Be an unqualified success in the City

"It is a candidate-driven market," says Russell Hood, senior manager in the City division of recruitment consultants Accountancy Additions. Good part-qualified accountants seeking work in the City may not actually be able to name their own salaries, but they can pretty much guarantee a lucrative job offer from one of the banks.

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (Cima) students are in the greatest demand because their qualification is practical, involving greater work experience than other accountancy examinations. Banks, particularly the investment banks, are benefiting from an economic boom and are now desperately short of qualified accountants. They want people who can walk in and do a job, and part-qualifieds fit the bill.

Mr Hood says that a key factor is the improved financial controls being operated within the banks, with each department operating as its own cost centre and each requiring an accountant to oversee those controls.

There is a major disparity between salaries paid by the industrial blue chip corporations to part-qualifieds and those on offer in the City. One part-qualified accountant, who has only completed stage one of her Cima qualification, has just been placed in a US investment bank in London from an industrial company. Her pay has jumped from pounds 15,000 to pounds 27,500.

Recruitment consultants say that a good graduate, with a 2.1 degree or better, who is part-qualified should get a salary of between pounds 20,000 and pounds 30,000, or above if they are approaching their finals. "Then the sky is the limit after they have qualified," adds Mr Hood.

Investment banks are particularly keen on part-qualified Cima students with experience in oil, telecommunications or a major conglomerate. "They come with a knowledge of products and of different companies," says Gary Johnson, of recruitment consultants Douglas Llambias Associates.

"The more blue chip you are, the better your chances of getting into banking," explains Jason Garner, of recruitment consultants Robert Walter Associates. "It is an exciting market, with a lot more positions out there than there are newly qualifieds or part-qualifieds to fill them."

Not all the banks, though, will be equally helpful to staff in completing their training and examinations. Smaller banks are not always as good as the larger ones. Mr Garner says: "The level of support varies enormously. Two of the best are Barclays Capital and SBC-Warburg. They offer study packages with all expenses paid, and time off. That compares well to a number of the American banks which are less supportive."

Cima business development manager Paul Weymouth says that his institute is aware that it is currently stealing a march over its rivals in the demand for its part-qualifieds. He says: "The sheer volume of work at the moment creates a demand for people to come into the office and start work immediately. It is that type of business awareness that our part- qualifieds offer."

But Charles Logan, of Hays Accountancy Personnel, says that part-qualified students of Acca (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) can also benefit from the boom. "There is strong demand in product control areas within the investment banks," he explains. Acca students are attractive for positions in fund management divisions, for example.

David Callaghan, of Reed Banking Personnel, points out that City opportunities are not restricted to banks. "Part-qualifieds are in demand from the large international banks and insurers to IT support companies," he says. The type of work available ranges from the preparation of financial and management accounts to regulatory reporting, for example dealing with Bank of England and SFA [Securities and Futures Authority] returns.

However, careers advisers now plead with students to think beyond just money and ask whether they are suited to the tough life of the City. Mr Callaghan shares this view. "The nature of work in the City means the job is likely to be more demanding than in practice or in commerce," he says. Mr Hood agrees: "Not everybody can make it in the City."

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