Careers in Financial Services,
Insurance and Banking
Most people may think of working in a retail bank, selling insurance or trading stocks and shares as the obvious careers in the financial sector. However, the sector offers a wide range of possible roles and careers, including as an accountant, actuary, independent financial adviser, investment manager or analyst. Firms in the financial sector also employ many of the ‘usual’ range of business roles, including marketers, sales and human resources professionals.
The roles and jobs in this sector may be both customer-facing and ‘backroom’ positions. Many require strong numeracy skills, often with specific and strong skills in certain areas. However others, especially the more generic roles, may not require more than a basic knowledge of mathematics. This page discusses some of the roles available, and the skills required in each.
What is the Financial Services Sector?
The financial services sector is the sector that deals with money.
Understanding Financial Services: Some Definitions
Oxford Languages defines financial services as:
“Professional services involving the investment, lending, and management of money and assets.”
“Financial services are the economic services provided by the finance industry, which encompasses a broad range of businesses that manage money, including credit unions, banks, credit-card companies, insurance companies, accountancy companies, consumer-finance companies, stock brokerages, investment funds, individual asset managers, and some government-sponsored enterprises.”
It should therefore be clear that the sector includes insurance, banking, lending, financial advice, investment, and asset management. However, each of these groups offers a wide range of jobs and services. This page divides these jobs into specific finance jobs and generic jobs.
Specific Finance-Related Jobs
Finance-related jobs are those that do not exist in other sectors.
They include insurance brokerage; accounting; auditing; actuarial science; investment advice, management and analysis; stock trading; and banking. Each of these has both customer-facing roles and more office-based roles. Customers may also be either businesses or consumers.
Roles vary widely in both the skills that they require, and the tasks required. However, they tend to share a requirement for:
Numeracy skills, to understand and interpret data of various kinds;
Communication skills, to communicate findings and insights to others; and
Commercial awareness, and particularly understanding about financial markets and how they work.
Our article on the skills you need to build a career in finance provides some more information about the broader skills required in the sector.
Some roles require professional qualifications, but others do not. The main roles in the sector include:
Accountants manage the financial systems of businesses
They are responsible for preparing financial reports, and making sure that tax laws and other regulations are followed by the business. Accountants work in two main places: accountancy firms, providing advice to clients, or in-house for businesses. Both types of work require professional qualifications. Accountants need very good numeracy skills, as well as skills using IT. They are often skilled at investigating and solving problems, and may also have very good strategic thinking skills. They also have good attention to detail, and strong communication skills, enabling them to explain complex financial issues to clients.
Auditors check company accounts to make sure that they are accurate
Most auditors are also qualified accountants. They need good relationship-building skills to work effectively with clients, and build trusting relationships even while investigating and checking up on claims—and occasionally a strong dose of scepticism to know when something is worth investigating further.
Actuaries provide advice to insurance companies to enable accurate pricing
They are experts in assessing and managing risk. Actuaries build and run complex computer models to enable their organisations to manage risk. Actuaries therefore need very good numeracy skills, and particularly strong skills in statistics, including simple and more advanced statistical analysis. They are also experts in computer programming and developing advanced analytical models.
Bankers make decisions about lending and provision of other financial services to clients
Bankers may work in either retail or investment banks. Most of us are more familiar with retail banks, the banks that provide services like loans or savings accounts to consumers. Investment banking is often seen as the faster-paced, more interesting cousin of retail banking. Investment banks provide services to businesses, such as advising on mergers, or launching businesses onto the stock market.
Bankers in both environments require strong customer service skills as well as numeracy skills. They need an understanding of risk and risk management. They also need good communication skills to ensure that their customers understand the products or actions recommended, and the implications of their decisions.
Financial advisers advise clients on investment decisions, often to support long-term planning
Financial advisers work closely with individual clients to advise them on their investment strategy, often as a way to support long-term planning, and particularly planning for retirement. They need a good understanding of markets and investments, and an ability to build relationships with clients. They also need good strong analytical skills to appreciate their clients’ needs and how these can be matched with the products available. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of this is good listening skills, to hear and understand their clients’ needs.
Investment managers manage funds and other investments on behalf of their clients
Their clients may include individuals and businesses: anyone who wishes to make investments but does not wish to do the analysis and work themselves. Fund managers carry out investments for their clients, moving money between funds and stocks to maximise the return for their clients. They need good numeracy skills, but also—and perhaps more importantly—an ability to gather information about markets, funds and organisations, and then use it to provide insights to support investment. They may have direct relationships with clients, and so need good customer service and communication skills. Many will also deal indirectly with clients via financial advisers.
Investment analysts analyse markets and products on behalf of their clients
Investment analysts may work independently, in consultancies that provide analytical services for clients, or directly for businesses requiring analysis. Their clients may be individuals, companies, and funds. The purpose of their analysis is to inform investment decisions, so they look at what affects the value of stocks, shares and funds, and provide advice on that basis.
Analysts need good commercial awareness, and strong numeracy and analytical skills, including statistical analysis. They also need an ability to gather information and carry out research, and good communication skills to share their findings with clients.
Traders deal in stocks and shares on stock exchanges and financial markets
Trading is a fast-paced environment, and traders need to be able to make rapid decisions, often under pressure. They need good commercial awareness and ability to gather information, excellent communication skills to write reports, and above all confidence to make deals without being able to check back with colleagues.
Insurers may either provide or arrange insurance cover for their clients
The insurance sector provides products that protect their clients in the event of a problem or disaster.
There are several types of jobs in the insurance sector, including underwriters (similar to actuaries, they price products for companies so as to manage the risk to which the company is exposed), insurance brokers (who arrange coverage for their clients), and assessors (who assess claims made by clients on behalf of the insurer).
See 6 Reasons to Consider a Career in the Insurance Industry for more. You may also be interested in our post on the skills required to be an insurance broker.
Generic Jobs in the Financial Sector
It is worth touching on the wide range of jobs or careers that you could follow in the financial sector that are not specific to that sector.
Many firms in this sector are very large, including the major insurance companies. They therefore employ large numbers of people in non-finance roles, including administration, management, marketing, sales, and human resources. Many will also employ their own lawyers and medical advisers.
There is therefore plenty of scope for a career in this sector even if you don’t wish to work directly on financial matters. The sector also offers extremely competitive salaries in most roles, and a wide range of different types of firms, making it suitable for almost anyone with an interest in financial matters and markets.