors like providing healthcare policies to employees.

Jobs in accounting
Actuaries, analysts, auditors, claims handlers, complaints officers, customer services, economists, external & public affairs, human resources (HR), information technology (IT), law & legal services, operations, regulators, risk officers, sales & marketing, training & development professionals, underwriters. 

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Corporate and investment banks provide financial advice and services to huge organisations including governments, agencies and very large or multinational companies. Sometimes it is known as global or merchant banking.

Among their many functions corporate and investment banks:

  • help large institutions raise finance to fund their business operations and activities
  • make deals and merge with, or acquire other companies often across international markets.

Skills and career paths

Like other forms of banking, there are many potential career paths within the world of corporate or investment banking. Because this area is all about client management, corporate and investment bankers tend to specialise in certain areas or with certain types of client. Corporate investment is a high-pressure and high-profile sector, so most investment bankers will have a good maths or economics degree and are well-versed in handling long hours and stressful situations.

Key players
Alongside HSBC and Barclays, other corporate banks you may have heard of include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citibank, BNP Paribas, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank. They are huge organisations, often with offices throughout the world.

Jobs in investment banking
Analysts, brokers, business bankers, claims handlers, complaints officers, customer services, economists, external & public affairs, financial advisers, fund managers, human resources (HR), investment bankers, information technology (IT), law & legal services, operations, regulators, risk officers, sales & marketing, stockbrokers, traders, training & development professionals, treasury professionals, wealth managers.

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The United Kingdom, like many economically “developed” nations, has an ageing population. People are living longer, which means that they have to plan how they are going to continue to afford to do the things they love doing when they are no longer working and receiving a regular income. Similarly, unforeseen life-changing circumstances need to be considered when thinking about personal finances.

The pensions sector provides pension schemes to help people to save for retirement, either by investing their money in a workplace pension or in personal plans; and helps people to turn their pension pot into an income when they retire.

The life assurance helps to support individuals for when they are no longer able to work or support their families, through a mixture of specialist advice, investment services and insurance.

Skills and career paths
Some advisers will choose to specialise in certain markets or regions, while others will choose to provide consultancy to certain types of businesses. Like other sectors, most people generally start as a trainee while studying for professional qualifications, then working their way up to advisers and managers, while choosing a specialist area.

For certain roles, a good maths degree will be required.

Key players
The UK life and pensions industry is one of the largest in the world and employs many people in a variety of roles and specialisms. Companies include: Aviva, Legal & General, RSA Group, Prudential, Scottish Widows and Standard Life. Some companies will offer both services in both areas, while others will tend to specialise in just one.

All of the main banks and ‘universal’ insurers provide pensions advice and management services and most provide health and life insurance policies.

Jobs in life assurance and pensions
Actuaries, analysts, brokers, claims handlers, complaints officers, customer services, economists, external & public affairs, financial advisers, fund managers, human resources (HR), information technology (IT), law & legal services, operations, regulators, risk officers, sales & marketing, stockbrokers, traders, training & development professionals, treasury professionals, wealth managers.

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The regulated advice sector includes companies and individuals who offer advice on managing their money and financial assets, including investments, pensions, mortgages and insurance. Financial planners and advisers can even help people pay off their debts or to plan for major life events such as getting married or having children.

People working in this sector have to abide by rules and guidance set out by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UK’s regulator in the finance sector. Those giving advice professionally have to take specialist qualifications, which are set out by the FCA.

The London Institute of Banking & Finance helps many mortgage and financial advisers become qualified.


Skills and career paths

Financial advisers can either join the sector straight from school, or after studying for a finance-related degree. Regardless of how they join, all financial advisers need to take professional qualifications like The London Institute of Banking & Finance’s DipFA. Once qualified, financial advisers can choose to specialise in areas like mortgages or tax advice, but will often try to keep their skills broad to attract a greater number of clients. Most financial advisers will work their way up to director level or will start their own businesses.

Key players
Tens of thousands of companies and individuals fall under this sector. Every high street in the country will have businesses offering regulated advice, from estate agents and mortgage brokers to financial advisory groups and individuals. Sometimes they will also join regional networks to share their services to a wider range of clients. Some retail banks will also employ financial advisers and planners.

Jobs in regulated advice
Analysts, brokers, claims handlers, complaints officers, customer services, economists, external & public affairs, financial advisers, human resources (HR), information technology (IT), law & legal services, mortgage advisers, operations, regulators, risk officers, sales & marketing, stockbrokers, traders, training & development professionals, wealth managers.

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Retail or high-street banks provide the everyday services that most people need to help them manage their money. Your own personal bank account will be held with a retail bank for instance.

Retail or high-street banks offer a range of services including:

  • looking after current accounts
  • processing payments such as debit cards and cheques
  • offering short-term unsecured loans such as credit cards
  • providing money management and savings accounts
  • offering loans, mortgages and insurance


Skills and career paths

Most retail bank professionals will join a local high-street bank either straight from school, or after completing a degree. Commonly they start in a general customer services roles, helping the bank’s customers with their requirements. As they progress, retail banking professionals can choose to specialise in certain types of product or even customer. With the right application and motivation they can go on to be branch or call centre managers and can even be promoted to senior management roles.


Key players

All of the high-street banks and building societies offer retail banking services, so companies such as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and Santander, Virgin Money, Metro Bank (banks); and Skipton and Nationwide (building societies) are in this sector.


Jobs in retail banking
Accountants, analysts, brokers, claims handlers, complaints officers, customer services, economists, external & public affairs, financial advisers, human resources (HR), information technology (IT), law & legal services, mortgage advisers, operations, regulators, risk officers, sales & marketing, stockbrokers, training & development professionals, treasury professionals.

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