An Accounting and Finance degree is without a doubt an extremely popular choice in the UK. Many are attracted by the highly remunerative positions they can get in those industries, others have a genuine interest for those fields.
I have worked in corporate finance myself, although I graduated in International Business & Finance and not accounting. Let’s be honest here, I was also attracted by the financial world and everything it involves, and this played a massive role in choosing my degree.
So here is my first suggestion; there is nothing wrong in having an interest for a high salary, international travels, bonuses, events and all sorts of benefits that you can get in the financial industry. However, you will also need to have a real interest for the sector, even if minimal and then develop it further as you study.
In previous posts I have discussed other two very popular choices in the UK, Marketing degrees; and Business Management degrees. You can click on the links to find out more about them. Now that we are ready, we can tackle the main question: “Is an Accounting and Finance Degree worth it in the UK?
Accounting & Finance
If you are not new to this blog, you will know that I always start with a definition. In this case, we will obviously have two separate ones. This leads to another important statement; although you can often study them together, these subjects vary a lot and lead to completely different careers; as we will see later in the post.
Accounting: “Accounting is the process of recording financial transactions pertaining to a business. The accounting process includes summarizing, analysing and reporting these transactions to oversight agencies, regulators and tax collection entities.” (source: Investopedia)
Finance: “Finance is a term for matters regarding the management, creation, and study of money and investments. Finance can be broadly divided into three categories: Public finance; Corporate finance; Personal finance.” (source: Investopedia)
So what is the main difference? Broadly, I like to think it this way: in accounting you provide financial information and makes sure they are accurate; in finance you analyse those statements and make decisions around them.
Why are they often studied together? I have briefly mentioned this in another post ” What to study for future jobs in the UK”. In few words, they cover the same principles but they analyse them from different perspectives.
Why they are important
These areas are key for any company in the business world, no matter what size. Generally, a company that can rely on an efficient accounting department can also rely on a well informative decision making process; from allocating budget efficiently, to saving on taxes.
I have to say that is very common to outsource accounting practices to external companies. This is regardless of the companies’ size, whether they are SMEs or large firms. Remember that this is a very complex environment. It deals with thousands of transactions and many regulatory frameworks.
On the other hand, finance has a different purpose. Many often ask me how to work in finance. Let me tell you, that is too broad of a statement! The financial sector has an enormous variety of roles within distinct areas. In my case, I have worked in corporate finance within the investment department.
Regardless of which area of finance you want to work in, the sector is exciting and highly remunerative. At a corporate level, it is key for a company to raise funds, invest efficiently, satisfy shareholders (keep them happy like my manager says) and, mostly, continue growing revenues.
Accounting and Finance studies
So what are you going to study? Firstly, before joining any accounting course you should check what accreditations it has. This is really important for your post university qualification path as you will be exempt from certain modules; should you want to go down that chartered accountant route.
This is what most accounting and finance students who want to become professional accountants actually do. I did not study accounting, but many of my friends found a graduate job right after which sponsored their qualification path to chartered status (there are various statutes too).
Similarly, finance is another heavily regulated industry. Therefore, before enrolling in any finance course you should check what accreditations it offers and how those can help you for your future career.
Just to give you an example, my current company paid for my further training as a financial analyst and I was able to skip some modules thanks to the accreditations obtained in my degree.
Accounting degree studies
So what will study? Firstly, you will need to familiarise with the basic principles and underlying concepts of accounting; how to read financial statements and reports information; how those impact the decision-making process of a company.
As you progress further, you will learn how to actually produce financial statements and reports; how to record transactions accurately; dealing with asset depreciation, cash flows, regulations, debt and many more. It is a very technical industry and it will develop your analytical skills a lot!
Finance degree studies
In finance studies, at first you will need to develop a solid understanding of the basic principles of finance; what are the main financial markets and how they work; different financial assets; how businesses raise finance and funds efficiently according to their needs; what are the sources of financial capitals.
Again, as you progress you will study more complex concepts. However, in the case of finance, I would expect that you will have a wider course selection. You will most likely need to choose your modules according to your interests; e.g. corporate finance, investment portfolio, behavioural finance and so on.
