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What we know about graduates working in finance

February 2019

More support is needed to ensure female, BAME and disadvantaged graduates have greater access to professional-level roles in finance

Last year, 12,210 UK domiciled first-degree graduates were working in finance occupations six months after graduating. This was 6.6% of the cohort who were recorded in employment in HESA's Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education data for 2016/17.

Graduates working in this profession specialised in a range of roles. The most popular occupations included business professionals (33.2%), and finance and investment analysts and advisers (23.7%). A smaller number opted to work as accounting technicians (8.4%).

A 2:1 is advantageous - but not essential

Four-fifths of those employed in finance-related roles graduated from university with a 2:1 or above. Often these grades are a minimum requirement, with employers such as Deloitte, Santander and the Royal Bank of Scotland setting them as the benchmark for applications to their graduate schemes.

A small share of graduates working in these occupations held a degree at 2:2 or below. However, a look at the occupations they entered shows that these graduates were more likely to be in non-professional employment (29.1% compared with 16% of those with at least a 2:1). Graduates in non-professional roles often worked as bank and post office clerks and bookkeepers, payroll managers and wage clerks.

Humanities and social science graduates are valuable

Relatively few graduates in this profession had previously opted to study finance directly (5.6%), with many holding qualifications from a range of academic backgrounds. The most common disciplines relating to this field included accounting (10.7%), business studies (10.5%), economics (9.3%), and mathematics (6.6%).

The data shows that employers are casting their nets further afield to attract talent - a potential way to alleviate skills shortages that are anticipated to worsen following Brexit.1 Graduates from other of disciplines are able to transfer the skills developed during their degrees into these roles, as evidenced by the high number of graduates from social sciences (20.4%) and humanities (11.9%) backgrounds working in finance. These individuals often studied history, psychology, politics, English and sociology.

Opportunities are available throughout the country

The UK's capital is one of the world's major financial centres, ranking second to New York City.2 It is therefore an attractive employment destination, accounting for the largest segment of UK graduates working in finance (9.1%). It is not necessary, however, for graduates to congregate in London for opportunities, with two-thirds of financial services jobs in the UK based outside of London.3 Other popular cities where graduates secured work included:

  • Birmingham
  • Glasgow
  • Manchester
  • Leeds
  • Belfast.

A lot of organisations sourced talent from universities in southern regions, the most popular being the South East (15.2%) and London (12.3). The close proximity of these institutions to the capital will inevitably be advantageous to London-based employers who can promote their opportunities to these students.

A few talent hotspots have also emerged in the North West (10.3%) and East Midlands (10.3%), with a fifth of employers hiring candidates from universities in these regions.

More women in non-professional level roles

The cohort of graduates working in finance in 2016/17 was more male dominated, although the gender imbalance was not too dramatic, with a six percentage point gap between male (52.9%) and female (47.1%) entrants. However, the percentage of females was down year-on-year from 48.6% in 2015/16.

An interesting trend emerges when the data is broken down by occupation. A higher percentage of men were working in professional-level employment (85.1%) than females (77.7%). The gender difference for credit controllers, brokers, and finance and investment analysts and advisers was particularly stark. Every non-professional level role had a greater female workforce, highlighting a potential diversity issue worth monitoring.

OccupationPercentage of females in the workforcePercentage of males in the workforce
Business and related associate professionals n.e.c.50.9%49.1%
Finance and investment analysts and advisers37.6%62.4%
Financial and accounting technicians47.9%52.1%
Financial administrative occupations n.e.c.57.7%42.3%
Book-keepers, payroll managers and wages clerks55.0%45.0%
Bank and post office clerks58.8%41.2%
Financial accounts managers45.0%55.0%
Taxation experts48.3%51.7%
Estimators, valuers and assessors44.6%55.4%
Insurance underwriters45.3%54.7%
Finance officers51.7%48.3%
Credit controllers60.8%39.2%
Importers and exporters43.6%56.4%

The majority of new graduates working in these occupations were aged 24 and below (89.3%). A small percentage were aged 30 and over (5.8%), and when questioned about how they found their job, almost a quarter reported it was through the company they already worked for - implying they pursued a continued professional development (CPD) course.

CPD/upskilling existing employees is seen as a viable way to tackle skills shortages, with just over two-fifths of employers in finance and accounting considering this option.4

Graduates from a white ethnic background represented the majority of 2016/17 first-degree graduates working in finance (73%). For all other ethnic groups, Indian made up the largest segment (6.3%). Few identified as being Chinese (1.2%) or black other (0.3%).

Insurance underwriters (88.4%) and estimators, valuers and assessors (81.6%) had the largest majority white workforces, whereas finance officers (64%), financial and accounting technicians (64.4%) and bookkeepers, payroll managers and wages clerks (65.8%) had the smallest.

It appears as though individuals from a low participation background may be struggling to find opportunities to enter the industry, with relatively few of those working in finance coming from a low participation background (9%) compared with their higher participation counterparts (33.7%).

Individuals from low participation backgrounds had a higher non-professional level employment rate (24.1%) than all graduates working in finance (18.4%), whereas those from areas where university education is common were more likely to secure professional work (84.6% compared with 75.9% of their lower participation counterparts).

Organisations wishing to work on their widening participation agenda could consider ways to offer more support to those from less advantaged backgrounds by implementing techniques such as early outreach.

Those who identify as male, are of white ethnic background and are from a higher participation neighbourhood are all more likely to use personal contacts to find a job

Personal contacts are beneficial

The most common method for graduates to find jobs in finance was through recruitment agencies and websites (31.7%). Finance firms have stated they are using recruitment agencies as a method to combat skills shortages,5 which could result in more graduates finding opportunities through this channel. The use of recruitment agencies among graduates in finance increased slightly year-on-year from 29.8% to 31.7%.

Personal contacts were the second most utilised method (17.3%) to find a job, suggesting networking is a valuable way for employers to source applicants. However, an employer wishing to diversity their workforce might want to consider the job-seeking behaviour of various groups. Those who identify as male, are of white ethnic background and are from a higher participation neighbourhood are all more likely to use personal contacts than females, all other ethnic groups and less advantaged graduates.

Other frequently cited methods include employer websites (15%), finding opportunities with current employers (11.1%) and university/college careers services (9.8%).

Also in this series


  1. Solving the UK Skills Shortage Accounting and Finance, Robert Walters, Jobsite and Totaljobs, 2018.
  2. The Global Financial Centres Index 24, Financial Centre Futures, 2018.
  3. Financial centres in UK cities outside London are set to suffer the most from Brexit, Insight.
  4. Solving the UK Skills Shortage Accounting and Finance, Robert Walters, Jobsite and Totaljobs, 2018.
  5. Ibid.

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