Regardless of that, you will study the main concepts such as: stock market prices and returns; modern portfolio theory; market efficiency; fundamentals and pricing of financial futures and options; how to evaluate investments (capital budgeting); and the list goes on and on, there is a lot to learn!
Working with an Accounting degree
It is here, after graduating, where these two subjects take a completely different route. Graduates that want to have a career in accounting often continue their studies towards further certifications (ACCA, CIMA, AAT); most do that while working in graduate jobs and schemes.
This is key for several reasons; firstly, the company usually cover all costs for those qualifications; secondly, many certifications (e.g. chartered status) require practical work experience as well as further studies and exams. Basically, it’s a win win for all.
Another important aspect to mention is the variety of sectors and environments you can work in accounting. It is not just restricted to recording a company’s transactions! You could work in consulting, tax, forensic accounting, audit and so on.
Obviously, this also means that you could work in the private as well as the public sectors. This involves multinational firms as well as small accountancy firms, the choice is yours.
UK Salary (2021): obviously this varies according to location, sector, size and type of firm. Graduates starting their career can expect to earn up to £30,000. While training for further qualifications, the average earning potential can be up to £60,000. The average salary for a chartered accountant is £84,500, with an average yearly bonus of £17,300 (basically over £100k!!). (source: Prospects)
Working with a Finance degree
In my experience, in finance you have a wider choice of roles. It really depends on what your interests are. Generally speaking, most graduates have a preference for investment banking, financial trading, corporate finance, financial analyst.
However, the routes are endless. The financial services industry is massive and it includes insurance brokerage, pension consultancy, personal financial advice and many more. As for the case of accounting, this also gives you the possibility of working within the private or public sectors, for SMEs or large multinationals.
UK Salary (2021): similarly to accounting, a finance graduate entering the job market can expect up to £30,000. However, salaries vary depending on which sectors or roles you want to pursue a career in, as we have seen above there are many. I don’t think I need to tell you that finance professional can earn very, extremely, high salaries.
Are you still wondering if an accounting and finance degree is worth it? In this other post I have talked about the “best subjects to study for future jobs in the UK“; it might help you if you are still unsure of what you would like to study.
Accounting and Finance in the UK
As I said several times, the UK financial services industry is one of the most developed in the world. All major multinationals have expanded their operations here and continue to do so, attracting large capitals from overseas investors as well as domestically.
This, along with the numerous SMEs and start-ups (particularly fintech), has created a complex but well efficient network. Many entrepreneurs invest in the UK to take advantage of this well-established network, it’s a never ending cycle.
As a result, many countries use the UK financial services industry as a model to follow. Unsurprisingly, London is the main financial centre of the UK, and many consider the city second only to New York. In 2019 alone, the financial industry contributed £132 billion to the UK economy. (source: UK Parliament)
An accounting and finance degree can lead to employment in any sector as we have already discussed. Whether you want to work in the public, private or non-profit sector it is completely up to you.
However, we can list a series of companies which are more suitable for such degree and offer graduate schemes; this is where most graduates want to start their careers with them due to their high reputation, career progression opportunities, and high salaries:
- The ‘big four’ accountancy firms: Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY) KPMG.
- Retail banks and building societies: HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, Santander, NatWest Group, Nationwide Building Society
- Investment banking: J.P. Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Barclays Investment Bank, The Goldman Sachs Group, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup.
- Insurance: Aviva, Allianz, Standard Life, Admiral Group, AXA, American International Group, RSA Insurance Group
All of the companies above offer graduate schemes and jobs in the UK; they are constantly looking for talent and compete fiercely to ensure they get it; therefore, they offer very competitive salaries and a variety of company’s benefits, from financial bonuses to events.
So, is an accounting and finance degree worth it in the UK? In my opinion the answer is yes, one hundred percent. It will give you access to a large variety of roles, even if you don’t want to proceed to further studies and qualifications.
The knowledge and skills you will gain are invaluable for any industry, not only the financial sector; you could work in multiple industries including telecommunications, automotive, energy, retail, education and many more! Any industry needs financial expertise.
A degree is always worth it! I have explained why and what it can give in this post, you might find it helpful: “Is university as a mature student worth it?”. Please mind that everything on this post is based on my personal point of view; so consider it as an opinion only.
Thank you very much for reading my review on an accounting and finance degree, I hope you find it useful! Best of luck on your future studies.
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